Thursday, December 06, 2012

not even playing one on tv

Since 2004, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has worked tirelessly to study issues of gender in children's entertainment, and to spread their knowledge so that others might use it to affect change. This week, the Institute issued a sobering new report [PDF] on the state of gender in today's family programming. Consistent with past studies, the new research found that girls and women are vastly underrepresented; stereotyped; and sexualized in popular entertainment aimed at pre-teens. But this paper hit me particularly hard because it expanded on some unsettling trends in Hollywood's portrayal of women in various high-powered, high-valued careers, including those in the STEM fields.

In a section titled, "Females Still Slam Into a Glass Ceiling," study authors Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Ashley Prescott, and Katherine Pieper reported that in their survey of recent family programming, female characters were portrayed in positions of power at alarmingly low rates. For example, of 129 family films rated G, PG, or PG-13, female politicians were all but nonexistant. "[N]ot one speaking character plays a powerful American female political figure across 5,839 speaking characters in 129 family films," the authors write. "Men, however, hold over 45 different prestigious U.S. political positions."

Here are the sad stats for surveyed family films:

Employed Characters Within Sector By Highest Clout Position

Industry: Males / Females
Corporate executives: 96.6% / 3.4%
Investors, developers: 100% / 0%
High-level politicians: 95.5% / 4.5%
Chief justices, DA's: 100% / 0%
Doctors, healthcare managers: 78.1% / 21.9%
Editors in chief: 100% / 0%
Academic administrators: 61.5 / 38.5
Media content creators: 65.8 / 34.2

The analogous numbers for female characters working in the STEM fields were similarly problematic:
"Males and females are most likely to be depicted working in the life/physical sciences than in other STEM careers in family films ... Yet computer science and mathematics comprise the largest percentage of the U.S. STEM workforce. Even though female characters infiltrate the life/physical sciences, males are almost four times as likely as females to be shown on screen in this line of work in family films. ... Summing across computer science and engineering, the ratio of males to females in these arenas is 14.25 to 1."
STEM Characters by Gender and Job Type

Industry: Males / Females
All STEM fields: 83.8% / 16.3%
Life/physical sciences: 49.3% / 65.4%
Computer sciences: 23.1% / 7.7%
Engineering: 19.4% / 7.7%
Other STEM jobs: 8.2% / 19.2%

As I've written previously, it's just about impossible these days for girls and boys not to be bombarded with sometimes subtle, oftentimes blatant cues about stereotypical gender norms. Unfortunately, it's becoming ever more clear that even before children enter school, they're being exposed to imagery that reflects the idea that certain jobs or careers are for men and not for women. If there's a bright note here, it's that the Geena Davis Institute continues to push for education about just how badly the entertainment industry as a whole is doing on this front.

Source for all stats: Smith, Stacy L. et al. "Gender Roles & Occupations:
A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related Aspirations in Film and Television. 2012.

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