On the 17 percent

Dear Dad,

You’ve heard about the 47 percent, and the 99 percent, but have you heard about the 17 percent? Maybe not, but they’re all around you.

The 17 percent represents women’s slice of representation in media, according to research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Does that number sound too small to you? Because it did to me when I first heard it, in an NPR interview with Geena Davis about women in film:

My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance – that the movies that they’ve watched are about, let’s say, 5 to 1, as far as female presence is concerned – that’s what starts to look normal. And let’s think about – in different segments of society, 17 percent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 percent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn’t that strange that that’s also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we’re actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you’re an adult, you don’t notice?

Once I’d heard this, it was a hard idea to shake. Suddenly, I was counting women in crowd scenes, counting the main women characters in a group of main character, counting the female contestants in co-ed reality TV show competitions. I started watching Ink Master and the first thing I noticed was that, out of the 10 contestants, only 2 were women (just like Geena Davis’ ratio).

In fact, this 17 percent ratio is so normal that if a group is one-third women, people perceive it as being mostly women. And the ratio of men to women in movies hasn’t changed since WWII.

Why does any of this matter, Dad? It’s just movies, right?

No. If we see 17 percent as being the normal amount of women in a movie crowd, then that perception transfers to the real world. Think of the school boards, church boards, local government, national government and company boards that are dominated by more than 80 percent men. And the sliver of the pie that women get is thought of as normal, and totally reasonable. This ratio is teaching people to squash women’s rights to fair representation.

Even now, women only hold 18.5 percent of seats in Congress, just above the 17 percent ratio. And only three years ago did women occupy 1/3 of the seats in the Supreme Court.

It’s time to start questioning, Dad. It’s time to start counting the ratios, being aware and questioning what we perceive as normal and fair. It’s time to start demanding better.





3 thoughts on “On the 17 percent

  1. Pingback: The 60% Solution | Father of a Feminist

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