I saw another study about women’s representation in movies and was reminded of our brief conversation on the topic a few months back.
First, some summaries of this study:
- Globally, there are 2.24 males for every female character.
- Only about 30 percent of speaking or named characters are female.
- Only 20.5 percent of filmmakers are female.
- Female characters are more likely to be sexualized, skinny, or wearing sexy clothes. (Almost twice as often as male characters)
- In films for children, female characters are even more likely to be thin than in films targeted at adults.
- Women make up only 23.2 percent of the U.S. workforce in films, but 46.3 percent of the workforce in real life.
- Comments about appearance were directed at women at FIVE TIMES the rate they were directed at men.
In my last post, I talked about how women make up about 17 percent of crowd scenes in movies, as well as about 17 percent of leadership positions in real life. You replied that women are rapidly surpassing men in holding bachelor’s degrees, and that the gender pay gap is nigh but a thing of the past. And that is encouraging (though if you read that story, you’ll realize that the reason women are graduating at higher rates is because they can’t get a lucrative job without a degree, so they’re more willing to take on student debt than men, who have more job opportunities available regardless of education, and student debt is a whole other issue that saddles students of lower socio-economic status and any gender, but I digress).
You also mention negative portrayals of dads in media, and you’re right! This is a shame! The “dad-as-dumb-couch-potato” trope is harmful to men! And it perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to families and women. These are important media critiques to make, and I should add that the slacker dad plays into the “mother runs the home” trope, keeping Mom in the kitchen and taking care of the kids because that is her purview. The slacker dad trope perpetuates ideas of masculinity as being animalistic and lazy, thus giving men a free pass on participation at home. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see positive portrayals of engaged fathers. It’s one of the reasons “Boy Meets World” is still one of my favorite sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is another sitcom, this one geared at adults, that features passionate, engaged dads. They sometimes make silly goofs, but that doesn’t make them buffoons. They can be funny without being stupid, and I appreciate that.
But on the topic of women surpassing men in the job market, even the articles you point me to say that that hasn’t yet happened. Certainly, the gap is closing, but we’re nowhere near equality. On John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” segment on the pay gap, one pundit points out that unmarried, childless women between the age of 35 and 43 make 108 cents to a man’s dollar. Which is like, great if you don’t want to have kids or get married or ever turn 44. But we shouldn’t be restricting women’s options in the name of fairness!
The full, thorough, hilarious segment here:
And, as the fabulous documentary “Miss Representation” points out (I really liked that movie, okay?), an interesting thing happened when women first started to make forays into the job market: Media representations of women became far more toxic. In fact, as women continue to make headway, our counterparts on television become weaker and more sexualized, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. This is a way of making equality harder to achieve.
Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean we don’t have more to get done. And the latest study on representation in media shows that there is still so much to do.
Males shouldn’t be jealous, that’s a female trait.—Jay-Z, “Heart of the City”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a woman a woman. You and Mom have both talked with me about the innate differences between men and women, differences that make the genders special. Mom’s even asked me to dive into those differences here and explore positive variance between genders. But then I got to thinking, what are those differences, exactly?
The first “female traits” that come to mind are negative stereotypes, like the one Jay-Z names above. I think of cliches that made me want to shy away from being female as a child: cattiness, vanity, squeamishness and a fear of spiders. These traits are weak, and uncool, and traditionally thought of as feminine, so I told myself I was “not like other girls” and gallantly picked up the spiders on my own and put them outside, disavowed fashion and makeup, and avoided most female friendships.
You might be saying, “Those aren’t the female traits I’m thinking of!” Certainly, when you and Mom talk about differences between genders, the woman is the nurturer, the man the problem-solver. But these roles are neither consistent nor guaranteed across genders. Is a woman who is not maternal not then a woman? Or just a failure to her gender?
Even you and Mom don’t fit into these roles! When I was a child, I turned to you for comfort, because I knew if I went to Mom with a problem she’d say, “Well have you tried x, y and z solutions?”
And these same “positive” gender traits feed into the negatives. A man being a protector necessarily needs a weak, squeamish woman to defend, for instance. And, in a world where we’re at the top of the food chain, that strength and protection is often used to guard women against other men, instead of addressing the societal root of the problem and ending gendered sexual violence. Katherine Bushnell and Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew break it down quite nicely in their 1907 (1907!) book “Heathen Slaves and Christian Rulers”:
What charm this word ‘protection,’ and the title ‘Protector’ has held for certain persons, as applied to the male sex! ‘Man, the natural protector of woman.’ Forsooth, to protect her from what? Rattlesnakes, buffalo, lions, wildcats no more overrun the country, and why is this relation of ‘protector’ still claimed? Why, to protect woman from rudeness, and insult and sometimes even worse. But from whence comes that danger of rudeness and insult or worse from which man is to protect woman? From man, of course. Man is, then, woman’s natural protector to protect her from man, her natural protector. He is to set himself the task of defending her from his injury of her, and he is charmed with the avocation.
Kelsey over at Peak City Life has a lot more on this book, if you’re interested.
I suppose what I’m saying is, I learned to like fashion, and I learned to have female friendships, but I also still put the spiders outside for myself. Mom taught me how to approach my problems, and you showed me that a shoulder to cry on can come from anywhere. Ascribing values such as “female” or “male” to certain traits limits the possibilities available to us, and limits us as human beings. It prevents us from becoming full-fledged individuals.
I’m still growing, but I recognize that I don’t have to behave in ways that are necessarily female. I am a fearfully, wonderfully made unique person, and you and Mom helped show me that.
P.S. I realized that I started this post with a rather sad, sexist lyric that upholds gender roles, so let me end it with a song that explores gender roles and their impact on our lives in a more nuanced fashion:
“When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice. It’s like, ‘I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’ ”