Gender Inequality in Hollywood

The University of Southern California has just released a study analyzing the Top 100 Grossing Movies in 2009, and their findings reveal that significant gender inequality still exists both onscreen and off.

Some of the key findings:

· Off the films analyzed, only 32.8 percent of the speaking characters were female and 67.2% were male.

· Females were much more likely than males to be shown in sexy attire (25.8% vs. 4.7%), partially naked (23.6% vs. 7.4%), and attractive (10.9% vs. 2.5%). Looking at females specifically, 13- 20 year olds were just as likely as 21-39 year olds to be shown in sexy attire (33.8% vs. 33.5%, respectively)

· Only 22.2% of all speaking females are 40 to 64-years of age, whereas 35.2% of speaking males are 40 to 64 years of age. As women age in Hollywood, far fewer roles become available to them—and thus women have far fewer women who represent them on screen.

· Behind the camera, females accounted for only 3.6% of directors, 13.5% of writers, and 21.6% of producers. These numbers have remained the same over the last three years.

Looking at these findings, two things are immediately clear: First, that compared to men, the portrayal of women in popular cinema is limited, limiting, and reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and expectations. Second,  that much of this representation no doubt originates from the fact that so few women hold positions of creative authority within Hollywood.

The state of television is not any better. In 2011, only 14% of network television writers were women. While women like Tina Fey receive accolades, and half of Community’s writers are women, it still remains that these women are exceptions in a television environment still dominated by men.

There is hope, however. In 2011, Bridesmaids, a comedy written by and featuring women, became a critical success while grossing over $287 million dollars. This is not a coincidence: the more women there are writing, directing and producing, the more non-cookie cutter roles for women will exist. The USC study found that the percentage of girls/women on screen is significantly higher when at least one female is involved in the directing or writing process. A 10.2% increase of females on screen is observed when one or more women are involved as screenwriters on motion pictures.

Clearly, the solution to the gender inequality that appears in television and movies is to fix the inequality behind the camera, so that women create roles for women that are empowering, non-sexist, and true to their lived experiences.

Vanessa Wright