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10 Statistics on Women in Media to Inspire Action

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MadelineMerrittBioPicCalling all women with stories to tell who aim to be leaders in the entertainment industry. We have a long way to go! I’m not here to make you cry or rage, but I am hoping to share some rather staggering statistics so that we, as a collective, can affect change. It is my firm belief that the participation of women in entertainment, how we are portrayed and the number of our stories that are told, has a direct correlation to our achievements in other areas of society.  I am not the only one.

Over the last two years more and more women are speaking out about our portrayal in media and how this affects our dreams and achievements in the real world. And the sad story is that women’s leadership in media has hit a plateau, and women haven’t seen any quantitative advancement since the late 1990s. Our stories aren’t being told, and we are drastically under-represented at the top levels of power and influence in media. MissRepresentation (a documentary film made in 2012) hit the nail on the head when it showed the over-sexualization and underrepresentation of women in media, and how that affects the self-esteem and achievement goals of young women.  There are many advocacy groups (Such as the Women’s Media Center) and actresses (Such as Geena Davis and Meryl Streep) that are speaking out more and more on the state of current inequality in Film and Television. So here are 10 statistics YOU need to know so that you can be inspired to affect change in our industry.*

1. In the top 100 grossing films of 2013, 28% of speaking roles were female and only 15% of protagonists were female. 

While women make up 51% of the population and 52% of movie audiences, they are 1 in 4 speaking roles on the silver screen. No statistics I found had a line by line breakdown, but my guess is that male roles take up an even greater proportion of dialogue in cinema.

2. In 2012’s top 100 grossing films, women were 4 times more likely to wear hyper-sexualized clothing and 3 times more likely than men to be partially naked. 28% of onscreen females were hyper-sexualized and roles depicting women from ages 13-20 were the most sexualized.

It is no secret that women have been portrayed as the major sex symbols of our species in media for decades. Yet these statistics and the influence they have on how women are seen and treated by society have startling implications. Not only are women broadly sexualized across media, but rates of sexual assault and regular harassment for women are staggering. I do not believe the correlation is completely unrelated.

3. Women are rarely shown in powerful occupations in Family Films and Primetime Television.

Of 5,839 speaking characters in 129 family films from 2006-2011, women hold only 3 powerful political positions (and two of the three had no dialogue).  However in the same films, men held 45 different positions of political power from President to Mayor. Of characters portrayed as business investors, 0% were women. Of characters with authority in the justice system, 0% were women. And of characters depicted as executives, only 3.4% were women. This is across all G, PG and PG13 films from 2006-2011. What are we telling families and children about what their daughters can grow up to be? Primetime television has slightly better statistics, but women are still grossly under-represented as persons of authority there also.

4. Of the top 250 films of 2013, 6% of Directors were women. On episodic television for the same period, 12% of directors were women.

Women aren’t seen as leaders by top executives. When surveyed, executives felt they had a greater pool of male directors and listed far more male qualities as desirable in a director. However, 50% of competition films at Sundance in 2013 were directed by females, and 40% of directing majors at New York Film Academy are female. Female headed films were much less likely to receive distribution out of Sundance versus male helmed projects.

5. From a 2-month sample in 2013, 82% of film reviews by “top critics” on Rotten Tomatoes were written by men.  

Men are the arbiters of taste and what makes a film “good” or “bad” in our society. How many films are never taken seriously because of such a skewed reviewing populous? Why is the male audience almost exclusively represented by the reviewers? Women make up the slight majority of movie going audiences, remember?

6. Of the top 250 films of 2013, 15% of writers were women. On episodic television for the same period, 34% were women.

Is it any wonder that most audiences feel that Television is far outperforming film these days? While Television is increasing the diversity of its voices, 83 percent of films released in 2013 had NO female writers credited.

7. 3% of Cinematographers and 3% of DPs in 2013 were women.

Are THAT few women interested in sitting behind the camera and operating it? Or are the historically low numbers of women in this position an impetus for the lack of involvement? This statistic shows the most shocking disparity between the sexes on sets. I wonder how many assistant camera ops, who are women, are shut out of rising in the ranks, and how much is true lack of interest?

8. In film and television there are 5 males to every 1 female employed on set.

Women are competing in an undoubtedly male-dominated, in every aspect and in every role, industry. From top to bottom of the industry, women are under-represented.

9. The highest paid actresses in 2013 made a collective $181 million, compared to a collective $465 million by the highest paid actors.

Talk about income inequality! And you may cry, “But men outperform women at the box office!” Is that any surprise when women only comprise 15% of leading characters in cinema? They aren’t even given the chance to compete.

10. Diversity equals better ratings. Television shows with the greatest diversity in casting received the highest Nielsen ratings, with an average of .88 pts per household.

People want to watch shows and films where they are represented. Women have proven over and over again that female driven films can be popular. Think of this year’s examples: Frozen, Divergent and The Hunger Games. It is not the audiences that demand male points of view exclusively, it is the decision makers who determine what is funded and distributed.

SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

It is human nature that people in power are more likely to tell the stories that mirror their own experience and background. If Hollywood executives are primarily white and male, well then, guess what? The protagonists of the shows and films they produce are likely to be white and male as well. However, audiences flock to films in which THEY are represented. And change won’t happen until studios realize that the bottom line supports it. So, as women, we can pitch our film scripts with leading women, advocate for more women leaders on set, produce our own projects and hire women in key leadership roles, and support women at the box office. We can speak out until we are blue in the face, but we also have to be willing to be the women who lead the way and prove the status quo wrong. It is not easy to be among the first in a movement. And it seems like this movement keeps backsliding and stagnating. But it is with courage and determination that we move forward to demand a better tomorrow for women in our industry and in our world.

*Statistics were primarily drawn from The Status of Women in US Media 2014 which sites major studies across multiple platforms of inquiry.

Madeline Merritt

About Madeline Merritt

Actress, Freelance Writer - Madeline grew up on stage and has loved telling stories her whole life. From the Bay Area, California, Madeline received her degree in Theatre and Political Science from Northwestern University and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. She recently spent a year in Paris, France but missed the city of Angels and the entertainment industry here. She cares deeply about social issues, including women’s rights, indigenous rights, poverty and the environment. She feels the role of storyteller through entertainment is very important in opening dialogue and creating change in the world. You can see her in The Guest House (available on Netflix, Itunes, Amazon and Time Warner on Demand) and the soon to be released American Idiots, coming to a Redbox near you in June 2013. She is thrilled to continue her journey of collaborating with women in film and television through Ms. In the Biz.