Sure, cinema and television are still full of shallow, dated representations of women — but we're getting somewhere. Kristen Wiig, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Kerry Washington are just a few names that come to mind when thinking of the many actresses who show that playing a woman is so much more than bandage dresses and sex scenes. Arrogant in our happy, shiny bubble of pro-woman movies and shows, we thought we could predict the results of a recent study conducted by members of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC.
According to the research, which looked at 500 popular films released between 2007 and 2012 and the depictions of women within them, we've got a long way to go, and 2012 has actually seen a step backwards for women in film. Out of the 4,475 speaking characters in 2012 movies, only 28.4% were women — and only 16.7% of female directors, writers, and producers were among the top-grossing 100 films of the year.
Even more disturbing is the fact that, according to this study, young age is directly connected to the hypersexualization of women and girls (defined here as sexy, tight, or "alluring" costumes, naked, or partially naked). Young, female characters aged 13-20 were more likely than any other age group to be shown in such states, with a 22% increase from 2009 to 2012. We could've guessed that 31% of women on screen are depicted nude or partially nude (versus 10% of men); but we thought it was getting better, not worse.
On the brighter, and more obvious, side, these symptoms are much less prevalent when women are at work behind the camera as well as in front of it. When a woman is working in a directing, writing, or producing role, the percentage of women on screen increases, and the percentage of hypersexualization decreases. However, the number of women in those roles is still dramatically low, with a gender ratio of about 5 to 1 across the board.
With so many high-profile women making waves in the industry, it seems impossible that the root problem of gender bias and misrepresentation in Hollywood is stable or even growing. The study ends by concluding that "The story for females has not changed...As organizations change the cinematic landscape, they may find that audiences are leaning in [ed note: groan] — toward the screen and toward popular content that presents women and girls equally and powerfully." For our part, we're concerned that while certain groundbreaking individuals may be changing the apparent state of things, the message just isn't trickling down to your average mass-audience movie. And given the current blockbuster lineup, we're not sure 2013 will be much different.
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.