New Data on Female Occupations in Movies and TV is Troubling

March 12th 2015

Hollywood's sexism problem is no secret. From behind-the-scenes to in front of the camera, the embodiment of women in Hollywood is both ill-fitting and under-represented. A recent study from FiveThirtyEight has given us definitive proof of that workplace-based sexism on screen is an exacerbated mess, and it's time to call them out on it — because it causes major perception problems in the real world.

The problem starts with the number of women involved: jobs in TV writing for women have declined, there are barely any women directors getting jobs in film, there are twice as many men as women featured in movies (even though women make up 50 percent of the world's population), and even when they are on-screen, their interactions barely pass the Bechdel Test.

(For those not in the know, to pass the Bechdel Test, all a movie has to have 1.) at least two women in it, who 2.) talk to each other, 3.) about something other than a man. Only 57% of all movies pass.)

None of this bodes well for Hollywood's role in our female perception problem. After all, America's entertainment industry is one of the largest and most internationally known in the world, and their influence on people's understanding of different identities is well-documented. After all, representation and depiction in movies has been shown time and time again to have a profound effect on cultureLooking specifically at the roles women play in movie and TV workplace scenarios, FiveThirtyEight found that women were largely relegated to supporting and background roles, and the jobs they embodied were stereotypical at best:

FiveThirtyEight Graph on Women in the Workplace (On Screen)

'But wait! There are some jobs that skew male in real life, so what's the big deal?' you might ask. Well, let's just look at what FiveThirtyEight writer Walt Hickey had to say about it:

"Even in fields with a large gender gap in real life, what we see on-screen is even worse. ... In 2005, 30 percent of lawyers were women, but in this data set, only 11 percent of lawyers or attorneys were played by women. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 32 percent of doctors were women in September 2014, but on screen, only 10 percent were women."

In children's movies, where the most impressionable set is the target demographic, female characters account for 4.5 percent of politicians, 3.4 percent of business executives, and an abysmal 0 percent of developers, editors-in-chief, and investors. How are young girls supposed to believe they can inhabit these roles if they're not seeing it represented anywhere? Perception and representation, after all, go hand in hand. Hollywood cannot simply poo-poo the effect it has on a people's interpretations of gender roles and abilities. To reduce women to these stereotypes limits not only us, but the men around us as well.

Therefore, if Hollywood creators and producers strive to write and include better representations of the myriad types of women that are out there in the world, things will undoubtedly get better. So yes, Hollywood, we're telling you it's your responsibility, given that they profited off U.S. moviegoers — over half of which are women — to the tune of $10.9 billion in 2013, to hold yourselves to a higher standard and accept your role in perpetuating sexism worldwide. 

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