Geena Davis, known for her role as Thelma in “Thelma and Louise” and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, commissioned a dozen studies on women in media from the Annenberg School at University of Southern California. Perhaps the most disturbing result to me was from a study where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups.
[T]hey found that if there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50. And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.
Which perhaps explains another disturbing finding, that this ratio is similar to the ones found in many professions where women are traditionally underrepresented—like cardiac surgeons (somewhere in the single digits) and tenured professors (around 20 to 25%), and many, many more. Davis asks, “is it possible that 17 percent women has become so comfortable and so normal that that's just sort of unconsciously expected?”
This misrepresentation of women onscreen exists not only in cinema but in TV as well, and, particularly disturbing, also exists in children’s programming. Davis notes:
What we're in effect doing is training children to see that women and girls are less important than men and boys. We're training them to perceive that women take up only 17 percent of the space in the world. And if you add on top of that that so many female characters are sexualized, even in things that are aimed at little kids, that's having an enormous impact as well.
The piece explores some of the economic reasons that this may be happening, particularly the sea change studios have seen in profits from abroad where there is a preference for movies with lots of explosions and little dialogue. As a result it has been harder and harder to fund movies with women in lead roles. Which begs the question, why should women be underrepresented in non-speaking roles? And why would the foreign movie market matter in children’s television programming?
The entire report is interesting and can be heard here. For those who prefer to read a transcript, it can be found here.