When media consumers read an op-ed shaming rape victims, when fans follow fictional narratives that exaggerate the risks of abortion, when viewers encounter no women of color on TV screens or elided depictions of queer sexuality in films, when articles about and interviews with transgender individuals treat their lives as salacious rather than sensitive material, when readers flip through the pages of glossy magazines and see only tiny, thin, white bodies—in all these instances, they are consuming the choices of media makers.
So much of this damaging media content comes from creators who are not women. Women are more absent than they should be in positions of power for nearly every form of media imaginable, from sports reporting to op-ed pages to Hollywood meeting rooms. T
he annual VIDA Count came out Monday, revealing a male-dominated “byline count” in major “thought leader” publications that, with the exception of a few places, has barely budged. Meanwhile, last week, the Women’s Media Center released its annual report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014, and despite some prominent gains, the numbers are downright dismal in category after category.
As a writer with one foot in the media world and another in the activism world, I sometimes wonder if I overhype the sexism in the former, or have too critical an eye. But the numbers don’t lie. When feminists raise havoc and draw attention to these kinds of omissions, we are confronting a male-dominated industry that favors its own status quo.
All of us who love creating and consuming media, from TV shows to podcasts to newspapers, have a stake in solving this problem. Diversity shouldn’t just be encouraged for equality’s sake, but also for the sake of quality: The whiter and more male the reporters, staff, and executives are, the more likely audiences are to encounter stereotypes and cliches, monochrome casts, and stale content.
Often, the numerical imbalance these reports pinpoint reinforces itself. As detailed below, many of the disparities highlighted by the WMC report and VIDA Count, as well as other recent studies, indicate the existence of mini-ecosystems for white male media privilege. If men are writing the most op-eds, for instance, they’re most likely to be on Sunday talk shows. And if more men are directing movies, then more men get speaking roles in movies. The beast of misogyny feeds itself.
Some of the studies the WMC report uses in its compilation delve into race, while some are strictly about gender. But the results across the board are clear: The media has far to go in both categories, as well as in terms of including more diversity across the LGBT and ability spectrum. (It is also clear that the researchers who look into these statistics need to find a model to better examine all those intersections.)
Read on for a detailed look at some of these findings.
Opinions Are Dominated by Dudes—Even on Women’s Issues
Opinions: We all have them. Yet men—white men, in particular—are more likely to get theirs broadcasted, whether as a quote in an op-ed or as a “talking head” on news shows. The WMC report cites a Gawker reckoning of big-shot editorial page columnists: There were only 38 women out of the 143 columnists at the largest newspapers and syndicators in the country. And the same holds when opinions from “sources” are sought in front page news stories. “Men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women in Page 1 stories published in The New York Times during January and February 2013,” the report notes.
OK, this is all rather dispiriting, but what about opinions on women’s issues? Surely women must be ahead on this! Unfortunately, another report by watchdog group the
4th Estate found:
Among 35 major national publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, men had 81 percent of the quotes in stories about abortion…
In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes, with women getting 19 percent and organizations getting 6 percent…
Women fared a bit better in stories about women’s rights, getting 31 percent of the quotes compared with 52 percent for men and 17 percent for organizations.
This particular finding demonstrates that the disparity is not just about who’s available and qualified to talk, but a real systemic bias in favor of male voices. It should be noted that numbers for Sunday talk shows, another huge opportunity for opinions to be aired, are even worse—with the saving grace of Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show.
I find it particularly egregious that opinion journalism, which is by its very nature subjective, would be so lopsided—one would think that the basic rules of fairness would dictate that reporters and editors get responses from people with different backgrounds and “takes” on any given issues.
What Happens Offscreen Affects What We See On It
Opinions about world events are rivaled in gender unevenness by film criticism, which is after all just opinion writing about popular culture. The VIDA Count revealed that in book criticism, a number of behemoths won’t budge from their 75 percent male byline count:
Drumroll for the 75%ers: The Atlantic, London Review of Books, New Republic, The Nation, New York Review of Books (actually holding steady at 80% men for four years) and New Yorker. We get it: you’re mighty, unmovable giants.
Similarly, a count of film review bylines during two consecutive months last year took a look at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the site filmgoers hit when they want to determine whether a film has “critical buzz.” In that sample time period, counters determined that men had written 82 percent of the reviews, and of the “top critics” at high circulation publications, the number was 78 percent.
But what are they writing about? The report notes that back in the mid-1990s, women were making more top movies than they are today. (As if we needed more grist for the mill of 90s nostalgia.) In 2013’s top-grossing movies, women accounted for only 16 percent of important positions behind the scenes, including directors, writers, executive producers, producers, cinematographers, and editors. Likewise, in one television category, forward movement has been so incremental as to be nearly immeasurable: “the number of episodes directed by white men fell from 73 percent to 72 percent.” Progress? Only a percentile.
Unsurprisingly, this bad news behind the scenes has had an effect on what appeared onscreen. Female actors in the top 2013 films garnered barely more than a quarter of the speaking roles and narration opportunities. On the other hand, in those films where women did have roles, actresses received “more roles with speaking parts and fewer gigs zeroing in on their sexuality.”
The fact that critics, filmmakers, and speaking roles are all imbalanced, gender-wise, creates a closed and self-reinforcing circle inside of whose borders male experience is centered, reinforced, and overvalued. And when women do attract praise and attention, as this infographic of Oscar winners shows, it’s often for roles that are defined by male relationships, whether as wives, mistresses, or maids.
Sports Coverage: A Man’s Man’s Man’s World
With all the disappointing results highlighted in the WMC report, the worst by far were in the arena of sports journalism, from talk radio to the Web to the paper. Only two sports talk radio hosts in the top 100 were women, while the number of female sports columnists actually dropped from 9.9 percent to 9.7 percent. But if ESPN staff were removed, “the percentage of female columnists would slip from 12.8 percent to 4.8 percent of all columnists.“ It’s enough to make film criticism look positively egalitarian!
That said, the sports journalism world has seen steady improvement too. Between 2010 and 2013:
- the number of female sports editors increased to 9.6 percent from 6.3 percent,
- the number of female assistant sports editors rose to 17.2 percent from 10.5 percent,
- the number of female copy editors/designers increased to 19.6 percent from 16.4 percent, and
- the number of women and people of color sports editors increased 7.4 percent, rising to 16.8 percent from 9.4 percent.
When there’s a long way to go, gains can look dramatic—doubling the representation of women, and going a long way toward making an environment more hospitable for women and minorities in sports newsrooms.
So What Are We To Do?
Obviously, all editors and reporters need to be conscious of their own biases, and the existence of closed circles when it comes to covering, hiring, and quoting people who are like them. It should be noted that VIDA has been counting for several years running, and several magazines like Tin House and the Paris Review have actually shifted their “counts” dramatically, while the New York Times Book Review hiring a female editor has made a huge cultural difference in that publication’s pages.
But when VIDA surveyed smaller magazines, the group found less lopsided numbers. This feeds into my growing belief that
women and other underrepresented groups need to make their own media pipelines, build their own companies and enterprises, and create their own stars who will then be hired by the mainstream—and also make the big enterprises compete for female and minority audiences. It’s a classic example of a situation where pressure from both within and without “the system” should be leveraged to effect change.
What percentage of a film crew is female? (Follows, 2014)
Today I am releasing the results of a long-term project. For a while, I’ve been looking at the gender of film crew members over the past 20 years.
The results are pretty shocking, and should hopefully serve as a wake up call to parts of the industry. I don’t believe that the majority of the industry is fundamentally sexist or anti-women but when you look at these results, especially over time, it’s plain to see that something is wrong and it isn’t fixing itself.
Download the full report now, for free. This project was far too large to fit into a single blog post, so I’ve written it up as a PDF report. It spans 16 pages and breaks down the results in much more detail. The report is free and all you need to do to get it is sign up to my e-mail list.
I send out one e-mail every week or two, to highlight new articles on this blog around film data and statistics. You can unsubscribe anytime, I won’t sell or pass on your email address, there’s no spam… it’s just me.
The results in summary
I studied the 100 highest grossing films at the US Box Office for each year between 1994 and 2013 (a total of 2,000 films). Additionally, in order to see how a film’s genre affects gender employment, I also looked at the 100 highest grossing films for each genre.
- Women make up only 23% of crew members on the 2,000 highest grossing films of the past 20 years.
- Only one of the top 100 films in 2013 has a female Composer.
- In 2013, under 2% of Directors were female.
- The only departments to have a majority of women are Make-up, Casting and Costume
- Visual Effects is the largest department on most major movies and yet only has 17.5% women
- Of all the departments, the Camera and Electrical department is the most male, with only 5% women
- Musicals and Music-based films have the highest proportion of women in their crews (27%).
- Sci-Fi and Action films have the smallest proportion of women (20% and 21% respectively).
- The films with the highest percentage were “Mean Girls” and “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” (42%).
- The most male crews were “On Deadly Ground” and “Robots” (10% female).
- There has been no improvement in the last 20 years. The percentage of female crew members has decreased between 1994 (22.7%) and 2013 (21.8%).
- The three most significant creative roles (Writer, Producer and Director) have all seen the percentage of women fall.
- The jobs performed by women have become more polarised. In jobs which are traditionally seen as more female (art, costume and make-up) the percentage of women has increased, whereas in the more technical fields (editing and visual effects) the percentage of women has fallen.
On average, women make up 22.6% of a film crew
On average, over the last 20 years, women have made up 22.6% of film crew members. The average for 2013 was actually lower, at 21.8%.
Of all the departments, the Camera and Electrical department is the most male, with only 5% women. The only departments to have a majority of women are Make-up, Casting and Costume. Visual Effects is the largest department on most major movies and yet only has 17.5% women.
There is a clear pattern to which departments employ women. The data doesn’t give me any way of telling if this is through free choice of the female crew members or a consequence of sexist hiring practices.
Key creative roles
Whilst gender equality is important in all roles, it is especially relevant when looking at the key creative roles. The positions of Writer, Producer and Director have the largest influence on the end product and therefore the representation of women on-screen. They are also more likely to serve as visible female role models for aspiring filmmakers.
Over the last 20 years, the percentage of women in key creative roles has been poor: Directors (5%), Writers (11%) and Producers (20%). The majority of key creative roles are overwhelmingly male, with the clear exception of Casting Directors and Costume Directors. Composers are only 2% female and only one of the top 100 films of 2013 had a female Composer.
Which genres hire the most women?
In addition to my main study, I also researched the top 100 grossing films of each genre. Interestingly, the genres with the highest proportion of women in the crew are extremely similar to the genres that are enjoyed most by female film audiences.
Musicals and Music-based films have the highest proportion of women in their crews (both with 27% women) and Sci-Fi and Action films have the smallest proportion (20% and 21% respectively).
In the last 20 years it’s got worse
When I started to see the results come together I was rather shocked by the averages. I had guessed that women would be under-represented but not much such a large margin. But the most shocking revelation was still to come. I had assumed that due to progress being made in our wider society that the gender imbalance would soon resolve itself.
It has not. In fact, in 1994 the average percentage of women on a film crew was 22.7% and by 2013 it had actually shrunk slightly to 21.8%.
Jobs for the girls
Not only is the average falling, but the jobs that women are getting are becoming increasingly polarized. The percentage of women has grown in Make-up, Art and Costume departments and decreased in the fields of editing and animation.
The three most significant creative roles (Writer, Producer and Director) have all seen the percentage of women fall over the past 20 years.
The data doesn’t tell us why this is happening but an obvious candidate would be the shift in the post-production fields to become more reliant on technology (traditionally a more male area). That said, even if that were true, it would only explain, not defend, this shift. Another possible reason could be increasingly sexist views in which jobs are seen as ‘male’ and which are seen as ‘female’.
To see a breakdown of these stats in much more detail, return to the top of the page and sign up for the full report.
The ‘most male’ and ‘most female’ crews
Using my dataset of the top 2,000 grossing films of the past twenty years, I have created lists of the films that have had the highest proportion of women in the crew. I named this system The Fey-Seagal Scale after Tina Fey and Steven Seagal, who represent the two ends of the spectrum.
Tina Fey wrote “Mean Girls”, which is the ‘most female’ film on my list and she is seen by many as a strong female role model in the entertainment industry.
Steven Seagal stars in three of the twenty ‘most male’ films, as well as directing the ‘most male’ film “On Deadly Ground”, and in the past has been accused of sexual harassment on a number of occasions. The fitting nature of these two faces at either end of the scale amused me and so felt like an appropriate name.
Does any of this matter?
There are many reasons why the under-representation of women in the film industry could be seen as a problem. These include female crew members finding it harder to get hired/paid, employers selecting workers from a pool that is half the size it should be, fewer female role models for aspiring creatives and, of course, justice/ equality/ fairness.
Another possible problem is a weaker female perspective in stories and characters. Last year on this blog I investigated the question “Do female audiences prefer to watch films made by female filmmakers?”
I shan’t spoil the outcome in this article but you can see the results at stephenfollows.com/do-women-prefer-films-made-by-female-filmmakers.
Voices from the industry
Before publishing, I sent these results out to a few industry professionals to gauge their reaction. Universally, all respondents had the same shocked response I did. Here are just a few…
Firstly, yes, these statistics are damning. Representing an organisation that is educating and training a new generation of professionals working across the creative industries, I’m proud of the fact that 46% of our students on BA and MA programmes enrolling this year are female, and hopefully that’s some indication of this situation improving in the future.
My data sources, methodology and limitations of this research are detailed in the full report: for brevity’s sake I have decided to leave them out of this article. If you’re interested in seeing further results, or understanding how I carried out this research then please download the full PDF report as detailed at the top of this article.
I’m grateful to everyone who has supported my work and helped my in my journeys through film data. Not least Sophie Lifschutz without whom this blog would be far less readable and Alyssa Thorne who may be responsible for you reading it in the first place.
The difficulties faced by women attempting to make a career in the film industry are increasing, according to the latest annual Celluloid Ceiling report issued by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
The report shows that just 16% of behind the scenes personnel – directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers – staffing the top 250 grossing films of 2013 are women. Last year’s report put the figure at 18%; which was itself a small increase on the year before. To underscore how little progress there has been, 16% is lower than the figure for 1998, the first year the Celluloid Ceiling report appeared.
Martha Lauzen, executive director of the centre, said: “The film industry is in a state of gender inertia. There is no evidence to suggest that women’s employment has improved in key behind-the-scenes roles over the last 16 years.”
The study tracks the numbers of women employed in various key job categories in the 250 most successful US films of 2013.
Other than cinematographers, none of the major job types saw a rise, with only producers holding steady at 25% – itself the biggest category for women. Production designers and editors were the next largest percentage share for women, at 23% and 17%.
• Directors: 6%, down 3% from 2012
• Writers: 10%, down 5% from 2012
• Producers: 25%, even with 2012
• Executive producers: 15%, down 2% from 2012
• Editors: 17%, down 3% from 2012
• Cinematographers: 3%, up 1% from 2012
• Production designers: 23%, up 3% from 2008 (when the stats were last compiled)
• Sound designers: 4%, down 1% from 2008
• Supervising sound editors: 9%, up 4% from 2008
• VFX supervisors: 5%
“People expected [Kathryn] Bigelow’s Oscar [for The Hurt Locker] to have a halo effect on other women,” Lauzen said. “It was a bit of wishful thinking. Attitudes remain a major stumbling block. There are some harsh realities women in the film community are facing.”
January 14, 2014 | 06:32AM PT
‘Gender inertia’ seen in annual ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ study of top 250 domestic pics
The ranks of women working in film production have barely budged and even declined in some key areas over the past 16 years, according to a study released today.
The annual “Celluloid Ceiling” survey of employment in the top-grossing 250 domestic pics found that overall employment for women in 2013 came in at 16%, down 2% from the previous year and down 1% from 1998 levels.
The report was released Tuesday by Martha Lauzen, exec director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State U. This year’s edition also tracked stats for women in below-the-line and vfx jobs, where the picture is similarly stagnant.
“The film industry is in a state of gender inertia. There is no evidence to suggest that women’s employment has improved in key behind-the-scenes roles over the last 16 years,” Lauzen said.
In total, women accounted for 16% of the 2,938 people employed on the pics surveyed. The largest share of female employment came as producers, editors and production designers. Women were most likely to work in drama, comedy, and documentary films, and least likely to work in animation, sci-fi and horror titles.
Breaking down the percentages of women working on 2013 films by job category:
** Directors: 6%, down 3% from 2012 and 1998
** Writers: 10%, down 5% from 2012 and 3% from 1998
** Producers: 25%, even with 2012 and up 1% from 1998
** Exec producers: 15%, down 2% from 2012 and 3% from 1998
** Editors: 17%: down 3% from 2012 and 1998
** Cinematographers: 3%, up 1% from 2012 and down 1% from 1998
In the below-the-line categories, the survey examined the gender breakdown for 1,026 jobs. (Comparative data is not available for all categories.)
** Production designers: 23%, up 3% from 2008 (when the stats were last compiled)
** Sound designers: 4%, down 1% from 2008
** Supervising sound editors: 9%, up 4% from 2008
** vfx supervisors: 5%