“You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Marie Wilson, President of the White House Project
Above is my favorite quote from the film Miss Representation, a film about gender representation and diversity in the media. This is something that I’m very passionate about, and I have recommendations coming out of my ears here. I’m planning to do a number of weekly themes on representation in media (likely including representations of people of color, LGBTQ representation, representations of mental illness, and more), so watch out for those!
Disclaimer: I am approaching this post from a cis-gendered* female bias. The experiences of trans women, lesbians, or those who fall somewhere else on the LGBTQ spectrum, are unquestionably intertwined with the issue of female representation in media, but I think these representations deserve their own week’s worth of posts. This week’s posts will primarily, but not exclusively, focus on the representation of cis-gender women in media.
Let’s start with some statistics. The current state of women in media, as reported by the Women’s Media Center:
- Over a five-year period ending in 2012, the 500 top-grossing movies had 565 directors, 33 of whom were black and two of that 33 were black women.
- In the top 100 films of 2012–when women had fewer speaking roles than in any year since 2007–females snagged 28.4 percent of roles with speaking parts.
- In 2013, 13 percent of films featured equal numbers of major male and female characters–or more female characters than male characters.
- Men outnumbered women 5-to-1 in key, behind the camera roles in 2012. Of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers, 16.7 percent were female. Women accounted for 4.1 percent of directors, 12.2 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers.
For more jarring statistics, check out the full Status of Women in US Media 2014 report.
Enter The Representation Project.
The Representation Project looks at the statistics above and demands better. The organization was founded by the director of the film Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and seeks to inspire men and women to overcome limiting gender stereotypes through media. It does great work with women and girls all over the country, inspiring them to overcome the restrictions the media can place on us.
I should really use their 2014 video as a part of my (nonexistent) workout routine. Not much gets me fired up like media that fails women:
Part of what I love about The Representation Project is that it recognizes that feminism is about gender equality for both women and men. The media as it currently exists fails men in much the same way as it does women. Their film, The Mask You Live In, about damaging stereotypes of what it means to be “masculine,” premiered at Sundance this year.**
If YouTube videos with empowering soundtracks don’t cut it for you, check out Miss Representation. The film (released in 2011) addresses the problems cited above, and even has some ideas on how to fix them. Featuring interviews with Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho, Geena Davis, and Condoleeza Rice, it has a wide spectrum of perspectives. It’s a great way to learn more about the representation of women in media, and what we can do to change it.
Miss Representation is available to stream on Netflix.
There’s a bit in the film that I especially want to talk about. It’s a segment where female directors talk about women and girls at the box office. The perception in Hollywood is that films featuring a female protagonist won’t make as much money as films with a male lead. Unfortunately, the films they use as counter-examples–Mamma Mia, Twilight, and Sex and the City***–are not good movies. It’s not the film’s fault, though–I think this speaks to the slim pickings women have when we’re buying tickets. Yes, these movies made millions, but that’s because Hollywood is not offering the female gaze anything else to look at. We can’t all make the trek out to Sundance (it’s held in Utah, of all places). Many US cities do not have indie venues where we might catch a glimpse of a complex female character. But most have theaters with big budget movies, and Hollywood doesn’t like to give money to female-driven films.
I think we’ve made some progress since 2011 when Miss Representation came out–The Hunger Games comes to mind–but then again, Fifty Shades of Grey made $81.7 million in its opening weekend. And guess who the primary audience for that film was? Slim pickin’s, I tell ya.
So, besides the pursuit of better films than Fifty Shades of Grey, why else might gender equality in media be important? Well, check this out:
The most daunting statistic for me is about leadership. 44% of 8 year old girls want to be leaders, yet only 18% of American leadership (including the government, business enterprises, the media, and other sectors) is made up of women. Age 8 is the peak for girls’ leadership ambitions.
I’m going to leave you with that number and hope it encourages you to watch the film.
Check back later this week for my recommendations for TV shows with super awesome female characters, and my thoughts on Trinity Syndrome.
*A term used for a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender assigned to them at birth.
**Unfortunately there are limited screenings of the film, so even I haven’t seen it yet. If you happen to be in one of the handful of cities screening the film, definitely check it out and let me know what you think.
***To be fair, I haven’t seen Sex and the City (yes, that does mean I’ve seen Twilight–you caught me), but I heard it was bad.