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Are Women in the Media Only Portrayed As Sex Icons? Statistics Show a Massive Gender Imbalance Across Industries

A recent report by the Women’s Media Center has provided dismaying statistical data on the status of women in U.S. media. The report draws attention to the striking underrepresentation of women who determine the content of news, literature, and television and film entertainment, as well as the negative portrayal of women in entertainment television and film. As a consequence, the role of women has had major societal effects, including gender inequity. MissRepresentation.org, an organization that “exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality,” is campaigning to shed light on this issue and empower women and young girls to challenge the limiting media labels and recognize their potential. 

In news and entertainment media, women have frequently been underrepresented with minor changes in proportions over the past decade. The female characters often depicted in film and television cast gender stereotypes and the likelihood of women, specifically young women, to be hypersexualized in film is far more expected than men. American teenagers spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes absorbing media in just one day; this includes the amount of time spent watching TV, listening to music, watching movies, reading magazines and using the internet. The images women — particularly young girls — are shown inevitably affects the way they are seen by others and themselves. It is highly unlikely for females to excel and pursue leadership in a society where that reality is rarely visible and MissRepresentation.org’s attempt to raise awareness and break the negative stereotypes of women in media is the right direction to change the future for women in this country. 

According to statistics from the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) Newsroom Census, the percentage of female newsroom employees was about 37% between 1999 and 2010. In 2011, the percentage increased slightly to 40.5%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 36.9% of women comprised of newspaper reporters, photographers, copy and layout editors, and supervisors. The same statistics also reported that 40% of total television news force and 28.4% of television news directors were made up of women in 2011. Although women represented about half of television news positions including assistant news directors, assignment editors, executive producers, producers, news reporters, writers, anchors and assistants, women were underrepresented among news photographers, sports anchors, and sports reporters. In radio news, women only comprise of 29.2% of the total workforce.

According to the Media and Gender Monitor, only 24% of news stories were reported about women globally in 2011. Women were the focus of only 19% of news stories in politics and government in 2010.  Of the 84 news websites monitored by the Global Media Monitoring Project, 23% of newsmakers were represented by women in 2010. NPR reported in 2010 that only 26% of its news sources were women. This shows that men are not only largely in charge of the government and news in all aspects of society, but they also dominate the voices and news exposed to the broader world. 

Ironically, while women represent fewer than half of several fundamental media occupations, women have outnumbered men in statistics of journalism and mass communication graduates. From 1999 to 2010, women have consistently represented more than half of the graduates among journalism and mass communication Majors. 

Women are also the minority when it comes to book reviewers and the number of authors reviewed. In the New York Times, 62% of book reviews were written by men between July, 2008 and August, 2010. In the fall of 2012, 70% of books reviewed on NPR were written by men. A review of 13 publishing house’s 2010 catalogs also indicated that 55% of books published were written by men. This shows that men are primarily in control of literary culture. 

The representation of women in film and television also plays a major factor with the status of women. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that only 5% of movie directors were women in 2011; this is a decrease from the reported 9% of female movie directors in 1998. 

The report also shows that women are more likely to work genres such as romantic comedy, documentary, and romantic drama. Women are least likely to work in horror, action, and comedy genres. The report also found that films with only men playing key-behind-the-scenes roles yield comparable box office grosses with films that have comparable budgets and at least one woman in these roles. Kung-Fu Panda 2 set the record for the top-grossing film directed by a woman, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and made $637.6 million worldwide.

From 2010 to 2011, 25% of women comprised of all professionals in key behind-the-scene roles in entertainment television. Of all fictionalized television characters, females accounted for 41% from 2010 to 2011. Historically, female characters were typically younger than their male counterparts, white and more likely to have an employment status that was undefined. Shows that had at least one female writer or creator had a marginally higher percentage (44%) of female characters opposed to shows with only male writers and creators (40%). 

In the 100 top grossing films of 2007, 2008, and 2009, women represented only one-third of speaking characters for all three years. When there was at least one woman involved with directing or writing for a film, there were more female characters on screen. Female characters were more likely to be depicted wearing sexy clothing, partially nude, and referred to as attractive in comparison to male characters. Girls and women from ages 13 to 20 had a 21.5% chance of being referred to as attractive opposed to 13.8% of women aged 21 to 30 years old.

Typically, female characters in film and television were not portrayed in leadership roles and were less likely than male characters to achieve their goals. Amongst the 10 top-grossing films of 2010, three of those films were considered “woman-centric.” Only 19 out of the 100 top-grossing films were given that title.

Although some industry leaders claim films with male protagonists generate more profit, films with female protagonists have proven to be just as profitable as films featuring male protagonists, when controlling for budget. Historically, films with male protagonists have had larger budgets and films with larger budgets generally contribute larger grosses in spite of the sex of the protagonist starring in it. 

The goal of MissRepresentation.org is to expose how media influences youth in America into believing that youth, beauty and sexuality are the driving forces behind a girl’s values. The trailer for the film begins by stating, “The media is the message and the messenger,”and highlights the media’s impact on our politics, national discourse, and most importantly, the thoughts, lives and emotions of the children that consume it.

Throughout the nearly 9 minute long trailer, images and news clips that exploit women’s physical appearance exposes how these messages portray violence against women, misogyny and gender inequity, and limit appreciation for intellectual women or women in leadership positions. Statistics in the trailer point out that women make up 51% of the U.S. population, yet only 17% of women hold positions in Congress.

The statement that resonates most is made by Marie Wilson, Founding President of The White House Project, an organization that seeks to get more women into elected office, who says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The media is a powerful instrument of change and change can only occur once we are able to see the type of force this tool has cast on society. It’s up to us women to use the force of media to influence positive change and correct the representation of women.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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