On Monday, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, UN Women and The Rockefeller Foundation presented the first-ever global study on female characters in popular films. What it reveals is a deep-seated discrimination and pervasive stereotyping of women and girls by the international film industry. So despite females comprising more than 50% of the population in the real world, sadly, women and girls are grossly un-“scene” when it comes to the movie world.

“Only 30.9 per cent of all speaking characters are female.”

In discussing the ramifications of the study’s findings, Geena Davis, Founder & Chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said, “The fact is – women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent. And media images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases.”

The Academy Award®-winning actor added, “However, media images can also have a very positive impact on our perceptions. In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like. There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films. How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies.”

Key (or Depressing) Study Findings

– Only 30.9 per cent of all speaking characters are female.

– A few countries are doing better than the global norm: UK (37.9 per cent), Brazil (37.1 per cent), and South Korea (35.9 percent). However, these percentages fall well below population norms of 50 per cent. Two samples fall behind: US/UK hybrid films (23.6 per cent) and Indian films (24.9 per cent) show female characters in less than one-quarter of all speaking roles.

– Females are missing in action/adventure films. Just 23 per cent of speaking characters in this genre are female.

– Out of a total of 1,452 film-makers with an identifiable gender, 20.5 per cent were female and 79.5 per cent were male. Females comprised 7 per cent of directors, 19.7 per cent of writers, and 22.7 per cent of producers across the sample.

women filmmakersFilms with a female director or female writer attached had significantly more girls and women on-screen than did those without a female director or writer attached.

– Sexualization is the standard for female characters globally: girls and women are twice as likely as boys and men to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully naked, thin, and five times as likely to be referenced as attractive. Films for younger audiences are less likely to sexualize females than are those films for older audiences.

– Teen females (13-20 years old) are just as likely as young adult females (21-39 years old) to be sexualized.

– Female characters only comprise 22.5 per cent of the global film workforce, whereas male characters form 77.5 per cent.

– Leadership positions pull male; only 13.9 per cent of executives and just 9.5 per cent of high-level politicians were women.

– Across notable professions, male characters outnumbered their female counterparts as attorneys and judges (13 to 1), professors (16 to 1), medical practitioners (5 to 1), and in STEM fields (7 to 1).

The study was conducted by Stacy L. Smith (PhD) and her research team at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

About UN Women:
UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. For more information, visit: www.unwomen.org

About the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media:
Founded by Academy Award®-winning actor Geena Davis, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, at Mt. St. Mary’s College, is the only research-based organization working with media and entertainment companies with cutting-edge research, education and advocacy programs to dramatically improve how girls and women are reflected in media targeting children 11 and under. For more information, visit: www.seejane.org

About the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism:
The Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative is a leading think tank dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment. MDSC is part of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. USC Annenberg is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. For more information, visit: http://annenberg.usc.edu/MDSCIAnnenberg.usc.edu