In the contemporary world, gender ratio and the representation of genders in the media have become some of the most commonly discussed issues. In particular, modern movies and TV shows are often reviewed in regard to the way they portray women; at the same time, Hollywood is frequently criticized for the creation and maintenance of rather harsh conditions for women to make it as workers in the film industry (Mičić, 2015).
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The well-known Bechdel test is one of the major drivers of modern arguments considering the under- and misrepresentation of women in the media. The test itself has not been developed for the purpose of measuring gender portrayal; in fact, it originates from a comic strip where one of the characters used a set of three conditions as the determiners of whether or not she would want to see a certain movie (Mičić, 2015).
These conditions (the presence of two women in a film, who talk to each other about a topic that does not refer to a man) turned out to be an impossible threshold for the majority of the modern films and some TV shows, and thus powered multiple arguments about the insufficient and flawed representation of women in the media (Selisker, 2015). In that way, even though the modern TV and movie industry creates many films focusing on strong female characters, the overall ratio of female and male protagonists, as well as the ways they are portrayed, often shows that women are still heavily mis- and underrepresented.
Of course, in addition to the aforementioned flawed products, the modern film industry also produces many movies with strong female leads. Significant changes have occurred in the representation of genders in films and TV shows over the last several decades (Haines, Deaux, & Lofaro, 2016). Disney films and animations are an excellent example of the gender roles representation evolution in media.
The classic product of the 50s that contained all the gender perceptions that are criticized today was “Cinderella,” the Disney cartoon that presented a woman whose only role was to serve as a maid up to the moment she was fancied and taken as a wife by a rich man but only because she managed to make herself look unrecognizably different from who she was in reality.
These days, Disney produces films such as “Frozen” and “Moana” focusing on strong female leads who achieve everything they want on their own and fight for causes greater than visiting a ball or finding a rich husband. Similar dynamics can be observed in other movies produced today and aiming to empower women. In that way, the entire issue of the underrepresentation of women in the media looks made-up and cherry-picked by feminists focusing only on the films that do not pass the Bechdel test.
However, there exists research evidence that depicts the actual percentage of gender representation in the media. To be more precise, the statistics reflecting male and female leads and roles in general for recent years show that men still dominate the industry (Savigny & Warner, 2015). In particular, men as protagonists took up about 54% of all Hollywood roles in 2016, while women only had 29%; the rest of the roles were played by ensembles (Lauzen, 2017).
When it comes to major film characters, as many as 63% of them were males and 37% – females (Lauzen, 2017). Overall, the historical comparison of the percentages of main and general characters played by women demonstrated that the steady ratio that persisted since the beginning of the 2000s changed significantly over the last couple of years, introducing more female roles and leads – 16% in 2002, 15% in 2013, 22% in 2015, and 29% in 2016. (Lauzen, 2017). At the same time, as seen from the statistical data presented earlier, even after the significant shift in ratio, women still are far from being equal to men in regard to representation.
The social problems faced by Western women today are less serious than those that faced women throughout the first half of the 20th century; however, living in the era of media and technology, people tend to rely a lot on the sources of information that surround them. The discussion of gender roles is ever-present in the media, but it exists alongside the utter under- and misrepresentation of women (Zaslow, 2011).
In particular, some of the women’s features, such as emotionality and physical strength, are often presented as “different” simply because they differ from what is perceived to be standard for men (Garcia, Weber, & Garimella, 2014).
The other characteristics of women that differ them from men (such as their bodies) are exploited for the creation of oversexualized images employed to attract men to certain films, TV shows, and products, and also to establish the expected standards of female beauty (Wood, 1994). This way, the general image of a woman in films presents weak, emotionally unstable, and overly sexual “damsels in distress” who constantly need men to protect them. The ubiquity of this unflattering image does not only convince men to perceive women and weak and useless but also forces these flawed gender perceptions of women.
Garcia, D., Weber, I., & Garimella, V. R. (2014). Gender assymetrics in reality and fiction the Bechdel test of social media. In THE 8TH International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media: Proceedings of a conference (pp. 1-10). Ann Arbor, MI: ICWSM.
Haines, E., Deaux, K., & Lofaro, N. (2016). The times they are a-changing… or are they not? A comparison of gender stereotypes, 1983–2014. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 1-11.
Lauzen, M. M. (2017). It’s a man’s (celluloid) world: Portrayals of female characters in the top 100 films of 2016. Web.
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Mičić, Z. (2015). Female interactions on film: Beyond the bechdel test a quantitative content analysis of same-sex-interactions of top 20 box office films. Web.
Savigny, H., & Warner, H. (2015). The politics of being a woman: Feminism, media and 21st century popular culture. New York, NY: Springer.
Selisker, S. (2015). The Bechdel test and the social form of character networks. New Literary History, 46(3), 505-523.
Wood, J. (1994). Gendered media: The influence of media on views of gender. Web.
Zaslow, E. (2011). Feminism, Inc: Coming of age in girl power media culture. New York, NY: Springer.