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Television vs. the Movies: Which Does Better by Women?

• September 10, 2013 • 4:00 PM

Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness. (PHOTO: COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media did a content analysis of 11,927 speaking characters in “family films” and prime-time and children’s TV shows. This is what they found.

I live in Los Angeles where saying that you don’t like movies is tantamount to claiming atheism in a church. But I don’t like movies, generally speaking. In contrast, I quite like TV. Does this seem weird?

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media offers a clue as to why I might lean toward television. The Institute did a content analysis of 11,927 speaking characters in “family films” (G, PG, and PG-13) and prime-time and children’s TV shows (see it here). They looked at the presence of female and male characters and the jobs those characters were doing. In almost every instance, women had greater visibility, and better jobs, on prime-time TV than they did in either movies or children’s shows.

PRESENCE
Women are, for example, 39 percent of characters on prime time, but only 31 percent of characters on kids’ shows and only 28 percent in movies. Casts are twice as likely to be gender-balanced on prime time (45-55 percent female), compared to movies. Half of the casts of family films are 75 percent or more male, compared to only 20 percent of the casts on TV shows and 39 percent of children’s shows.

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OCCUPATIONS
Almost half of all American workers are female, but they hold only 20 percent of the jobs on the big screen and 25 percent of the jobs on children’s shows. Again, here prime-time does somewhat better: 34 percent of the jobs on evening TV are held by women.

The next two tables reveal how men and women are distributed among different kinds of occupations in films and on prime time. Men are over-represented in almost all cases, but the disproportion in movies is almost always significantly worse than it is on TV.

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If you’re one of the people that contributed to Star Trek Into Darkness$70.6 million opening weekend back in May, this data might not be surprising. I didn’t count, but I suspect it falls into the 50 percent of films that has a cast that is at least 75 percent male. It certainly didn’t pass the Bechdel Test; the two female speaking characters, if I remember correctly, never spoke to one another at all, and so they couldn’t have spoken to each other about something other than a man (that’s the test). (Oh wait, I think one of the twins with tails in bed with Kirk said “hey” when he lept out to go do something important, so that’s three women with speaking roles.)

So, like in lots and lots of films, women in Star Trek were woefully under-represented except as love interests for the two protagonists (Uhura in this movie and Carol, it was foreshadowed, in the next). I’m used to it, so it doesn’t really stir me up, but that doesn’t mean I have to like movies. I’ll stick to TV, thank you very much. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Hollywood.


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Lisa Wade
Lisa Wade, Ph.D., holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in Human Sexuality from New York University. She is an associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @lisawade.

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