Women Don't Exist On Film

By Padmini Parthasarathy

We’re pretty far from gender parity in the real world, but what about on the silver screen? Dr. Stacy Smith, Associate Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, did the numbers.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media organized a Global Symposium on Gender in Media to share the findings this week. Dr. Smith, Geena Davis, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka all made opening remarks.

"Nearly 70 percent of violence against women is perpetrated in the home. Women survivors are not seen and not heard. Movies could bring light to some of these issues," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Smith’s groundbreaking report is the first-ever global study of female characters in popular films. The report analyzes the most lucrative film markets in the world, including Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the U.S., the U.K., and U.S.-U.K. collaborations. Not a single country reflects the world we live in. Here’s what the team found:

Less than a quarter of the fictional workforce was female.  

Less than a third of all speaking characters are women.

Only 12% of all films were "gender-balanced," with equal speaking roles for men and women

- Women were twice as likely to be wearing skimpy clothing and five times as likely to be conventionally "attractive."

Less than 15% of women played c-suite executives, doctors, or lawyers.

This gender bias was without borders.

"At the current rate, we will achieve gender parity in film in 700 years. We’re working hard to cut that in half," Geena Davis said cheekily.

Davis started the foundation after she realized that there were far fewer girl characters than boy characters in the children’s entertainment her daughter was watching. She decided that she needed the numbers to back up this observation. Her organization has worked with people in the entertainment industry to #ChangeTheRatio on film.

"Gender disparity is easier to fix in the media than in the real world," Davis said. "We might not be able to get 50 percent female CEOs by tomorrow, but that could happen tomorrow on film."