Movies provide the viewing audience with possibilities of how the world could exist. Unfortunately for women, movies are portraying a world in which females rarely speak, can't obtain powerful jobs and wear little to nothing at all.
A new global study found less than one-third (30.9 percent) of named or speaking movie characters are women, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. That number lags far behind the 49.6 percent of women in the real world. Plus, less than a quarter (22.5 percent) of the fictional on-screen workforce is made up of women.
The study looked at popular films released between 2010-2013, with a rating of no more than PG-13, in the 10 most profitable countries (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and United Kingdom). Researchers also chose the 10 popular movies in the U.S. during that time frame and another 10 made between the U.S. and U.K. (i.e. "Harry Potter").
"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," said actress Geena Davis, Founder and Chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
The female characters that do have a job in the movies are not in power positions. Male characters outnumbered females as attorney and judges (13 to 1), professors (16 to 1) and doctors (5 to 1).
They also are poorly represented (15 percent) in sectors where real women have not advanced such as business executives, political figures, or science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) employees.
Davis suggests the only way to see more women in these position in the real world is to first show them in movies, similar to the way TV and movies portrayed African-American presidents before the United States elected one of its own.
"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," Davis said.
The one facet women do outpace men on screen is hypersexualization. Girls and women were twice as likely as men to wear sexualized clothing or appear naked, and be thin.
"Females bring more to society than just their appearance," said lead researcher Stacy L. Smith of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. "These results illuminate that globally, we have more than a film problem when it comes to valuing girls and women. We have a human problem."
The countries leading in speaking and named female characters included the U.K. (37.9 percent), Brazil (37.1) and South Korea (35.9). The latter's films feature a women in the lead or co-lead role in half of its movies. The hybrid U.S./U.K. and Indian movies portrayed less than a quarter of speaking and named female characters.
The movie industry continues to struggle with incorporating full-fledged female characters. Governments tried to combat this problem in 1995 with the Beijing Platform for Action that called upon a fairer representation of women in media. The agenda also wanted to promote a "balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women" along with less "negative and degrading images of women."
"With their powerful influence on shaping the perceptions of large audiences, the media are key players for the gender equality agenda. With influence comes responsibility. The industry cannot afford to wait another 20 years to make the right decisions," the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
The United Nations and The Rockefeller Foundation helped support this first-ever global study on female characters in popular films.