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Today in Depressing

Study Reveals That Female Speaking Roles In Film Not As Prevalent As “Eye Candy” Roles

Get ready to not be psyched at all: A new study conducted by the University of Southern California has revealed the pretty appalling statistic that women only account for 32.8 percent of all the characters who had speaking roles in the top grossing movies of 2008. This includes The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Twilight and, obviously, many others. Women (namely young women aged 13 to 20) were also seen to be presented as more sexually attractive (based on their clothing, weight, and general physical attractiveness) by margins of 20 percentage points. Even more annoying: the numbers have not really changed since the 1970s.

So, basically, in today’s film industry, women are more on-screen to be seen and not heard. And when they are seen, they are young, beautiful, and thin. For example, while there are no specifics on what exactly constitutes “sexy or revealing attire,” 25.7% of women were seen wearing it as opposed to only 5.1% of men. Similarly, 23.7% of women were shown “partially naked” compared to only 8.2% of men. Seriously — that’s just not fair for those of us who enjoy looking at men. Personally, I don’t mind women getting naked on-screen as long as there are just as many men doing it too. I say if we’re going objectify women, let’s just go ahead and objectify men, if that’s how it has to be. Sexy roles will never go away, we just need to even them out between our two genders.

The age thing, however, is what’s kinda gross.

Teenaged females were more likely than teenaged males to be in sexy attire [39.8% vs 6.7%], partially clad [30.1% vs 10.3%], possess a small waist [35.1% vs 13.6%], and be referenced as physically attractive [29.2% vs 11.1%].

And if we thought that only teenagers were watching these scantily-clad teenagers, it might be less gross. But we all know they’re not called “dirty old men” for nothing. (Which is not to say that “dirty old women” aren’t ogling Taylor Lautner, but still.)

The study also covered women’s roles in film off-screen as well as on-screen, and the numbers were even worse. For example:

Only 8% of directors, 13.6% of writers, and 19.1% of producers are female. This calculates to a ratio of 4.90 males to every one female.

And as far as women’s roles on-screen when more women are involved off-screen, there is a difference made. The number of women speaking on-screen does increase when there is a female director or writer involved — but not so much when a female producer is. While there is an increase, the margin isn’t nearly as wide as it is for writers and directors. Statistics like these, while incredibly frustrating and depressing for any female moviegoer didn’t completely surprise me following what director/actor Jodie Foster said about women in the film industry. It’s a very primal mentality, and it absolutely needs to change. In the meantime, we can still look up to women who are making strides in filmmaking, like Foster, Kathryn Bigelow, Miranda July … and maybe more women like Sarah Kuhn!

(USA Today via Jezebel)

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  • Pat

    Not surprising. I remember, many, many moons ago in my Art of Theatre class in college, the prof told us there are 300% more roles for men than women. I’m not sure where she pulled that number from, nor can I attest to its accuracy, but a quick mental check of the plays I was familiar with seemed to bear it out.

  • Anonymous

    It’s so true. The worst part is that a lot of people don’t realize it. Every year there are arguments at the school I go to over the lack of female roles in the plays that are chosen. Despite the fact that we outnumber the guys in the department by…well, I don’t have a ratio but it is enough that there should be plays with a better male to female ratio.

  • Swellsman

    What . . . seriously?

    Okay, leaving aside the fact that two of the movies you specifically mentioned by name have a male protagonist (Dark Knight, Iron Man) who probably, just in the course of things, can be counted upon to speak more, are you really taking umbrage at the stats about how many men compared to women have a “small waist.”

    Have you spent any time the last coupla years looking at what passes for TeeVee entertainment these days? Or how couples are presented in commercials?

    The guy/Dad/husband is usually presented as a kind of dumb, clueless guy who isn’t nearly as hip as his kids or his wife . . . who is usually presented as much smarter, hipper and sexier than the guy. King of Queens, anybody? (Hell, I semi-remember a skit or a reference on a Fox Sunday Animation where they just went ahead and pointed out that they were mocking a show about “A Fat Guy and His Hot Wife.”)

    Where you seem to see objectivization of women, I see lazy stereotypical condemnation of men — we’re all dumb, lazy, apathetic creatures just lucky enough that lithesome creatures like you find any reason to talk to us.

    I suppose you can take these stats any way you want but . . . really? As a guy, I might ask the same question you are asking: why aren’t there more physically attractive guys on the screen? Possible answer: because it doesn’t fit the test-marketed idea that guys aren’t to be presented as worth the amazingly attractive women they find themselves lucky enough to be with. Losers.

  • Skemono

    Yes, woe for the poor, oppressed male! His life is soo~ hard.

  • Anon

    I appreciate how you realize how sexism goes both ways.

    I don’t appreciate how you don’t realize that it does so AT THE SAME TIME.

  • Swellsman

    Hey, I’m not complaining about these things. Like Louis CK points out in one of his skits, to be a white male in this society is — well, really, it’s just the best. How lucky can one person be?

    I’m just pointing out that it’s really difficult to draw large societal conclusions based on a collection of statistics taken without any context provided. “The Dark Knight and Iron Man don’t have a lot of dialogue by women?” Shocking.

    And men’s waists are thicker than the waists of women on-screen? Tells you nothing without telling you whether this is because (i) the women are sex objects on-screen for the delight of less attractive men, or (ii) the women are objective lessons in how slobbish men are.

    I dunno . . . I’m having a hard time drawing the conclusion the author wants me to take without having the numbers put into context. I didn’t think pointing this out would indicate that I can’t perceive sexism (see reply from Anon, below).

  • Frodo Baggins

    Or just Reverse-Shakespeare it, and have ladies plays dudes. Or gender switch that shit! Theater departments are always itching to do that.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Yeah, Kathryn Bigelow sure loads her movies with female characters, she does. For all of Point Break, K-19, Strange Days, and Hurt Locker, I was like, “Damn! Where all the men at?”

    Joking aside, I checked out this: list of woman directors, and two things struck me.

    1. Yikes, women have made a lot of shitty movies (Sturgeon’s Law, of course. Men have made way more, shittier movies), i.e. John Tucker Must Die, I Spy, Dr. Dolittle, The Brady Bunch Movie, A Night at the Roxbury, Look Who’s Talking, New York Minute
    2. THAT was directed by a woman???? i.e. Joe Dirt, What Women Want, Black Sheep, Wayne’s World,
    3. Oh, I loved that one! Why doesn’t she get more work? i.e. American Psycho, Boys Don’t Cry, Wendy and Lucy,

  • Anonymous

    They are?
    My department needs to get on that trend. The head of ours is really not cool with it and feels that women should play ‘what [you're] supposed to do’.

  • Arakiba

    Concern troll is concern trolling…go about your business.

  • Anonymous

    Having read numerous articles and studies for the past 2+ years about the near-absence of women and non-White actors in leading, compelling speaking roles, I am NOT surprised by this.

    Hollywood needs to get with the program or be lost in the sea of far more compelling and diverse competition.

  • Hillary Lauren

    That’s disappointing. I went to a liberal arts college where the girls outnumbered the boys by a lot, too. However, the school director (female, I might add) would pick plays like Three Sisters or do gender reversals. Surprising the latter doesn’t happen more often, considering there are a lot of male characters that can also be female characters with minor changes to scripts and still make sense. It was done in Battlestar Galactica and Salt with great success!

  • Swellsman

    Checked in to see if anyone had picked up on my response to the first commenter, above. Found out I am a “concern troll.”

    Okay . . . probably I am not as hip as the people on this site. I only found this place a few weeks ago after a political blog site I spend time on pointed me to the article about whether Joss Whedon should or should not be considered a feminist writer. (For the record, I thought the author of that piece took a lot of things out of context, and was trying to be a contrarian solely for the sake of contrariness.) But my understanding of the term “conern troll” means to try to pretend to believe in the ethos of the group, but then suggest that the group be more concerned with other priorities . . . priorities that then prove antithetical to the group’s actual goal.

    (Like I said, I mostly spend my time on political blogs; this is what I see there.)

    I didn’t think that my point was particularly obscure, or particularly difficult. In fact, I thought it was relatively simple: numbers can only tell you what is happening, they cannot tell you why it is happening. Without context, without narrative, there is no way to know what these numbers mean. Sure, they could mean that women are presented on the screen just as “eye-candy,” but they could also mean that women are presented as inherently superior to men (the way I see most sit-coms and commercials). Without context, there is simply no way to tell.

    I did go back and click on the links to read the initial article, and now I am even more skeptical. Let me get this straight . . . . the author has taken a piece of academic work and used it to present a premise but — instead of relying on the academic work itself — is relying on what USA Today (America’s dumbest newspaper) had to say about the academic work? This is what the author is relying upon to make her point? USA Today’s interpretation of academia?

    Color me unimpressed. I’m sorry, but this is just sloppy argument. And, hey — listen — it may be exactly what the author said, and perhaps the paper itself would, in fact, support her conclusion. But this was sloppily argued, and can only serve to convince those who are already inclined to believe in it. And citation to a secondary source, which has already given you the interpretation you want — well, that isn’t really even writing.

    Having gone back and read the original USA Today article, it is clear that this post is just a paraphrase of that, except with added vitriol thrown in for fun.

  • Anonymous

    I know the whole ‘don’t feed the troll’ and all that but I feel like I should at least try to clear the misconception up. Women /are/ often treated like sex objects for men and held to much more ridiculous beauty standard than men are. In sitcoms, this allows men to take on those schlubby/averageguy roles where the woman should ‘look deeper’ to the man’s intestines or something instead of being ‘superficial’ and judging him by his looks (even though women get valued on solely those all the time and have to be the hot wives while a bigger variation of men get to be hired for say.. those sitcoms you were talking about). This sets up a double standard, where men can expect beauty and sexiness from women and to be cleaned up after (‘boys will be boys’) but it implies that women shouldn’t expect reciprocation. Besides that fact, notice that all those men are still the main characters, still the ones taking part in the majority of the adventures, and have varied personalities (hell, /any/ personality) and those women are their objects of desire, usually generic sexpots and mommy-wife stereotypes. 

    Men are the ones usually running those sitcom shows by the way, because it supports the idea that men ‘are just like that’ and implies women should just settle with it instead of expecting more while women still have to be the equivalent super-models. Sounds kind of one-sided. This is largely irrelevant though, since these kinds of sitcom relationships don’t really apply to most movies. It’s not hard to draw large societal conclusions.. when most of the protagonists for these movies have been straight white men. Exclusionary, no? It’s very obvious discrimination. Your sarcastic comment of how ‘shocking’ it is that women get treated like props in these movies seems to say you find it acceptable. Or perhaps that because they are main characters, it’s just ‘common sense’ everyone else has less speaking roles.. which would work if all the other secondary men still didn’t get more lines and involvement in the plot than the women. Which they do.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Numbers can only tell you what is happening.”: Women are held to a much more strict beauty standard than men are. This isn’t a compliment, this is restrictive. You imply women should be grateful for this due to your words because they don’t have it as bad as men. I’m not sure how ‘inherent superiority’ can be the conclusion one comes to if the women are treated like props, plot devices, and sexual objects to be pleasing to men, who get to be the main characters that are usually much more active with varied roles.

    It’s pretty easy to tell if you actually keep up with most movies o.o (I’m still not sure why you even bring up sit coms and commercials, these are not the subject of the post and you have no statistics to even prove it’s ‘most’ commercials. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong and it’s not most commercials.) Also, your subjective opinion of what is the dumbest newspaper is useless. Why is your opinion anymore valuable and why should anyone care if you’re impressed? Your lecturing on how it’s sloppy because it’s sloppy isn’t exactly productive or helpful either, it comes off as concern trolling. If you want to challenge sexism, then do that, but derailing a topic that had nothing to do with sexism against men with a tone that comes across as ‘me first!’ or ‘ur doin’ it wrong’ probably isn’t the right way to go about things.