Study reveals unbalanced portrayal of women in media

A new study presented Tuesday has found that men are depicted in a more positive light than women in television and film. The study, which examined almost 12,000 characters across family films, primetime programs and children’s television shows, also suggests that women are almost completely absent in depictions of the highest level occupations in family-oriented media.

The study, funded by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, was conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The study was authored by Associate Professor of Communication Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Ashley Prescott and Katherine Pieper. In addition, several undergraduate students contributed to the study as part of a communication class on research.

According to the study, were that women appear less frequently than men in media, more likely to be found in G-rated films, often sexualized and shown working less often than men.

The study also found that men are about 4.5 times more likely than women to be portrayed as working in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math.

Though women are becoming increasingly represented in high-level positions and occupations, this progress has yet to be represented in TV shows or in movies.

“Women [in media] are underrepresented in the sciences, they’re underrepresented in politics, they’re underrepresented in business and that’s just not the case anymore,” Pieper said.

Smith said this is especially true for media concerning politics.

“There were only three women out of 5,839 characters — three women that were coded as political leaders,” Smith said. “One was a German chancellor and two were representatives from Congress … there were no Condoleeza Rices, no Hillary Clintons, no Nancy Pelosis in 129 films.”

The researchers believe the problems illuminated by the study could be particularly problematic for kids. Though Choueiti stresses more research must be done to determine the effects of the study’s findings, he said the depictions that were researched could affect children’s views.

“One could extrapolate that there’s potential when seeing repeated exposure to stereotypic portrayals that might have an effect on learning,” Choueiti said.

USC, with its large cinema school, could leave an effect on the future of television and movies. Smith encourages current cinema students to change the current path the media is taking.

“My suggestion to the folks in cinema would be that they are creating worlds and that they are using their creative imaginations to really explore anything that’s possible,” Smith said. “So it doesn’t have to look like the world they know, it could actually be a very diverse world, a very gender-balanced world.”

Kiersten Stanley, a freshman majoring in writing for screen and television, does not believe these stereotypes have affected her writing.

“A lot of my female characters tend to be stronger and it’s not so much a reaction to the trend in Hollywood … it’s just that I tend to, in general, view females as strong and independent,” Stanley said.

Annie Jankowski, a junior majoring in theater, also believes the future looks bright for the portrayal of women in the media.

“My type is usually the stronger female lead … so it’s kind of scary that there aren’t many of those roles, but looking towards what people  [and movies] like Amy Poehler or Bridesmaids are doing in creating funny female leads,” Jankowski said. “I think it’s hopefully going to get a lot better.”

The findings from Smith’s research were presented at a symposium for the Geena Davis Institute on Nov. 13.

2 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    What about the fact that women in the media are still portrayed as sex objects? Or that, overall, the female character in television and movies docilely accepts men’s bad behavior as the norm? Or how about the fact that women are still portrayed as unreasonable, nonsensical and irrational when they get upset? I could go on…but really, it is so much more than just the secular role women are playing. There is still this overwhelming attitude that men are the masters of the universe and we women are here to please them. When I sit down to watch a movie, I can’t help noticing how much the industry panders to men and their preferences. You rarely see an effort to appeal to woman…unless it is some man bashing show on a woman’s network, where again, we are depicted as victims. We make up more than half the population people! It’s time we were recognized!

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