TV still plagued by gender gap

There are dramatically fewer female writers than male writers working in the television industry, according to a new study released by the Writers Guild of America, West, which examined employment patterns for writers from the 2011-12 television season.

In a world that seems to have progressed in the matter of gender equality, not only is this data surprising, but it begs the question: Is it possible that the entertainment industry is trailing behind the rest of America in gender inequality?

According to the study, only an estimated 30.5 percent of writers were women in the last TV season. Even more shockingly, that number has only increased 5.5 percent since 1999.

If we are to follow the survey’s predictions, it will be another 42 years before women — roughly half of the population — reach proportionate representation in television writing employment.

Forty-two years. That’s a long time. Teleportation could occur sooner.

Looking at the data, it is easy to summarize that because there is a lack of women writers, fewer women voices are being projected through television, which would suggest why there are fewer women overall on screen.

USC Annenberg Professor Stacy Smith found data that confirmed that theory when she looked at roles and occupations in media. Smith found that in children’s shows, females represent only 30.8 percent of the characters.

When it comes to speaking roles, only about 44 percent of females are employed  in comparison to the 55 percent of males who are employed.

Perhaps more alarming, Smith’s 2012 research pointed out that more often than not, women are portrayed in a stereotypical manner.

This means that not only are females underrepresented, but they are also more prone to being depicted in harmful, stereotypical fashions.

Young females need more aspirational role models in greater leadership positions in various fields and occupational sectors. How can that change if the writers are mostly male? After all, it is not a large leap to assume that male writers will more often than not write more convincingly about men because that is what they know.

One only needs to look as far as the hit show Big Bang Theory, whose head writers are three males — Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady and Steven Molaro — to see the problem. In a recent episode, Leonard, Sheldon and Howard give an unsuccessful presentation to young girls about pursuing careers in science. Though one could say that the point of the episode was to show the need for more females in scientific fields, the message was jumbled. For the audience watching, the men in the show wear suits and speak academically, while the ladies head to Disneyland and get made into pretty princesses. There’s something about that, which feels very contradictory.

Some might argue that there is plenty of strong female writing on television now. The Mindy Project is just one current TV example centered on not just a woman, but also a successful woman. Mindy is a successful doctor, one that addresses problems head-on and does not fall into the damsel-in-distress female character persona. Moreover, Melissa & Joey, which returns to air May 29, focuses on Mel, a successful female politician and Juey, her male nanny. Talk about getting away from stereotypes.

Still, we should not let a few good examples, such as The Mindy Project and Melissa & Joey, detract from the fact that there is still a problem.

As Huffington Post writer Nina Bahadur said, “For every Carrie Mathison, the brilliant, complicated spy Claire Danes plays on Homeland, there are six Real Housewives.”

At the end of the day, Mindy and Mel unfortunately represent just a small wave on TV. There are countless examples to serve as their foils: Elena Gilbert in The Vampire Diaries, for example, spends a majority of her time thinking about which boy she likes more. Her focus seems primarily on the boys in her life. And Elena is not alone.

This is even more apparent in reality television shows, such as Toddlers & Tiaras, where it seems a female’s importance lies solely on how she appears and how society perceives her. Shows similar to that just push back progress in gender equality.

And even when there are shows intended to showcase successful women, there is still something stereotypical about they way they are portrayed. For example, Zoe Hart in Hart of Dixie is a successful and powerful doctor. However, she is always depicted as perfect, which is unrealistic for anyone, male or female. All characters have faults — that’s what makes them compelling and to be considered successful. Women should not be held to a different standard.

Still, progress is continuing. Despite problems with her character, Zoe is a doctor and Mel and Mindy are not ideal stay-at-home moms who care for their partners’ every needs. This shows that progress is happening in the industry, albeit at a slower rate than one might hope.

The glass ceiling has been splintered. Let us hope that it doesn’t take 42 years until the sky shines all the way through the television screen, though.


Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.