A new study reveals that, as you already knew, it's not super great to be a woman in the film industry. The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that 2012, women held less than a third of speaking roles in high-grossing pictures, the lowest that number has been since 2007. That means that the average movie has a male-to-female cast ratio of 2.51 men to every 1 woman. That basically means that your average film is built like the cast of Two and a Half Men; two men, a child, and their housekeeper.
The only difference between most movies and the cast of everyone's favorite never-ending sitcom is that in the movies, that one woman is likely to be "shown in sexy (i.e., tight or alluring) attire...or partially naked." She'll also be really young:
"Looking at all female speaking characters, approximately a third are shown in sexually revealing attire or are partially naked in 2010 and 2012. The trend is more pronounced with regard to teens, as over half are shown sexualized in the most recent year evaluated in this study. Further, the percentage of teens sexualized in top-grossing films seems to be on the rise."
While the researchers imply that there can't be anything good about this growing sexualization, they acknowledge that a deeper look needs to be taken at whether or not (or just how) seeing all these sexy young girls impacts society at large – and not just for the good of American culture:
"Given that U.S. cinematic content is exported worldwide, it becomes important to examine how viewing such depictions affects the development and maintenance of female objectification among the global audience."
And in an interview with the Los Angles Times, USC researcher Marc Choueiti said that the findings show a "notable consistency in the number of females on-screen from year to year":
"The slate of films developed and produced each year is almost formulaic — in the aggregate, female representation hardly changed at all."
The fanfare behind movies like Bridesmaids or The Hunger Games supports that theory; would the fervor have been so heated if there were more good movies like those being produced by/for/about women? Probably so for The Hunger Games, given the huge success of the books, but probably not for Bridesmaids, which got so much press based largely on how everyone was worried it wouldn't do well at the box office (and that Judd Apatow was doing something crazy and making a chick film). These movies are usually treated as flukes, special because they beat the system, not something to try to mimic.
It's hard to tell if there's any long-term change on the horizon because of these movies. Are blockbuster movies that are considered "good for women" capable of creating some some sort of "trickle-down" effect ? If so, it's going slow at best (with a lot of the talent moving or staying in television). The researchers clearly state that, as usual, the best thing to do is get more women making these movies, citing data that show that there are still "5 males to every 1 female behind the camera," with basically no increases in female employment in this sector over the five years they've been looking at these numbers. Interestingly enough, they suggest that perhaps just getting more women onto the screen and not even behind it would make a difference in the bleak landscape that is women in film. Which means that this is totally the time to make like everyone else and channel Sheryl Sandberg:
"Groups concerned about the portrayal of women and girls should alter their message in their quest to tackle this issue and ensure that movies accurately depict their female audience. As organizations change the cinematic landscape, they may find that audiences are leaning in— toward the screen and toward popular content that presents women and girls equally and powerfully."
LEAN IN. That's an order.
Screening Sexy: Film Females and the Story That Isn't Changing [USC Attenberg School]
Where have all the women gone in movies? [LA Times]
Image via Universal Pictures