Study Finds That Women Characters on TV Are Still More Likely to Be Mothers and Wives

Image via Netflix
Image via Netflix

The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University conducted a new study of women’s representation in television from September 2016 to May 2017, selecting one random episode of every series appearing on basic and premium cable channels, broadcast networks, and streaming services.


And while it may seem like opportunities for women in television are getting better through creators like Issae Rae, Jenji Kohan, and Shonda Rhimes, the findings of this study prove there are, unfortunately, still broad issues with the roles women play before and behind your screens.

As for women on screen, key points of the 2016-2017 study include:

  • 68 percent of the shows studied had casts that included more men than women
  • Women characters only accounted for 42 percent of all speaking characters across platforms
  • Latinas are majorly underrepresented on broadcast network shows, accounting for only 5 percent of all speaking, women characters
  • Women characters were more likely to be defined by their marital status than men, less likely to be seen working or at work, and were more likely to have “personal life-oriented” roles like mother or wife.

In terms of small positive changes this year, racial diversity across programs has definitely increased a tiny bit. In broadcast network shows black women went from accounting for 17 percent of characters in last year’s study (2016-2016) to being 21 percent this year and asian women characters increased from five percent to seven percent in 2016-2017.

When it comes to women off screen the numbers get even worse. A large number of shows just do not hire enough women behind the scenes: 97 percent of programs had no women directors of photography, 85 percent had no women directors, 75 percent had no women editors, 74 percent had no women creators, and 67 percent had no women producers. Yikes!

But if you look at shows with even just one woman as a creator, women characters accounted for 51 percent of major characters compared to only 38 percent in shows with only men creators. And the same goes for behind the scenes, with shows with at least one women creator, women made up 57 percent of the writers. Looking at programs that even had just one executive producer on a show, the study finds that women then made up 18 percent of directors as opposed to those with just men producers, where only eight percent of directors were women.

The lesson? Hiring women clearly has a strong domino effect. If you hire a woman to make a show or produce a show it will trickle down into the writers room, to the directors level, which will then make its way to better roles for women on screen.

Hazel Cills is the Pop Culture Reporter at Jezebel. Her writing has been published by outlets including The Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, ELLE, and more.



Latinas are majorly underrepresented on broadcast network shows, accounting for only 5 percent of all speaking, women characters 

And how many of those are maids, I wonder? Jesus, that is fucking depressing as shit.