For all the good the past year of television has done for women — and that good is plentiful: from Masters of Sex to Orange is the New Black to Orphan Black to Girls and the general rise of more dynamic, complicated, real women characters — the statistical picture is a far bleaker one. In fact, the presence of women in front of and behind the screen in primetime television has actually decreased overall 3.5% from the previous television season according to an annual study. Which, if you ask us, is pretty damn unacceptable, don’t you think?
For the last 17 years, Boxed In has tracked women’s representation and employment in the primetime television landscape thanks to the impressive work of its helmer at San Diego State University. Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, has shown us that while overall, cable and broadcast have seen a rise in female roles both on-screen and off since the 1997 – 1998 season, we’ve declined in a big way from the year prior’s data. And not only that, but the characterizations of said women show that we still have a hard time placing them outside of their relations to men. For every step forward it seems there’s two steps taken backwards when it comes to the advancement of ladies, doesn’t it?
The initial number may be paltry — oh what’s 3.5% between friends, eh? — but breaking the numbers down farther, they paint a much more frustrating picture. Because Hollywood still has a bit of a glass ceiling problem when it comes to the roles most women are “allowed” to inhabit on-screen and off. With very few exception — female directorship and editorship increased a whopping one percent each HOORAY AND HUZZAH — ladies aren’t really getting their due in the creative department. And it’s not just because of what got cancelled in the 2012 – 13 season if you take a look at the cast and crew make-up of what ended during that season.
Though there’s a renaissance at work in the characterization of women on screen, their roles are still largely stereotypical at best. According to the report, female characters were far, far more likely than the male characters shown on screen to play personal life-related roles (“such as wife, mother, girlfriend,” according to the study): 43 percent compared to the male-based 24. Work related roles, however, were largely inhabited by the boys, measuring in at 66 percent compared to the female 41. Something tells us the Bechdel Test wouldn’t like that one bit!
But there is one positive thing: the more women are on staff of a show? The better the numbers get and the variety of representation increases. Which is great until you remember…oh yeah, those numbers decreased this year. Oh, the rage! It is so real!
Even the one shining beacon of hope — the increase of female producers by 9 percent compared to last year — comes with a glassy caveat. Both in broadcast and cable, women have made huge strides on the producer front, representing 43 and 40 percent, respectively. But when it comes to the next-level promotion on the Hollywood ladder — the executive producer — the numbers dip dramatically. Only 23 (broadcast) and 21 (cable) percent of EPs are women, which is actually a decrease of 4 and 3 percentage points on each side, respectively. Apparently there is little room for women to move up when it comes to getting access to the final say-wielding, decision-maker-y roles. So what does that tell our women creators? That we can help out…but only to a point?
Now, it must be noted that, of course, producer credits are oftentimes based on seniority or how good a deal the person’s agent/manager could finagle at contract time. But if that sort of model continues to be the de-facto operating manner, well, it’ll be several years before we see those numbers even out. Which feels hardly acceptable in this day and age and something we shouldn’t have to wait around to fix.
The biggest decrease was behind the scenes at the broadcast level (a/k/a not cable, specialty channels, and Netfix), where female writers were hit the hardest. Compared to the 2012 – 13 season, the number of women writers decreased nine percentage points. NINE. Today, women only accounted for 25% of the writers in the space.
Even more offensively, the representation of women is insanely white-washed. Women of color are so egregiously underrepresented it might be worth noting that Hollywood’s diversity problem in terms of race is the far bigger problem here. Of all the women on TV in any way, shape, or form, 77 percent — SEVENTY-SEVEN — are white. From there, only 13% were African American, 4% Latina, 4% Asian, and 2% encompassed everyone else. Because that’s totally fair, right? WAIT NOPE, WRONG. Obviously we’ve got a bigger story to write in that regard (and we will! As long as our editors let us).
So, basically, what we’re saying is: get your shit together, Hollywood! It is always a slow road to affect positive change but it’s also necessary to be better than the status quo as Hollywood’s influence has been shown to lead the way in creating a more progressive world. But in order to do better, we have to be better, and make changes that interrupt “the way things are done.” That means treating our female makers and shakers better than they are, and giving them their earned share of the metaphorical pie. After all, it’s a big ol’ pie and it’s mmm, so meaty!
What do you think of the numbers? Let us know in the comments.
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