In the North American media men dominate shows for kids
One small study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, rather than take on the whole industry, the institute only focuses on what’s produced for children and who’s involved in those productions.
Over the years, the institute’s studies have shattered any illusion that children’s programming doesn’t share the same prejudices of adult entertainment.
The institute’s most recent study is the largest content survey ever done of U.S.-produced children’s films. And since the United States produces 80 per cent of all movies in the world, it’s the largest ever, anywhere. (Download http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/downloads/FullStudy_GenderDisparityFamilyFilms.pdf)
It was done by Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who analyzed films released in the United States and Canada between Sept. 5, 2006, and Sept. 7, 2009.
They and more than 80 students looked at all G-rated, English-language fictional narratives and the 50 top grossing PG and PG-13 movies.
What they found is that the world portrayed in kids’ shows is dominated by men — or at least males, since some of the kids’ characters are animals and even cars.
Of the 5,554 speaking roles, 71 per cent of the characters had men’s or boy’s voices.
But in three years’ worth of children’s movies ranging from fictional narratives to dramas and cartoons, the most shocking conclusion is how the few female characters are portrayed.
Whether they’re fish, penguins, stuffed animals or people, the female characters are mostly young, sexy, beautiful and passive sidekicks. Eye candy.
A quarter of the female characters wore sexy attire. One in five was partly nude.
The tiny-waisted female bodies depicted veer so substantially from the norm that researchers noted there is “little room for a womb or for any other internal organ.”
Even in their small numbers, female characters are disproportionately young. One in five is under 21, nearly double the number of male characters that age. But after 40? Women fall off the cliff, says Smith, who presented her research at Vancouver’s SexMediaMoney symposium.
Smith and the Davis Institute aren’t just interested in how females are depicted in children’s programming, they want to know why and how to change it. Again, they’ve got the statistics to make their case.
Women behind the scenes — the content creators who include producers, directors, writers, camera operators and so on — are even rarer than females onscreen. Again, the statistics seem shocking in an age when people have come to believe that the equality battles have all been won.
In those three years’ worth of children’s movies, the content creators were almost all men. They comprised 93 per cent of the directors, 87 per cent of the writers, 80 per cent of the producers.
So why does that matter? Because even where there was a single female director or writer, the percentage of female characters rose.
But here’s the more significant statistic — and it’s the point that Madeline Di Nonno, the Davis Institute’s executive director, drives home in meetings with media executives. When there are two or more women behind the scenes, the number of onscreen female characters jumps.
Two seems to be a tipping point akin to the 30 per cent that female politicians say is necessary for their voices and issues to be heard and taken seriously.
So why should it matter whether there’s a strong female character in Finding Nemo, Madagascar or Ice Age? Why does it matter if the female characters in children’s shows are hyper-sexualized?
A multi-year study by Rand Corp. found, for example, that the teens who watch the most sex on television are the first to have sex and the first to get pregnant.
Like little boys, girls need strong role models, too. They need more than just Dora the Explorer and teeny-bikini-clad Little Mermaid. And the way to get there is to provide more opportunities for those children’s mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and even grandmothers to write and produce those characters for them.