Women work a lot more in real life than they do on screen

She can play a working woman, and win an Oscar for it.
She can play a working woman, and win an Oscar for it.
Image: AP Photo/Joel Ryan
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Women make up 39.8% of the global workforce. But in the world of film, they account for less than a quarter of characters with jobs.

Image for article titled Women work a lot more in real life than they do on screen

These numbers come from a UN-backed study sponsored by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and conducted by the University of Southern California. The study, released Sept. 22, examined 10 popular films from each of these 11 countries, all of which have sizable film industries.

It should be noted that the researchers looked at only 10 films from each country over a two-and-a-half-year period, so while the numbers serve as a strong point of comparison, there would need to be a more in-depth analysis to fully determine each country’s overall attitude toward women in film.

Though India had the lowest representation of working women on screen, at 15.6%, it also came closest to the actual percentage of the local workforce that is female, missing by 9.7 percentage points. The rest of the countries missed their mark by an average of 20 percentage points, including a 29 percentage-point miss in France.

The women working on screen fill jobs in only four sectors—business/finance; media, arts, and entertainment; science, technology, and engineering; and healthcare—whereas male characters tend to have a wider range, filling jobs in eight sectors in the films included in the study. Female characters accounted for only 10% of the high-level politicians and 14% of the top-level executives portrayed on international screens. Women do represent 29.5% of monarchs, though. As the study notes, “Even when their kingdoms were comprised of owls, bees, or other talking animals, these queens outnumbered the representations of attainable political power in films.”

The actress Geena Davis introduced the research at a symposium in New York.

“What message are we sending to boys and girls at a very vulnerable age?” she asked. ”We are saying to them that women and girls are less valuable than men and boys.”