Representation matters. Why? Because when people consume media, they’re consuming ideas– ideas about what people can do and be, how people interact with and relate to the world and what it means to be a person. How people are depicted in media is affected directly by who’s creating it. If we want the women in our media to reflect the full spectrum of what women can do, how they relate to their worlds and what it means to be a woman, we need more women behind the scenes shaping female characters and their stories.
Comic Book Guy Reigns Supreme
As Carolyn Cocca says in her Eisner-nominated book, “Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation”: “If the constantly repeated story is that women and girls are not leaders, are not working in professional settings, are not agents of their own lives but merely adjuncts to others, and are sometimes not even present at all, it can reinforce or foster societal undervaluing of women and girls… As there are fewer female characters to begin with, each is overburdened with representing women as a group.”
Carolyn makes an excellent point, and I was tipped off to it when investigating gender disparity in comics and the comics industry. Amanda Shendruk analyzed gender representation amongst more than 30K comic book characters, and I found Carolyn quoted in her article presenting the results. Amanda says: “…the comics industry has had a complicated relationship with female characters. They are often hyper-sexualized, unnecessarily brutalized, stereotyped, and used as tokens. They’re also rare. Only 26.7 percent of all DC and Marvel characters are female, and only 12 percent of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists.”
Tim Hanley‘s excellent series for Bleeding Cool, “Gendercrunching,” takes a quarterly look at DC and Marvel’s content and creators. Would you believe that there’s a correlation between the gender inequality behind the scenes and amongst the characters? Below are two graphics from his assessment of the second quarter of 2018, and the percentage of women behind the scenes at the “big two” is somehow unsurprising and disappointing at the same time.
Of course, comics aren’t the only place in the geek and pop culture universe where more women behind the scenes could lead to more (and better) women in finished products.
Television & Films: 99 Problems, & Gender Inequality is One
SDSU’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s report on the 2017/18 television season drew a conclusive line between representation behind the scenes and on screen, saying, “The employment of women working in key behind-the-scenes positions on broadcast network programs has stalled, with no meaningful progress over the last decade.” Not good.
TheWrap reported in March 2018 that “…only 3.3 percent of the films scheduled for release this year by the six major Hollywood studios have a female director — the lowest percentage in at least five years.” and that “…half of the majors — Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. — have only men directing all of their 2018 releases.”
That’s after Wonder Woman posted a domestic gross of $412,563,408. And it’s not just directing where women are underrepresented. The New York Film Academy created this infographic to illustrate where the film industry as a whole stands with gender inequality in 2018:
Video Games: Winning in Gender Disparity
Perhaps the biggest offender in terms of gender disparity behind the scenes is the video game industry. The International Game Developers Association’s 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey found that: “Developers are still young, male, white and most of them do not have children or elder care responsibilities… As such, important representational challenges remain. These include immediate negative outcomes such as inequity and discrimination for women, ethnic minorities and older workers, but also (has) implications for the maturation of the industry, innovation in game content, art and design, perpetuating negative occupational identities and norms, and working conditions such as hours and overtime.”
When Jessica Conditt covered Ubisoft’s announcement that they’d be participating in the Women in Gaming Rally at GDC for Endagadget, she focused on one reporter’s question to Michael Burk, director of the company’s corporate PR: “In the leadership slide you showed for Mumbai, how come there are no women? It was all men.”
The question shocked Jessica, one of only two female journalists present at Ubisoft’s press briefing, out of weary complacence. She said: “I wasn’t going to ask it myself. Nearly a decade of trade shows and PowerPoint presentations from major video game publishers had rendered me nearly numb to the realities of gender roles in the industry. This was just another slide in another show at another conference where the lack of women in leadership roles was considered normal. Business as usual.”
Things Are Tough All Over
The bad news is that gender disparity is apparently present behind the scenes in all media. Women are grossly underrepresented in the music industry, women are in the extreme minority in shaping news media, women are best recognized for their achievements in literature when grouped only with other female authors, female sound designers in theatre make up about 11.6% of the population but get only about 10.5% of the jobs (and it’s worse on Broadway), etc. As the Women’s Media Center reported in their comprehensive Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017 report: “Women are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story.”
The good news is that, especially in the #MeToo / #TimesUp era, there’s an increasing degree of visibility on this and other gender-related issues in media (pay gap, family leave and healthcare issues, sexual harassment, sexualization of women and female characters, etc.). There are also organizations like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, SDSU’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, HowlRound, VIDA and the Women’s Media Center keeping tabs on gender disparity, quantifying what they’re seeing and reporting it broadly.
So, what can we do? We can demand change. We can vote with our dollars. We can enroll in degree programs that lead to careers behind the scenes in entertainment media. We can make our own media. We can aggressively apply for our dream jobs in entertainment. We can write articles like this one on websites like this one. We can keep our eyes on this particular ball.
We can push for more women behind the scenes.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive look at this complex issue, but it’s part of a web of reporting on women behind the scenes in geek and pop culture that we do here at Geek Girl Authority, and you can count on us keeping this piece updated and following it with more.