Women and Girls on Film: “Inequality is Rampant”

Storify is closing and over the coming weeks, I will be migrating my posts to my blog. This is an archive of my article first published on Storify on 24 September 2014. 

In September 2014, the United Nations, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and The Rockefeller Foundation published a study on the representation of cisgender people on film. Here I report on the major findings and include some of my related social media posts.

The study conducted by Dr Stacy Smith, Marc Choueiti and Dr Katherine Pieper included 120 globally released movies in 11 major film regions: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United States, and the United Kingdom. The study included almost 5,800 speaking or named characters. The researchers find that, globally, only 31% of speaking roles in films are given to women and less than a quarter of films are centred on a woman protagonist (23%).

The study finds that girls and women are slightly better represented in the UK (38% of speaking roles), Brazil (37%) and Korea (36%). Women and girls’ representation in Germany (35%) and China (35%) is relatively worse, but gender inequality is even more entrenched in India (25%) and the USA and U.K. (24%). This is especially alarming since Hollywood is the biggest exporter of films globally and they are clearly leading in the wrong direction.

Only 28 films in the sample (23%) feature a woman or girl in the lead role or otherwise sharing the story with another main character. The study also considers the gender balance of film casts (where 45 to 55% of characters are women or girls). Only 12 films met this criteria (10%). When women characters are featured in the main storyline, they appear in highly femininised genres. For example: women feature in 33% of comedy roles; 34% of dramas; and 29% of animated movies, but they make up only made up 23% of characters in action/adventure films.

The study included 1,452 film makers and people working in key roles behind the scenes. Women make up only 7% of directors, less than 20% of writers, and 23% of producers. The UK (27%) and China (17%) are comparably better, while France, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the USA are below the industry average of 7%.

Around 60% of younger characters (children and teenagers) are boys while 40% are girls. While 34% of men are cast as characters aged 40 to 64 years of age, only 19% of women are depicted as middle aged characters. The researchers find this is especially problematic given that the younger women who do appear in films are highly sexualised.

Women are more than twice as likely to wear sexually revealing clothing (25% of women vs 9% of men). Women are more likely to be thin (38.5%) in comparison to men (16%). Women are also more likely to be partially or fully naked (24% women vs 11.5% of men). Women characters are also five times more likely to have their looks commented upon by others (13% vs less than 3%). Younger women are more likely to wear revealing clothing, but women across the ages of 13 to 39 years are equally likely to be sexualised.

Women & Girls on Film

Continue reading Women and Girls on Film: “Inequality is Rampant”

Doing Gender Through Music

Graphic saying 'One of the guys'

In her Honours study of the gendered patterns in a school of music, sociologist Amy Loudin found that, when listening to music, male musicians were more likely to focus on technical issues. Yet when listening to pieces conducted by a woman, they were more likely to judge it based on their perception of her mood, and in so doing, they commented on her violation of gender norms. They said things like, “Well, she’s pissed about something” and “That was really aggressive.” Women’s gender was the focus of their interpretation and critique. One musician says: “I don’t want to say this in a bad way, but she’s a woman.”

The women focused on memory when interpreting music, evoking examples of remembering other experiences: “It reminded me of what would be playing in the opening credits of an old movie,” and “It reminds me of ‘Night on the Bald Mountain.'” Loudin also found that women were under-represented amongst faculty members and as clinicians, conductors and composers. The women who entered the highly masculine fields, such as percussion, felt like they were given feminine instruments, like the bells. Overall, women’s contribution was under-valued, however, they were featured in recital advertising in a sexualised way.

This is an absolutely wonderful example visual sociology! Made in collaboration with young artist Courtney Leonard.

Beyond Boycotts: Gender, Globalisation and Garment Factories in Bangladesh

Photo: Weronika via Flickr CC 2.0
Photo: Weronika via Flickr CC 2.0

In Bangladesh, four million people work in textile factories. Their work accounts for 80% of their country’s annual exports. Yet they work in extremely dangerous conditions. It’s been a year since 1,100 workers died in two incidents of fire and structural collapse in April 2013. My post explores this tragedy through a sociological lens, looking at empirical studies of the local working conditions and social reality in which garment workers live. These tragedies are an ugly reminder of the unequal economic relations that sustain globalisation. One of the visceral Western response to these tragedies may be to cry for a boycott of these companies. Sociological research shows that the resolution is much less tidy. The story behind this is not simply about corporate greed. It is a tale about gender inequality and the social costs of economic mobility. Let’s start by remembering the 2013 tragedy. Continue reading Beyond Boycotts: Gender, Globalisation and Garment Factories in Bangladesh

Sexism in Toy Marketing

Toy astronomical telescope with a handwritten sign saying it's best suited for a boy. My hand holds the sign down

The text beneath this toy telescope says: “The perfect present for 6 year boys, but not their little sisters. – Lachlan, 6.” I took this photo at a department store one year a go. I had set out specifically to find a telescope for my niece who was excited about learning about space. While admittedly this is meant as a toy rather than a real telescope, I was fuming.

On the one hand, if this comment is from an actual 6 year old customer, rather than a marketing gimmick, you might think: he’s only little. On the other hand, children adopt the views of their parents. This attitude needs to be questioned as the public perception of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a major issue that scientists from various disciplines are committed to changing. Either way, the fact that the store thought this comment was fit for public consumption is an outcome of sexist culture.

I’ve thought about this again because shopping for my nieces and nephews last Christmas made me ponder the gendered packaging of toys. Sociology PhD student Elizabeth Sweet writes for the New York Times that gendered toys were “remarkably absent” from toy advertising at the beginning in the 20th Century, but this appears around WWII. It declined by the early 1970s only to rise again in the 1990s. Today it’s almost impossible to find gender neutral toys. Why did gendered toys take hold? It’s the remarkable and insidious story of marketing!

Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos.

LGBTQIA Attitudes in Russia

Pew Research surveyed 996 Russians in 2013. The study finds 72% of people report that homosexuality is morally “unacceptable.” This includes 65% of university educated people. More people think being gay is morally unacceptable relative to having an affair and gambling. It’s little wonder given the “propaganda” laws, which have outlawed communication of non-heterosexual lifestyles. The ban continues to be used to suppress discussion of any sexual topics, including sex education. In this climate of fear, few people are likely to publicly support Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) identities in any way, including by proclaiming that homosexuality is “acceptable.”

Below is an excellent panel discussion by the LSE, which included an LGBTQ activist in Russia, who discussed how the propaganda law was being used to de facto criminalise homosexuality. Other speakers discussed how the propaganda laws in Russia are an international human rights issue. By listening to the activist speak, we are being complicit in a crime: her potential imprisonment for speaking out against the law.

Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

Tauriq Moosa has looked at the bizarre stigma around people – especially women – who voluntarily decide not to procreate. This includes: 

  • Not having children is a ‘bad decision’
  • Life is meaningless without children
  • ‘You’re a “crazy” cat lady in training.’ (This is ableist and so doubly awful)
  • The decision is selfish and you’ll eventually regret it
  • ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man’
  • ‘What are you waiting for?’
  • ‘Your biological clock is ticking’
  • ‘You’d be a great mum’
  • ‘You think you don’t want kids but when you have them you’ll change your mind’
  • Your partner will eventually leave you unless you have kids
  • ‘You don’t know what real love is’
  • No one will be around to look after you when you’re old.

There’s some excellent sociology on this topic of why people choose to remain child-free. For example, Janet Wheeler notes that in Australia, 24% of women are child-free, and only 7% of this is due to infertility. The rest are a mixture of circumstance (e.g. break-up of a relationship) or a conscious decision not to have children.

Continue reading Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia

Storify is closing down. This is an archive of my post, Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia. First published on 20 January 2014.

Dr V (Dr Essay Anne Vanderbilt) is a transgender woman who invented a golf club. Journalist Caleb Hannan outed Dr V’s transgender identity even though he understood she did not want this to be revealed. She consequently died by suicide. These are my tweets showcasing the best articles on this story. #JusticeForDrV.

Continue reading Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia

Sexual Racism and Fetishisation

The above chart summarises a survey using data from the dating app Are You Interested. The survey includes 2.4 million responses from heterosexual people. The data show that most men are looking to date outside their group. Most heterosexual women are drawn to heterosexual White men (with the notable exception of Black women), while most heterosexual men gravitate towards Asian women. Also noteworthy is that Black people are less likely to receive responses than the other groups.

The data suggest that sexual fetishes are facilitated by technology, because people can sort through physical descriptors, thus practising sexual exclusion through their potential partner choices.

These data need to be treated with a strong measure of scepticism. This is not an academic study that is using valid and reliable measures. While the dataset is relatively big, it draws only from one app and it’s measuring message exchanges. This doesn’t necessarily mean that 2,400 people responded. The data were generated by the company that makes the app, so it is a marketing venture. Bearing these issues in mind, NPR journalist Elise Hu argues that, while the data may be skewed, it’s a conversation starter about racialised sexual fetishes:

I actually do think there must be some of the Asian fetishisation, er, “yellow fever” at play here. This just really gets in my craw, because it becomes a problem for the Asian women — Am I just loved because I’m part of an ethnic group that’s assumed to be subservient, or do I have actual value as an individual, or is it both? — and it’s a problem for men who love them — Is my husband only with me ‘cause he’s a creepster who makes certain assumptions about me and my race, or can he legitimately be attracted to me as an individual? The results of this study only perpetuate social problems for both sexes involved.

On the flip side, it’s glaring how much everybody prefers white guys and doesn’t respond to black men and women. And white men never have to question whether they’re attractive to others because of a fetish, that’s for sure.

Racial fetishes are not the same as having a preference for a particular “look” such as hair colour. Fetishes are not the same as people in intercultural relationships, where both people respect one another’s individuality and manage difference with respect. A fetish, where someone only dates a person because they’re a particular racial group, is a practice tied to a history of colonialism.

Sexual stereotypes are damaging. The sexualised Asian woman is a narrow understanding of Asian femininities. This fetish is about subservience. In Western pop culture, Asian men are not seen as sexual beings. Latin men, and Black men and women are characterised as hypersexual and dangerous, while Latin women are conquests. (I wrote about these sexualised stereotypes in film, on my research blog).

Though most people who have a racial fetish may not recognise it, the way in which modern day popular culture perpetuates these sexual stereotypes is steeped in power and domination.

White able-bodied heterosexual men stand outside this sexual fetish hierarchy. This is the outcome of white privilege, which benefits white men most and places all other groups into subordinate roles.

While most women who use the Are You Interested app are most interested in dating White men, this preference reflects how Western culture confers White heterosexual men special advantages. White heterosexual men are both desired and able to benefit from their position. Other minorities are objects of desire, but only under certain idealised conditions.

Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People

 

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Sociology and anthropology have long used the experiences of “third sex” cultures, such as the Native American Two Spirit people, to teach students about the social construction of sex and gender. In many cultures around the world, people are allowed to live their lives beyond conventional binaries; they need not adhere to the biological sex they were born into. These people are usually revered and there are special circumstances where individuals are allowed to shift their gender position. These groups, including the Two Spirit people, are used as examples in the sociology of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersexual (LGBTQI) issues. Recent scholarship, however, has questioned this practice, demonstrating that social scientists are applying Western concepts to misappropriate the Two Spirit phenomena.

My post gives a broad overview of the social science concepts of gender and sexuality. I then discuss the spirituality, gender and sexuality of Two Spirit people as well as the history and culture that informs their social position. Let me put my analysis in context: I am not Native American nor am I a transgender person. I identify as a *cis-woman of colour (*that is, my biological and gender identity align). As a sociologist who has researched, published on and taught gender and sexuality courses, I seek to explore how Western social scientists, queer theorists and other social activists have misappropriated the Two Spirit experience to highlight social causes.

I propose that social science needs to move forward from our dominant understandings of the Two Spirit experience. My aim is to start a conversation about how we might expand sociological understandings of gender and sexuality using this case study. How do we best communicate the social construction of gender and sexuality to students and to the public? I argue academics and activists need to be mindful that, even with the best of intentions, misappropriation of cultural traditions of minority groups is dangerous. This perpetuates historical practices that have silenced Indigenous experiences. There are better ways to appreciate and form solidarity with Other cultures. This begins by listening to the way minorities speak about their own experiences, rather than projecting our seemingly-progressive perspective onto Others.

I begin by giving a background on what inspired this post as an example of public sociology. Public sociology describes how we produce sociology for mass audiences outside academia. My focus here is on how we use sociology in the classroom and in social media. It is vital to the longevity of our discipline that sociologists explain our key concepts to general audiences. At the same time, I see it important that we publicly own up to, and invite a public discussion about, the changing dynamics of power which influence social theories. We also need to take responsibility for the way we teach and publicly discuss social science ideas. This means being more critical about the ways in which social science ideas are produced and disseminated, especially via social media.

We-Wah, a Zuni Berdache, from New Mexico, who was born biologically male but lived as a Two Spirit woman. via Chicago Whispers
We-Wah, a Zuni Berdache, from New Mexico, who was born biologically male but lived as a Two Spirit woman. via Chicago Whispers

Continue reading Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People

From “Anti-Rape Underwear” in India to Sexual Harassment in Australia: Social Complicity in “Rape Culture”

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD.

Trigger Warning: Rape.

A couple of weeks a go, a new, so-called “anti-rape” underwear device got quite a bit of international attention. It was invented by a team of Indian students, including two women. The device was designed to give rapists an electric shock. It is also reportedly equipped with a GPS tracking device to alert the women’s parents and police that she is being assaulted. The underlying attitudes that led these engineers to make this device are representative of the problem of rape not just in India, but in other parts of the world. Rape and harassment are not seen as public issues that require social intervention, but rather these are perceived as personal problems that individual women must navigate and manage in their day-today lives. In Australia, women’s public safety is also positioned as a personal issue. Both the Jill Meagher case and the public sexual harassment of Prime Minister Julia Guillard exemplify that women are ultimately forced to fend for themselves, while society does little to acknowledge rape culture as a societal responsibility.

Via Larry and Fly
Via Won’t Stop Til We Surrender

Continue reading From “Anti-Rape Underwear” in India to Sexual Harassment in Australia: Social Complicity in “Rape Culture”