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EDITORIAL: Women unseen on silver screen?

Females underrepresented in movies, bean-counters say

- - Friday, March 14, 2014

Global warming had to be renamed climate change because the globe wasn't warming. Now affirmative action, with its accompanying percentages, quotas, goals and timetables, suffers from bad press and has been recast as "diversity."

Whatever it's called, there's no area of human endeavor that doesn't come under scrutiny from certain liberals to make sure it meets their standards for "diversity," which necessarily comes back to the bean-counting that gave affirmative action its bad name. This time it's the silver screen.

Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, laments that women are woefully underrepresented in the movies, presumably inasmuch as they don't make up half of on-screen characters.

"Female characters remained dramatically underrepresented as protagonists, major characters and speaking (major and minor) characters in the top-grossing films of 2013," Ms. Lauzen reports in her study, "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013."

Ms. Lauzen reports that "Females comprised 15 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters and 30 percent of all speaking characters." (The latter is somewhat surprising, since researcher have found that women talk nearly three times as much as men, with the average woman speaking 20,000 words a day, compared with about 7,000 for the average man. It's a disparity that a University of Maryland School of Medicine report in February 2013 attributed to comparative levels of a brain protein.)

"Only 13 percent of the top 100 films featured equal numbers of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters." The study found, again to the author's dismay, that the female characters were mostly younger than their male counterparts, in their 20s and 30s, by up to two decades (think "eye candy"), and they're more likely to have a identified marital status (54 percent to 42 percent).

Male characters are more likely to have "identifiable occupational status," be "leaders," and have "identifiable goals," though the latter two metrics are rather nebulous. We're not told just how all these categories were actually measured.

The disparities, such as they are, could simply be the result of comparing apples and oranges — or superhero films and "chick flicks." The former are typically bigger at the box-office than the latter, so more get made. Hollywood likes to make money most of all.

The 2013 edition of "Celluloid" analyzed the content of more than 2,300 characters appearing in last year's top-grossing films, and about 7,000 characters in 300 films overall, and compared them with the corresponding numbers from 2011 and 2002. Last year's percentages were little changed.

Assuming Ms. Lauzen conducts a similar review of 2014 films, the task will be more daunting now that Facebook has declared there are not just two "genders," but 58. Perhaps that new reality will level the celluloid playing field.