Statistics are undeniable. Women, especially women of color, are discriminated against in most professional fields. They don’t receive the same opportunities as their male peers to rise through the ranks. This is easy to pinpoint in the world of the arts, because directors and other members of production teams have their names plastered on promotional materials, playbills, and nominations come awards season. For example, in the list of 2019 Oscar nominations, all five artists nominated for Best Director were male. Animated Film Directors? All male.
Of the twenty people up for Screenplay/Adapted Screenplay, two are female. Costume design is one of the only categories that is female-dominated. Geena Davis, famous for her roles as Barbara in Beetlejuice and Thelma in Thelma and Louise, founded the Institute on Gender in Media in 2004 to provide a massive body of statistics about women’s representation in the media. This research includes encouraging statistics that positive female role models inspire women all over the world to become more ambitious, assertive, or even to leave abusive relationships. But it also provides troubling statistics that 83% of film and television characters are male, and only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female (Geena Davis Institute. Gender in Media: The Myths & Facts ). This lack of women creating art and choosing what art gets funded leads to a huge gap in representation andnon-sexualized female characters and plotlines.
Even in the world of theatre, which is supposed to be diverse and inclusive by nature, women
directors have to work much harder to even be considered to head a project and often aren’t
trusted with big financial decisions. If we look at the 2019 Tony Awards, the categories Best Direction of a Play or Best Direction of a Musical only had one woman in the midst, and she won for her direction of Hadestown. In an article published by Playbill, a number of professional female directors talk about this issue, and creative solutions to fix this disparity. Leigh Silverman, Broadway director of shows such as Violet (2014) and Grand Horizons (2020) provided a call to action for all producers, directors and writers; “It’s really simple. Gender parity can happen if people hire more women. That’s the answer… Hold yourself accountable. Do you have an interest in prioritizing gender parity?” (Clement, Olivia. 5 Female Directors On Why the Theatre Industry Struggles With Gender Equality).
A business such as theatre, which is primarily sought out by women, should have more opportunities for these women to perform, write, direct, and design. When they do, art is created that so many more women can identify with and see their own stories in them. Not seeing powerful role models who are your gender, ethnicity, body type, or possibly who share your physical or mental disabilities can lead to young women feeling like they are alone in who they are, or it can lead to them thinking that what they look like is wrong.
Being represented in the media feels good; the evidence is everywhere.
Little girls going to Disney and seeing a woman who looks like them playing Tiana, Moana, Mulan, Pocahontas, or Lilo empowers them to feel beautiful and capable of being as strong and independent as these characters are.
A woman seeing another woman in a piece of media leaving her abusive spouse or in a position of power makes us feel like we are capable of the same. There is also a large gender bias among journalists in news media whether they know it or not; Ros Atkins of BBC’s “Outside Source” admits that his team struggled when they took a hard look at their gender representation and bias in what they were writing. “The very real obstacles to achieving gender-equal representation had morphed into justifications for not getting there… I wanted to prove that we could make our journalism better and more popular through fair representation" (Chilazi, Siri. Tackling the Underrepresentation of Women in Media). Atkins understood that by writing for a more generalized and non-biased audience, they would affect a larger demographic and their ratings and exposure would improve. It is important for all workplaces, not just ones reporting news or creating media, analyze their treatments, promotions, and hiring of women.
On a more positive note, there are plenty of female artists that are being widely recognized and awarded for their contributions, and support of them opens doors for even more women wishing to create art. For the sake of consistency, let’s take a look at the Grammy awards from 2019. The best new artist of the year was 18-year-old Billie Eilish. Other nominees included Ariana Grande, Lizzo, a plus-sized woman of color, H.E.R., another woman of color, Lana Del Rey, Queen Beyonce, and Taylor Swift, among many others. There are numerous female artists that may not be nominated for awards but are still making fantastic contributions to the arts, both internationally and locally, even right in your hometown. It is undeniable that in this social climate we exist in now, it is more important than ever for women of color to be fairly represented and highlighted in all forms of media. Women like Lizzo are working hard every day to normalize plus-sized women of color being in the spotlight and knowing that they are unequivocally beautiful. Representation matters now more than ever. It goes beyond the world of media as well; our political, educational, and social leaders should be women, women of color, and other gender and racial minorities.
Our population of real people needs to be represented accurately by the people who make big decisions.
So realistically, what’s the solution for the lack of women in popular media and other important social roles? It requires everyone from the bottom of the hierarchy to the very top making a more conscious effort to hire women, write for women, trust women in advanced positions, and include women in broad conversations about the art we all create. People of all gender identities, racial minorities, and socioeconomic classes deserve representation and media that includes them, and we must continue to have conversations with each other on how we can achieve this equality in everything we do.
Geena Davis Institute. “Gender in Media: The Myths & Facts,” January 22, 2018. https://seejane.org/researchinforms-empowers/gender-in-media-the-myths-facts/.
Clement, Olivia. “5 Female Directors On Why the Theatre Industry Struggles With Gender Equality.” Playbill. PLAYBILL INC., February 8, 2018. https://www.playbill.com/article/5-female-directors-on-why-the-theatre-industrystruggles-with-gender-equality.
Chilazi, Siri, Aneeta Rattan, Oriane Georgeac, and Iris Bohnet. “Tackling the Underrepresentation of Women in Media.” hbr.org. Harvard Business Review, July 8, 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/06/tackling-the-underrepresentationof-women-in-media.