(Image: Cinemafestival / Shutterstock.com)
It is a common conception that women are misrepresented in TV & film. Often the female characters function only to serve the male lead, or are gender stereotyped as the dumb/ unintelligent character or just there for their looks.
In the run up to International Women’s Day (#IWD2015), OnePoll polled 1000 young women aged 16-30 to get their views on how women are represented in TV & Film.
In general, over half of those polled agreed that women are not accurately represented in TV & Film. A further 37% also believe women are not even shown in a positive light. For example characters such as Barbie (which almost goes without saying), Bella Swan from Twilight and Penny from the Big Bang Theory were named as characters who show women in a negative way.
The survey found that the poor representation of women could even be specific to genre. 42% stated that horror films tend to portray women the worst, with romantic comedies not far behind on 36%.
Furthermore the participants stated that they believe the depiction of women varies depending on where the show or film was made as the poll showed a huge difference between American and British Drama series. 17% of young women said women were worse represented in American Dramas as opposed to only 7% who thought this of British Dramas.
When asked who was to blame for this gender stereotyping, there were mixed opinions. Over half laid the blame at the writers’ feet for writing the characters like that. An obvious choice as, of course as those characters wouldn’t even exist without them. However some young women dug a bit deeper and believed the directors were at fault for having an actress play a role that way (20%). A small portion went so far as to accuse the actresses themselves for taking the role in the first place! (9%)
A controversial topic surrounding young women in the media is body image. There is increasing pressure on young girls today to look a certain way, be a certain weight and copy the perfection they see on the cover of magazines and online. A massive 68% of the young women polled agreed that women in TV & Film do not promote a realistic body image and a further 59% believed that, for women in Film & TV, looks are the most important thing.
But what can be done?
The young women polled had a lot of thoughts on what could be done to improve the image of women in Film and TV. Well over half said creating stronger female characters would help solve the issue and a further 41% said storylines should feature a heroine (as opposed to a hero) and shouldn’t involve a romantic relationship. Other views included:
‘’Female characters that do more than just be there for the male protagonist’’
‘’Create well rounded female characters, instead of ‘tough’ (macho) or ‘weak’ women’’
‘’More real looking women on the screen and not skinny ones.’’
One bright spark even suggested making a Film or TV show pass the Bechdel Test (a work of fiction that must feature at least 2 named women characters who talk to each other about something other than a man). I think we can all agree Sex and the City does not pass this test.
Any good news in the meantime?
The good thing is that there does exist some exquisite Films and TV shows that have strong, independent, free thinking female characters without resorting to the macho woman stereotype.
OnePoll asked the young women polled who the best female characters in Film & TV were. The results for film were fairly unsurprising as academic heroine, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films came out top. The results for TV were not as obvious though with Rachel from Friends topping the list. A character known mainly for her obsession with fashion, tight little outfits, amazing hair and relationship focused story lines. Other characters in the top 10 included Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons.
When it came to films and shows with female leads The Hunger Games came top (34%) with Frozen in second place, showing that girls are shown good female, if somewhat Disney-fied, representation from an early age. There was also pleasingly some comedy films in the top 10 highlighting women’s talent for comedy. These included Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock (20%) and Bridesmaids starring Kristen Wig and Melissa McCarthy (19%).
Prehaps the biggest hope for the future of female representation is that the stars of these films and tv shows are often women who stand as strong role models in their own right. The survey aimed to find out which stars of TV and Film were the best role models for women. Unsurprisingly, Emma Watson was number 1 as the best female role model, most likely due to her work for the UN on gender equality as well as starring as the elected best female film character for half her life. Some older generation women including Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren also made the top 10. Others on the list include Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart and Ellen DeGeneres. These inspiring results prove that female role models do not have to be young, thin and serve a patriarchal purpose but just have to be themselves and not conform to stereotype.
Some top 10s:
Best female characters in Film & TV:
Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) 29.70%
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games) 27.40%
Rachel (Friends) 21.60%
Monica (Friends) 20.20%
Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins) 18.40%
Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons) 17.90%
Belle (Beauty and the Beast) 17.20%
Elsa (Frozen) 16.70%
Mulan (Mulan) 16.50%
Elle (Legally Blonde) 15.30%
Best Film & TV shows with female protagonists:
Hunger Games 33.70%
Miss Congeniality 20.00%
Bend it like Beckham 18.80%
Tomb Raider 16.40%
My sister’s keeper 16.30%
Buffy the Vampire slayer 14.90%
Mamma Mia 14.50%
Best female role models in TV & Film:
Emma Watson 41.30%
Jennifer Lawrence 31.90%
Meryl Streep 23.60%
Judi Dench 21.60%
Sandra Bullock 20.10%
Keira Knightley 19.50%
Helen Mirren 19.10%
Miranda Hart 18.80%
Julie Andrews 18.10%
Ellen DeGeneres 18.10%