The world’s most popular films are sending the message to girls and young women that leadership is mostly for men, with women leaders – be they presidents, CEOs or business owners – portrayed as sex objects, shown in revealing clothing or even naked on the big screen, according to our new research with Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis’s research institute.
Women characters twice as likely to be shown partially nude
The research, which analysed the 56 top-grossing films of 2018 in 20 countries, found that of the characters in leadership positions, women and girls are four times more likely than men to be shown wearing revealing clothing (30% compared to 7%); nearly twice as likely to be shown as partially nude (15% compared to 8%) and four times more likely to be shown completely naked (2% compared to 0.5%).
The findings are not surprising when not one of the top 10 films in 20 countries in 2018 was directed by a woman
Women in leadership positions are also more likely to be sexually objectified than men, with 15% having the camera focused on their body parts in slow motion compared to 4% of men.
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said:
“The findings are not surprising when not one of the top 10 films in 20 countries in 2018 was directed by a woman, only a quarter of films had a woman producer, and only one in 10 had a woman on the writing team.
“A woman 007 or superhero in film is welcome. But our research shows they are exceptions and not the rule. The bigger picture is that gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes still dominate on screen. This undermines girls and young women and has a negative impact on their aspirations to leadership in all walks of life.”
Geena Davis, an acclaimed actor who has starred in feminist films including Thelma and Louise, and chair and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, said:
“Film and media powerfully influence how the world views girls and how they view themselves. Girls need to see themselves reflected on screen and to see positive and authentic characters that can inspire them. Content creators and storytellers in entertainment and media have an opportunity to support and influence the aspirations of girls and women and stop reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.”
The films analysed were viewed globally by millions
Using the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, a pioneering machine learning software tool, the research analysed the 56 top-grossing films across the United States, India, Dominican Republic, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Honduras, Japan, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Vietnam, Sweden, Finland, South Sudan, Benin, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Senegal. Combined, these films earned more than $21 billion at the box office and were viewed by millions around the world.
In the Dominican Republic, films and adverts often focus on women’s bodies
The report Rewrite her story: How film and media stereotypes affect the lives and leadership ambitions of girls and young women reveals that there are twice as many men as women in the films - 64% compared to 36% - and they speak twice as much (67% compared to 33%). Men in leadership positions are also much more visible: 42% of men, compared to 27% of women, are shown on screen as leaders.
Of all the characters that were analysed, not just those portrayed in leadership positions, women are almost four times more likely than men to be shown in revealing clothing (26% compared to 7%); nearly twice as likely to be shown as partially or fully naked (15% compared to 9%) and more likely to be portrayed as sex objects through having the camera focused on their body parts in slow motion (9% compared to 5%).
“In the Dominican Republic, films and adverts often focus on women’s bodies, showing women in revealing clothes, rather than showing their intelligence,” said Marelin, 19, a young activist campaigning alongside Plan International in Dominican Republic.
Girls want the media to represent womens power
“I’d like films and adverts to represent women as more enterprising and determined, strong and powerful, so my message for the filmmakers and advertisers out there is that they should show women in roles like president, prime minister, entrepreneur or business executive so that it inspires girls to become leaders.”
On screen and in real life, girls and women are devalued and it is accepted as normal
Eighteen-year-old Ruby, one of the frontline youth activists of Plan India in her community in the southern outskirts of Delhi, says the films produced in Bollywood also have a negative impact on girls’ confidence and ambition.
“Women are often relegated to play dance numbers and just treated as objects of attraction,” she says. “If the character is a politician, it’s always a man who plays the part. For women in politics it is assumed that the only way they reach corridors of power is by compromising their integrity. On screen and in real life, girls and women are devalued and it is accepted as normal. This has to change."
The research was undertaken as part of Plan International’s global campaign Girls Get Equal which supports girls and young women to have equal power and the freedom to challenge and change the stereotypes that limit their potential. Promoting the leadership of girls and young women is central to the campaign.
“We urgently need radical change in the media and entertainment industry so that we encourage young women’s aspirations and ambitions instead of undermining them,” said Ms Albtrectsen.
“We need to fund more women leaders in media and entertainment to stop content being produced just for men’s pleasure. And we need to stop the sexualisation and the objectification of women and girls on screen and everywhere else. It’s time to #RewriteHerStory.”