The media is a powerful tool. From TV shows and movies to video games, media has a heavy hand in shaping our culture and norms. It is common to see white, skinny, “fit,” blonde models glaze magazine covers in the store. White men are often the center of blockbuster films and the news anchors we see on primetime TV. But do these two, small groups of people truly reflect our society? The answer is no. The United States, and the rest of the world, is comprised of people that are all different shapes, genders, and ethnicities.
With such a diverse population, one would think it would be reflected in the media, but this isn’t so. Not only does diversifying the media boost global sales and profit for companies, it has great social impact. If news, music, television, and video game producers and creators all work together to diversify their mediums, the positive effects would change societies across the globe because the media is a powerful tool. Women are imperative to the function of society. They are responsible for carrying and giving birth to children, and in many cultures, it is customary for them to raise children and tend to the house.
Although this custom is not adhered to in all cultures and women have started working other places besides their homes, the female population is still indispensable in society. According to the United States’ 2010 census, women make up 50. 8% of the United States’ population (Howden and Meyer), and according to the Women’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, women make up 47% of the United States workforce. This means that not only do women make up half of the population in the United States, they are also responsible for half of the entire United States workforce.
No longer are women only staying home and rearing children, they are out in the world making differences and building careers. Unfortunately, the media, such as television shows and movies is not reflecting these changes. In fact, the media is not reflecting women at all. Much of our society is influenced by visual media such as video games, televisions, and movies. It just so happens the general population of the United States (and Canada) loves watching movies. In 2014 alone, 1. 27 billion tickets were sold to moviegoers in the United States and Canada combined. Half of these 1. 7 billion tickets were sold to females (Motion Picture Association of America).
There are millions of women sitting in front of the silver screen, that much is easy to see, yet the statistics of women behind the screen do not emulate this large number. Of the top-grossing films in 2014, women comprised only 12% of the protagonists. Overall, women made up only 30% of all speaking roles in these movies (Lang). This seems to happen because of a couple of things: the myth that lady-led films do not incur large profits and the low number of women holding executive moviemaking positions, such as directors and producers.
The preceding of the two problems presented can be easily debunked by pointing to the success of the highly popular and highly lucrative Hunger Games series, led by Jennifer Lawrence portraying Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen. This series of movies made over $1 billion dollars worldwide at the box office (Box Office Mojo) which nothing to shake a stick at. Other movies led by women that created a sizeable profit are Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes. Financial prospects of a female-led story are not a viable reason for Hollywood bigwigs to deter from creating such films.
These Hollywood executives are overwhelmingly male, which plays into why film lacks female narratives. In 2015, women made up 26% of producers, 11% of writers, and only 9% of all directors (Center for the Study of Women). With so few women a part of the creative process that goes into making a film, it is no wonder there are so few stories centered around women. Films are certainly popular in the United States, but television shows are still integral in almost everyone’s daily lives.
Whether someone catches a show when it airs or later online, Americans are constantly consuming sitcoms and reality shows, making them just as important as movies in terms of how they affect our culture. Unfortunately, the number of women represented here is not much better. Nina Bahadur, editor of HuffPost Women, relayed information from a USC Annenberg and Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in her article Women In The Media: Female TV And Film Characters Still Sidelined And Sexualized, Study Finds.
Citing the USC Annenberg and Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media study, Bahadur revealed that women make up only 38. % of all speaking characters on prime time television in 2012. Someone might look at these numbers and conclude that 30-38% is almost half, and that the numbers really aren’t all that bad. But in all reality, almost half is not good enough. Another point that should be considered is how women are portrayed. Assuming that women making up less than half of all roles in the media isn’t a bad thing, it is important to then dissect what few roles they are portraying. Writing for The Powder Room, St. Ridley Santos in his article “Why Media Representation Matters,” delves into the issue of “skewed representation.
Skewed representation occurs when women are inaccurately portrayed in video games, television shows, movies, etc. This can include the token, sexy-yet-helpless video game companion as well as “sad parodies of strong women” (Santos). As a young woman who consumes various forms of media, I wholeheartedly agree with Santos. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a movie or playing a game where the, usually sole, female character is nothing but a classic stereotype that sexualizes and otherwise dehumanizes women. These stereotypes really are harmful to our society and how we think.
Santos says “playing a violent game won’t make you a murderer, but repeatedly partaking of media which portrays women as little more than sex objects might have some effect on our thinking about women and sex. ” Practice makes permanent, and if our society keeps practicing and participating in these sexist stereotypes, they will be permanently ingrained in our culture. Equally important to the lack of women in media is the lack of people of color in the media. Michael Walsh, writing for Daily News, reports that the United States’ percentage of non-Hispanics whites is at an all time low of 63%.
This means the remaining 37% of the population in the United States is non-white. This “non-white” group includes minorities such as African-Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Native Americans, and so on. If the white population is shrinking as Walsh claims, it would make sense to see more people of color on screen to represent this ethnic shift. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t happening. In his article ‘Star Wars’ Black Character Controversy: African-American Sci-Fi Fans Battle Genre’s Racial Stereotypes, Aaron Morrison reports that in 2015, only about 16% of movie leads were minorities.
This number is less than half of the minority population in the United States, estranging millions of people from the media they consume. Just like with women, minorities also purchase large amounts of movie tickets, accounting for 44% of box office sales in 2012 (Keegan). Almost half of those who see movies in theatres are non-white. In fact, in 2013, 32% of frequent moviegoers –those who see movies in theaters more than once a month– were latinos alone (Chow). One minority group made up a third of all frequent moviegoers.
This number was so large, Kat Chow of National Public Radio reported that latinos are are responsible for boosting box office sales. She also reported that in 2012, latinos purchased a quarter of all movie tickets sold. This number is astounding and truly showcases how important latinos and other minorities are to the success of the movie industry. But could this number be better? Could companies capitalize off of higher ticket sales among minorities? Obviously, the answer is an overwhelming “yes. ” Movies are released in more places than just the United States and, surprise, the majority of the world is not white.
Brandon Ellington Patterson and Edwin Rios of Mother Jones report the facts and figures of this in their article Hollywood’s Lack of Diversity Is Costing It Millions. Here’s Why. First, the pair examined 163 of the top-selling films in 2014. Of these, only eight had “truly diverse casts” (41-50% non-white). These diverse films had a better return than films with minorities in less than 10% of the roles (Patterson & Rios). How much better of a return? The median global sales for movies with diverse casts was $122 million, versus only $53 million for movies with predominantly white casts.
Similar to the myth of lady-led films not creating profits, the myth of diverse casts not creating profits is false. Movie companies could easily increase their profits by simply hiring more actors and actresses of color to appeal to a wider audience. Movies are not the only form of media that struggles with representing minorities, television shows and even news outlets often ignore the need for not just representation, but accurate representation. Edwin and Rios explained “The most-watched broadcast TV shows—not just in minority households, but also within one of the most coveted age demographics—had majority nonwhite casts.
Unfortunately, in the 2013-2014 season, only four shows had a majority non-white cast. Not only are people of color missing out on seeing themselves reflected in television shows, companies are missing out on viewer turnout. However, when minorities are reflected on television, isn’t always positive. Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times cites USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism study in her piece USC study: Minorities still under-represented in popular films to highlight the issue of misrepresentation.
Keegan, after analyzing the USC study, claimed that hispanic women are more likely to be shown nude or in “sexy attire. ” She also touched on how black men are less likely to be portrayed in committed relationships. Creating this false perception of hispanic women as sex objects and black men as unreliable partners truly does hurt groups that are already struggling to gain and maintain social footing. The inaccurate and often negative representation doesn’t stop at fictional stories in film and television; it happens in the news room daily.
Burrowing into this disturbing reality, Rian Edington of the State Hornet, a Sacramento State newspaper, interviewed many minorities in his article The skewed representation of minorities in the news media. A common feeling among the three students he interviewed was frustration. All three of them felt as if the news painted their ethnicities to be dangerous criminals. Millions of people across the United States watch the news every day, so if minorities are portrayed negatively, these feelings will undoubtedly seep into the general public’s opinions. In order to combat this, there must be diversity in the ownership of these news outlets.
Currently, “six major companies control most of the news in this country,” this includes news on the web (Fulton). With only a handful of companies gathering and distributing the news, the public can’t expect to receive an accurate and well-rounded report. Not only would race-relations improve, citizens, especially minorities, would become more involved in their governments and communities. Sandra Fulton of the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that “there are higher voting rates in minority communities where radio station owners are of the same ethnicity.
This is most likely because people of color are more likely to be engaged with and trust those who come from the same or similar backgrounds. By providing more opportunities for minorities in the field of journalism and providing more, positive and accurate representations of minorities in the news, race relations could see a vast improvement across the country. Race relations and women’s rights are hot button topics today. Some people believe these issues are unimportant and will solve themselves, eventually becoming a thing of the past.
These same people believe if the media stays as it is, skewed and unreflective of our population, everything will be fine. In fact, some people claim that diversity is actually separating our society even more. A study by political scientist Robert Putnam predicts a “racial armageddon” if we continue to blend our communities. This study also claims “The more ethnically diverse the people you live around, the less you trust them” (Rodriguez). This claim is flawed, as it is completely subjective. One study cannot account for how people around the country feel about minorities, each person has his own story and his own reasons to trust others.
Others that oppose change in the media sometimes argue that women’s rights and reflection in the media as strong and independant people are not beneficial because “[it] would require women to be drafted into military combat any time men were conscripted [and] abolish the presumption that the husband should support his wife” (Schlafly). As with the previous argument, this is once again flawed because it is completely subjective. Many women do not oppose being drafted into the military, and many women are already the breadwinners of their households.
Having women represented in the media as strong and independant would not be ruinous to our society, if anything, it would be beneficial. There are simply no solid facts to back the argument that diversity and recognizing women in our society would be catastrophic and bring about the end of the world. Being a woman, person of color, or if you are really lucky, both, in our society is difficult to say the least. The stereotypes that still exist are not only wrong, but harmful to the functionality of our ever-diversifying country.
The lack of proper representation is not only costing media companies potential millions of dollars, it is costing women and people of color their peace of mind. It is important for females, especially young girls, to see themselves in a positive light. So many young girls struggle with their self-esteem. Seeing intelligent, strong, meaningful characters on television or in movies boosts their confidence. Personally, seeing women surgeons in Grey’s Anatomy by Shonda Rhimes has inspired me to pursue the medical field.
This same logic applies to minorities; seeing races in the media as more than just criminals and murderers is inspiring and uplifting for people of color across the world. As a latina, I can atest to that myself. If producers and other executives took the time to hire more women and people of color, there is no doubt that women and minorities would garner not only a better reputation, but more self-confidence. The media is a powerful tool, it must be used responsibly to represent our continually growing and diversifying world.