Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Sunday 10 March 2019

Women in Film

Out of the picture

  • How women are portrayed on screen highlights their unequal place in society at large
  • The part played by women behind the camera in making films is also vastly inferior to men’s
  • Actresses appear less often, speak less often and earn less money than their male counterparts

Awards season is over and the movie industry is congratulating itself on avoiding a fresh crisis over race or sexuality or gender.

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph opened the Oscars with a message of female empowerment. Captain Marvel’s out: she’s a woman. Olivia Colman dominated the coverage of the awards season. Things, it seems, have finally changed.

But have we all just been played by the movie industry, which doesn’t give women a fraction of the same opportunities as men? The numbers are less glamorous than the Oscars ceremony, but they don’t lie…

There are twice as many men as women on our screens.
ERA 50:50

Women constitute only 17 per cent of the people in crowd scenes. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2014

Actresses have the most dialogue in only 22 per cent of films.

Men occupy at least two of the top three roles in a film 82 per cent of the time. Women do so 18 per cent of the time. The Pudding, 2016

The Bechdel test

A measure of representation of women in books, films and TV (although arguably not a very stringent one). To pass the Bechdel test, a film must feature at least two women. In the course of the film, they must talk to each other about something other than a man. Green Book, this year’s Oscar winner, failed the Bechdel test.

Speaking parts
Amount of dialogue in films


Quiz: women in film

    1. What was the most common word in British film titles from 1911–2017?
    2. Between 2004–2017 how many original pieces of writing were commissioned from women by the UK broadcaster Channel 4?
    3. What percentage of British films were identified as having a majority female crew?
    4. The percentage of women cast in British films has changed how much in the last 100 years?


Total words spoken by sex and age


Women’s professions in film

The media we consume can inspire our life and career choices.

  • According to a study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, almost two thirds of 2,021 women in stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) surveyed said that seeing Dr Dana Scully in The X-Files increased their belief in the importance of stem.
  • In 2013, the producer of Call the Midwife claimed that the show had inspired a 17 per cent increase in UCAS applications for midwifery courses.

“The default is so male in our society that it just doesn’t occur to people to say: ‘Why isn’t the boss or the best friend or the landlord a woman. It so easily could be?’”

Geena Davis
The Guardian, 2015

But representation is still a problem. In a study of 120 films:

  • 127 characters held political positions; 12 of them were female.
  • 22 characters were lawyers; two of them were women.
  • 17 professors were depicted; one of them was female.
  • 81 characters were doctors; 12 were female. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2015


The gender pay gap

High-profile pay gaps

  • Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle: The 2015 Sony email hack revealed she had been paid considerably less than her male co-stars.
  • Natalie Portman, No Strings Attached: Ashton Kutcher was paid three times as much, according to Portman.
  • Claire Foy, The Crown: Matt Smith was paid more than Foy for both series, despite her playing the lead role.

“If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.”

Charlize Theron
Elle, 2015

All images by Getty/Miramax/Warner Bros/Lionsgate/Fox Searchlight/The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures