Original title: Audio-visual Diversity? – Gender representation in movies and television in Germany
Authors: Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Prommer, Dr. Christine Linke
Television and movies portrait a gender equal society, right?
I actually never actively thought about this but if anyone would have asked me that question a couple of months ago, I would have said: “Sure.”
The talk by Anke-Domscheidt Berg at the I, Scientist conference in May 2017 (I, Scientist 2017) got me wondering about the real situation in movies and television in Germany by shocking me with numbers like: Only 57% of german movies or movies produced with German cooperation pass the Bechdel-test, whereas 87% of them pass the reversed Bechdel-test. Meaning that only about every second movie has a plot that allows to answer the following four questions with ‘yes’:
– Are there at least two women?
– Do they have identifyable names?
– Do they speak to each other?
– About something else than men or relationships?
That is not only sad, it is a serious deficit that should be obvious and known to everyone. That this is not the case, shows even stronger how much we are influenced by media and used to the pictures we are presented with.
But the shocking numbers go much further than that. With Audio-visual Diversity? the University of Rostock conducted a study looking into the representation of gender in movies and television in Germany. The basis for their study was over 3000 hours of german TV program from 2016 and over 800 german-language movies from the past 6 years (Audiovisuelle_Diversitaet.pdf).
What they found was not only the sad number of movies that pass the Bechdel-test, but they also looked at the absolut number of female and male main characters appearing in german television and the roles of female and male characters in documentaries, series and kids TV-programs. Bad enough that the distribution of female (33%) and male (67%) main characters in television does not represent the real life distribution of the sexes of 50/50, the worst ratio of male to female main characters is found in kids television programs with 28% (female) to 72% (male)! Animal figures are in 87% of the cases male, humans 62%. What the hell?!!!
But not just the protagonists in kids television are mostly male, outside of fiction kids are presented with male experts and moderators from a very early age on. Only every third moderator is female. “Men explain the world”, that seems to be something that runs through the presentation of information throughout the age range. For adults that seems to get even worse leaving us with 79% male experts in TV – information.
As a young girl, where are my role models? As a kid in general, what is the picutre of the world that is presented to me? Experts, the people presented at the top, are male. Apperently even when it comes to fantasy where everything is possible and kids can imagine themselves as whatever they want, that world is dominated by male figures. What do I learn, uncounsiously, from as young as a few years old? Women stay in the shadows. They are not important enough to be displayed for a wide audience, asked for their opinion or independent enough to experience adventures over a wide range of settings (not just pony farm). What does that potentially leave me with as a girl: Being insecure about myself, about what I can do and where I can go. Having uncounsiously accepted men to be the ones to get to the top, to be better than me.
What does that teach me as a boy? It does not reflect the reality of the 50/50 ratio of women and men. Which means it shows me that both sexes do not seem to be considered equally important. It does not bring women into the picutre as knowledgeable, strong, independent and adventurous persons.
And we are asking ourselves where the insecurities of girls and women about what they can do come from….
If we start with programs for girls, to strenghen their selfesteem, help them aim for great things, in Highschool or University, we are fighting windmills. We have to start at the roots and the roots are we, all people alive at the moment, because we are those who shape the world with our perceptions for the next generation. If we don’t start to realize how we are shaped and influenced by the people and things surrounding us, we cannot reach a world or even only a Germany with real equality.
for the details and results of the Rostock University study (German).