Perennial stories about the lack of women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) often revolve around why women are not studying these subjects, and when they do, why they don’t make their careers in these areas.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media asks a different question. Are women not working in science because there are very few women portrayed in films and on TV who are working in science?
Academy Award-winning actress, Geena Davis, founded the institute that bears her name to educate, advocate and influence the media and entertainment industry to encourage more diverse representations of women and girls.
Over the past eight years, it has provided quantitative research that exposes the unconscious gender biases in casting, screen writing and story-telling.
The institute has teamed up with Google to use their machine learning technology – along with the University of Southern California’s audio-visual processing technologies, called GD-IQ – to analyse the content of films. GD-IQ automates the analysis of media content with greater precision than the human eye and can process vast amounts of data quickly.
At the Equity Foundation’s Gender on the Agenda Summit held in Melbourne this week, the institute’s CEO, Madeline Di Nonno outlined some recent research findings. The institute reviewed the top grossing, non-animated films of 2014 and 2015 as reported by Variety, the US published film and TV magazine. Only 17% had female leads. Male characters dominated the screen – as the main figure in the camera shot – almost twice as much as women (28.5% to 16%).
When a film had a male lead, men dominated the screen thrice as much as women (34.5% to 12.9%). In films where the lead character was a woman, men still had slightly more screen time than women (about 24% to 22%).