The Catholic Church is not the only institution today examining the role of women in its structure and mission. Based on its 2,000-year-old tradition, the church, once very patriarchal, is struggling to recognize and empower women to use their gifts more fully in the church.
Surprisingly, another institution has come under criticism — one with a much shorter history: television and film.
Last November, in The Holywood Reporter, president and chief creative officer Janice Min gave this stark assessment of women’s place in the film industry: “The acceptance of women as ‘lesser’ in Hollywood is so commonplace, it’s as if we’ve grown comfortable living with our own ugly furniture. We don’t even know it looks bad.”
Film critic Manohla Dargis, in a concurrent New York Times article, observed that the film business treats women as “a distraction, an afterthought, and a problem.”
Martha M. Lauzen of the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University drew similar conclusions. In a report released Sept. 13, Boxed In 2015 - 16: Women on Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television, she looked at women on both sides of the camera in prime time for the TV season just concluded. Here are some of the top findings:
— Overall, 79 per cent of the programs considered featured casts with more male than female characters.
— Females comprised 39 per cent of all speaking characters, and 38 per cent of major characters.
— While the percentage of female characters featured on broadcast network programs has not increased over the last decade, the percentage of major female characters appearing on broadcast shows has declined since 2010 - 11.
— Gender stereotypes on television programs abound. Male characters, for example, were almost twice as likely as females to be portrayed as leaders.
— The employment of women working in key behind-the-scenes positions on broadcast network programs has stalled, with no meaningful progress over the past decade.
There’s also the matter of what the report called “startlingly high” percentages of programs employing no women in important behind-the-scenes roles: Ninety-eight per cent had no women directors of photography, 91 per cent had no women directors, 78 per cent had no women editors, 76 per cent had no women creators, 71 per cent had no women writers, 26 per cent had no women producers, and 26 per cent had no women executive producers.
In comparision with its first “Boxed in” report in 1997 - 98, this year’s study found little change in women’s role in film over the past 19 years. Female characters were 39 per cent of all characters in 1997 - 98, and now just 41 per cent. Women working behind the scenes, another top indicator, were 21 per cent in 1997 - 98, and all of 27 per cent today.
Most people spend much more time in front of a TV screen than they do in a church pew. Do we even notice? How loud will our protests become?