Women's Representation in TV Is Slowly Becoming Less Terrible

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Female representation in front of the camera and behind in Hollywood has been exceptionally bad since, well kind of forever. But according to a new study, there is some “modest” progress being made in the world of television.

The latest installment of Boxed In, from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual status report found that the number of female characters on broadcast, cable, and streaming shows as well as the number of women behind the scenes saw a slight increase from last year.

USA Today has some of the highlights. From the paper:

Onscreen, females comprised 42% of all speaking characters, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2015-16, the report says.


It should be noted however, that last year’s figure for female speaking characters was a small decrease from the year before. In 2014, women made up 40% of speaking characters.

Behind the scenes, women accounted for 28% of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and directors of photography working on programs delivered via the various platforms last year — an increase of 2 percentage points from the year before.

The study also found that, surprise surprise, women hire women: shows that had at least one woman listed as a creator or executive producer featured female characters more prominently and hired more women as writers and directors. This can be seen in shows like Queen Sugar, where creator Ava DuVernay has deliberately hired only women to direct episodes.

When it comes to racial diversity, there is some progress being made across platforms:

Black characters in speaking roles comprised 19% of all females in 2016-17, up from 16% in 2015-16. Asian characters accounted for 6% of all females, up from 4% in 2015-16. The percentage of Latinas increased from 4% to 5% in the same time period.


While the study points out that Latinas are very underrepresented, with people like Gina Rodriguez and Diane Guerrero working on Latinx shows, we could see those numbers start to balance out in the future.

According to Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, while the progress may seem minimal, it symbolizes a deeper shift in the industry. She told USA Today:

“The modest rise in the behind-the-scenes numbers suggests that the cable and streaming platforms are beginning to build a foundation for the portrayal of more female characters in the years to come.”


It does seem like the creative freedom that comes with streaming platforms is helping push broadcast and cable figures in the right direction, although let’s not forget that there are still wastelands out there. For instance, CBS’ new primetime shows will feature no female leads for the second year in a row. Still, hopefully Hollywood can keep this momentum up.

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.

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