Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Problems with Princesses

When I watch movies, I don’t count how many women talk versus how many men talk throughout the course of the movie, and I don’t think I’ll start counting now. But if I were to count, I would probably get an incredibly skewed and unbalanced ratio of male to female speaking characters. As a result of women being underrepresented both on and off screen, women are negatively misrepresented in movies and film.

Image courtesy of Disney Princess Wiki
In the top 500 grossing films in the last 10 years, only 30.8% of speaking characters are female . About 26.2% of speaking female characters get partially naked, and even more female characters (about 28.8%) wear sexually revealing clothes. I don’t know about you, but in public I know that I have never seen over a quarter of the women partially naked and another quarter of the women wearing sexually revealing clothes. The reason for this stereotype and incorrect assumptions about what women wear and how they show their bodies to the world is likely connected to the work behind the scenes. In off-screen positions, such as the writer, director, and producer, only 1 out of 6  is female, and the 5 out of 6 males likely do not have the insight into female culture. When a women is directing, the movie’s amount of women in speaking roles increases- by over 10%. And with a female screenwriter as well as a female director, that number can go up to 18% more women speaking characters in the film, which would make female characters 48% of the cast, creating what is known as a balanced cast, (which is when anywhere from 45%-55% of speaking characters are female). Unfortunately, only about 10% of the top 500 grossing films from the years 2007-2012 had a balanced cast, which means 450 of those films did not have a balanced cast. Films with a woman director also have significantly less female sexualization as a whole.

Most women probably don’t know how men’s brains work, and if they think differently from females. Can’t the same be said about males? Most, if not all of them do not know how women think, and therefore can not always portray women accurately and truthfully. Misrepresentation of women is linked to the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, which is a sad fact that probably won’t change in the next few years. When I learned about how many women were shown in revealing clothes, and how few women characters there were altogether, I first thought that maybe it had some link to the movie sales. Maybe men go to see many more movies than women, and they would rather see women undress than men undress? That’s not the case. Women and men had an equal split (for once) in sales of movie tickets: Females bought 50% of movie tickets, and males bought the other 50%. And that leaves no excuse for why women should be so underrepresented and shown in such a negative light.

Some may think that the portrayal of women in movies is harmless, but we only have to look as far as the Disney princess movies to see that this is not the case. Now, I adore the Disney princess movies. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched them, and sang ‘Part of that World’ along with Ariel. Disney has a large influence over young children, and they aren’t using that power for good. Most princess movies, such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ or ‘Cinderella’ depict a teenage girl who is too weak to stand up for herself, and she waits for a prince to save her and carry her off to Happily Ever After land, where all her dreams will come true. And many girls, myself included, believed that and have waited around for many afternoons for a prince to come save them. News flash: There are no princes in America (at least, there are none who have visited me yet). In most princess movies, the females are depicted as queens, princesses, or homemakers. Many would argue that Frozen doesn’t depict women like that, and I agree that Frozen and Brave are a large step in the right direction, but Elsa and Ana are both princesses/queens who sit around in a palace locked up for years before they do anything. If we were to live in a world where every single person was a character from a movie, there would be about the same number of princesses or royal females as there are normal girls. And that definitely isn’t true in the real world. There is no prince, there is no royal ball to find his wife, and there is no castle. Case closed.

However, many people think that women are not really misrepresented or underrepresented in movies, and Frozen and The Hunger Games are the first places they turn to as examples. Frozen has two strong female leads, and The Hunger Games is the first film in decades to top box office charts that features a female in the leading role. It is argued that these films are signs that the movie industry is becoming more equal and that things are changing, and at this rate the female stereotypes will be gone by 2020. Also, females age 21-39 are more common than males age 21-39 (meaning that in films there are more women aged 21-39 than there are men age 21-39).

By all means, Frozen and The Hunger Games are good starts. But are they really all that much better than what already existed? Frozen features two women in the leads, which is rare. But those women are portrayed as gullible, overtrusting, confused, stubborn women, which are not necessarily good traits. Also, they are both queens and they are both taken advantage of by men. While it may look nice on the surface, there are lots of problems and stereotypes against women if we dig deeper. The Hunger Games features one female lead, and two male co-leads, who outnumber the female lead 2 to 1. And again, the female protagonist is portrayed as crying and weak multiple times, and depends heavily on the male leads at almost all times. Also, in 2012, the year marking the debut of The Hunger Games, there were the least female characters on screen out of all the years between 2007 and 2012 and only two films had a balanced cast or a higher percentage of females than males. Just because a few films show some signs of hope for the future of film doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make things better. More female directors, writers, and producers need to be present behind the scene, and if women have equal representation on and off screen then maybe the extreme misrepresentation of women in movies can end once and for all.


Conclusion (updated 11/12/14)

After running this blog post for several weeks, my thesis remains the same, despite the comments that I got that asked different questions about women’s portrayal in the media. In my personal opinion, I believe that as a result of under representation both on and off screen, women are misrepresented in film. However, I no longer believe that this problem is not able to be fixed. I received many inspiring comments and a link to an article talking about different female role models in movies who had influenced their lives in a positive way, by teaching them that women can save the day and be the heroes, and don’t always have to just sit around and wait for a prince to save them. In retrospect, I wish I had discussed and thought about more positive examples of women in film, as there are quite a few, as the comments reminded me. I still believe that we need to keep fighting for equality on screen, and I feel that the comments show that it is possible to have more equality in the coming years if people speak out and share their opinions. I really enjoyed this blog project, because I had never really known anything about this topic, and now it has surrounded me and I have realized how much gender imbalance affects everything that I see, including things other than movies. I was very happy with all of the comments and views that I got, and I hope that people who read this article continue to pay attention to gender misrepresentation and let others know. If we all do something small, such as sharing facts about gender misrepresentation, then this problem can be solved and the next generation of girls and boys can grow up knowing that girls can be the heroes, and girls can do anything boys can do.
Thanks for reading my article!


  1. Abigail, I came across this article [Disney Princesses Are My (Imperfect) Feminist Role Models] this morning and thought of you, as it might make you feel a little bit better about the Disney princess situation? The author provides a similar analysis to yours, and encourages folks to step it up in the media literacy education of their children, really breaking down the messages in these films and looking at the positive and negative portrayals by gender, which you have done very well here. She concludes, "Taken as a whole, the Disney princess line offers a surprisingly diverse view of the female experience, ranging from the traditionally feminine Cinderella to the more traditionally masculine Mulan. These women are powerful, strong, and rational, but they are also emotional and sensitive. Most importantly, they are the main characters in their own stories. Too few well-written female characters can claim the same thing." What do you think?

    1. Ms. Gerla,
      Thank you so much for sharing this link with me! I feel that my post does not completely cover the Disney Princesses as much as I would like it to. I think that the Disney Princesses can be fantastic role models, and are teaching girls that they can be the main characters in their own stories. This article reinforced that, as well as making me think about the time periods in which these movies were published. I really do believe that the Disney Princess movies are at a root of so much of our culture, and while they do send some negative messages to younger girls (as highlighted in my post), there are many more positive messages that girls and boys alike can take away from these movies.
      Thank you so much!

  2. Good point that you have talked about. In 1848, the first women right was published, after that, the people starts to see female as a same group of person as male. Nowadays, there are still this kind of thinking that male is better than the female? Is it why people use male in the movie more than the female? Maybe the society still have the mind that male is better than female, but this is not right, people are much more likely equal. The women in the movies are without dress, this is a hug mistake, women can be more stronger than we think, we can never judge a women by how they look or how their body look, this is really disrespectful, this will affect the future, we should correct it.

    1. Thank you for your comment! In response to your question about if people still believe males are superior to females, I would have to say it depends. Women are receiving a lot more rights now, however females are still paid less doing the same jobs as males, and there has not yet been a female president. I agree that it is very important to consider a women's character and not just her appearance, but women's characters are also often misrepresented. You can view some of my classmate's articles such as Slut or Prude: Why Is There No In Between? and Pressure In Media Today On Women , which focus more on how women should not be judged by their appearance. Thank you for pointing out that it is important to consider all aspects of a women's character, not just her appearance, as this is something that is overlooked a lot too much.
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Good job writing this article Abby! It intrigued me. I agree with the majority of your article, but I do disagree with the part where you stated that Katniss Everdeen was "portrayed as crying and weak multiple times, and depends heavily on the male leads at almost all times." I believe that she is portrayed as an independent woman that can fend for herself. She is self sufficient; in both the book and the movie, she can hunt, forge for food and barter among the toughest of vendors. She is a tough girl! As for her being portrayed as crying and weak, I think that even though she was crying at some points during the movie and book, just because she was crying I don't think that she was necessarily weak. Great job writing the article Abby! I was definitely surprised by the amount of facts about how women are actually portrayed in movies! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Bert,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I definitely understand what you are saying about how Katniss was portrayed. I agree that she is definitely a very strong character, however I feel that if a male had been in her position and broken down or cried it would have been viewed very differently, and likely would not have been shown at all. I think that Katniss is one of the strongest female protagonists, and is a great role model for girls by showing them that you can be strong, but it is also okay to have weaknesses.
      Thank you so much for your comment!

  4. Abigail, I really enjoyed reading this article and especially the part about the princesses. I enjoyed your humor, but more importantly, I realized that you r statement was absolutely correct. I tried to think of a Disney princess movie that didn't have a needy princess of some type and I could only think of a couple. In addition, the statistic that more women are portrayed in films when the director is female also surprised me. I know that you have been in numerous plays, and I was wondering what the cast percentage was like in those. How does that compare to those of recent movies?

    1. Adam,
      Thank you so much for your comment! Disney Princesses are only one example of the incredibly skewed gender numbers that are portrayed in media, and I feel that it is very important for people to realize this and pay attention to gender portrayals. In response to your question, I would say that in general there are more males in most productions that I have been in, but in most live theater situations there is a much more balanced cast (especially in Musical Theatre) simply because of voice parts and singing balance. This balance does not affect most movies, though. Thank you so much for your comment!

  5. Hi Abby: I have enjoyed reading both your original article and the comments it has inspired. I thought of the issue of portrayal of Disney princesses this weekend when I saw this article on their physical dimensions--sort of the Disney equivalents of Barbie dolls. Do you envision a world of animated films where the characters (aside from the teacups and talking octopi) reflect more realistic proportions? Thanks for your contribution to the issue of women's roles in film!--Ms. Riches


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