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Gender bias in movies and TV

By Sandra Pittaro
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The next addition to our team 16 days activist challenge is from Sandra Pittaro, Program Manager. Sandra took on the action of looking at gender bias in movies and TV. Below are her reflections: 

Being part of this challenge allowed me to really see film in a different light. I had never heard of the Bechdel test (check out this video if you haven’t heard of it either) and was really surprised how the film I watched (The Greatest Showman) passed none of the criteria of having two named female characters who speak to each other about anything other than men.

As I watched the movie through the Bechdel lens, I found it really interesting that given the world we live in now, which is one where women make up a large percentage of the workforce,  women are often portrayed in film doing domestic duties, playing the supportive Mum & housewife and not often the lead role.

I learned disturbingly, that children at such young ages are being exposed to unconscious gender bias through cartoons & TV shows. These shows often portray women and girls as unimportant and not having the same value and capability as men and boys. Given the tech age we live in it’s easy to see how children’s beliefs and behaviours can be shaped and influenced when they are repeatedly seeing the same stereotype on a daily basis. I was equally disturbed to learn that the females in G-rated animated films have the same level of provocative dress as female characters in an R-rated film. This further enforces the idea that girls need to be objects of desire from a very young age.

It’s great to see that Screen Australia is trying to shift the imbalance through their program to address the under-utilisation of female talent and there are organisations out there doing important work towards a more accurate reflection of society in the media. This experience has opened my eyes to being more mindful about the films I chose to watch, look for opportunities to support films made by women as well as engage in conversations with my friends and family to raise awareness on the gender imbalance.

As part of this challenge I watched a film and applied what I had learnt through these resources. 

Here is my analysis of the film, The Greatest Showman:

  • No two women spoke to each other through out the whole film. With the exception of a mother and daughter in a couple of scenes.
  • Showed only men working in an office. Not a single woman.
  • There were two women who had a name in the film.
  • Men made all the important decisions such as getting a loan for a business or buying a house – even though affects his family, he didn’t consult with his wife.
  • Man seen as the provider “the life he promised his wife”.
  • Only women are seen doing the domestic duties.
  • Women’s circus outfits where more provocative than the men’s.
  • There was a scene showing how little girls should behave at finishing school.
  • It definitely did not pass the Bechdel test!

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