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Women Totally Ruled TV in 2014, Right? Not if You Look at the Numbers

For all the good the past year of television has done for women — and that good is plentiful: from Masters of Sex to Orange is the New Black to Orphan Black to Girls and the general rise of more dynamic, complicated, real women characters — the statistical picture is a far bleaker one. In fact, the presence of women in front of and behind the screen in primetime television has actually decreased overall 3.5% from the previous television season according to an annual study. Which, if you ask us, is pretty damn unacceptable, don’t you think?

For the last 17 years, Boxed In has tracked women’s representation and employment in the primetime television landscape thanks to the impressive work of its helmer at San Diego State University. Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, has shown us that while overall, cable and broadcast have seen a rise in female roles both on-screen and off since the 1997 – 1998 season, we’ve declined in a big way from the year prior’s data. And not only that, but the characterizations of said women show that we still have a hard time placing them outside of their relations to men. For every step forward it seems there’s two steps taken backwards when it comes to the advancement of ladies, doesn’t it?

The initial number may be paltry — oh what’s 3.5% between friends, eh? — but breaking the numbers down farther, they paint a much more frustrating picture. Because Hollywood still has a bit of a glass ceiling problem when it comes to the roles most women are “allowed” to inhabit on-screen and off. With very few exception — female directorship and editorship increased a whopping one percent each HOORAY AND HUZZAH — ladies aren’t really getting their due in the creative department. And it’s not just because of what got cancelled in the 2012 – 13 season if you take a look at the cast and crew make-up of what ended during that season.


Though there’s a renaissance at work in the characterization of women on screen, their roles are still largely stereotypical at best. According to the report, female characters were far, far more likely than the male characters shown on screen to play personal life-related roles (“such as wife, mother, girlfriend,” according to the study): 43 percent compared to the male-based 24. Work related roles, however, were largely inhabited by the boys, measuring in at 66 percent compared to the female 41. Something tells us the Bechdel Test wouldn’t like that one bit!

But there is one positive thing: the more women are on staff of a show? The better the numbers get and the variety of representation increases. Which is great until you remember…oh yeah, those numbers decreased this year. Oh, the rage! It is so real!

Even the one shining beacon of hope — the increase of female producers by 9 percent compared to last year — comes with a glassy caveat. Both in broadcast and cable, women have made huge strides on the producer front, representing 43 and 40 percent, respectively. But when it comes to the next-level promotion on the Hollywood ladder — the executive producer — the numbers dip dramatically. Only 23 (broadcast) and 21 (cable) percent of EPs are women, which is actually a decrease of 4 and 3 percentage points on each side, respectively. Apparently there is little room for women to move up when it comes to getting access to the final say-wielding, decision-maker-y roles. So what does that tell our women creators? That we can help out…but only to a point?


Now, it must be noted that, of course, producer credits are oftentimes based on seniority or how good a deal the person’s agent/manager could finagle at contract time. But if that sort of model continues to be the de-facto operating manner, well, it’ll be several years before we see those numbers even out. Which feels hardly acceptable in this day and age and something we shouldn’t have to wait around to fix.

The biggest decrease was behind the scenes at the broadcast level (a/k/a not cable, specialty channels, and Netfix), where female writers were hit the hardest. Compared to the 2012 – 13 season, the number of women writers decreased nine percentage points. NINE. Today, women only accounted for 25% of the writers in the space.


Even more offensively, the representation of women is insanely white-washed. Women of color are so egregiously underrepresented it might be worth noting that Hollywood’s diversity problem in terms of race is the far bigger problem here. Of all the women on TV in any way, shape, or form, 77 percent — SEVENTY-SEVEN — are white. From there, only 13% were African American, 4% Latina, 4% Asian, and 2% encompassed everyone else. Because that’s totally fair, right? WAIT NOPE, WRONG. Obviously we’ve got a bigger story to write in that regard (and we will! As long as our editors let us).

So, basically, what we’re saying is: get your shit together, Hollywood! It is always a slow road to affect positive change but it’s also necessary to be better than the status quo as Hollywood’s influence has been shown to lead the way in creating a more progressive world. But in order to do better, we have to be better, and make changes that interrupt “the way things are done.” That means treating our female makers and shakers better than they are, and giving them their earned share of the metaphorical pie. After all, it’s a big ol’ pie and it’s mmm, so meaty!

What do you think of the numbers? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Erv says:

    Underrepresentation sucks, but so does being condescended to. I run into this all the time. I am great at my job, and my lady parts have nothing to do with it. I’ve been told by men that I am a woman so that means I am much smarter than he is, and I asked why? Does my uterus give Ted Talks while I’m asleep? Are my breasts working towards their doctorate? Are my ovaries working as a research team studying the Higgs-Boson? I’m not saying that sexism/racism doesn’t exist in hiring and promoting, because it clearly does, but I’d rather fight and earn my way than be condescended to any day of the week.

  2. Steven Goins says:

    Those of you who only focused on the racial part(and some of you only black people), should really think about that. Apparently, the under-representation and sexism of women in Hollywood didn’t bother you but the implication that Hollywood might be a little racist does. After-all, some of you laser-focused on the last 2 paragraphs of a 10 paragraph article. It says a lot about your character. That’s really sad and disturbing.

  3. Great_white_hype says:

    And here inlies the problem with evaluating somthing based solely on numbers, and statistics. Typical leafty “this isn’t representative of census population data, so damn talent, experience, and qualifucations. THIS MUST BE FIXED”

  4. Wow, this has opened my eyes. Clearly something must be done. Hollywood and others should focus more on diversity in their hiring process and less in creative talent. You’re right, 3.5% is too much a margin.
    Yeah, tell someone they’re only being hired because they’re black and/or female. See how much they like hearing that. “We didn’t fill our affirmative action quota this year, so here, have some money and don’t touch anything.”

  5. PheFo says:

    The real question is “Why should I care?” I don’t watch TV or movies based on how much involvement each gender or race has with it. I watch them for entertainment value. And who the hell cares about the random names in the credits? Actually, who watches the credits? I guess the obvious answer is crusaders like you. Here’s your click bait achievement.

  6. reality says:

    “77 percent — SEVENTY-SEVEN — are white. From there, only 13% were African American, 4% Latina, 4% Asian, and 2% encompassed everyone else”… isn’t that representative of the ACTUAL USA CENSUS Data?  Seems perfectly fair to have TV racial mix match the actual population mix.  Or should some groups be OVER REPRESENTED because of Political Correctness? (if anyone should be upset it should be Latina and white, which are underrepresented)

    • Anthony says:

      “if anyone should be upset it should be Latina and white, which are underrepresented”
      I really hope you meant to type “Asians” there, because I know you didn’t just say that white people were underrepresented on TV. 
      I think everyone missed the beginning part of that percentage breakdown. The article said that those percentages were for “all the women on TV in any way, shape, or form”.  I get representing the populous of the country but TV is not a census and if we were to look at the numbers for women in leading TV rolls the numbers wouldn’t come close to census stats anyway. 
      Nobody is arguing that people should be overrepresented, but I shouldn’t have to be pleasantly surprised when a Latina, Asian or Black woman is the main character of a show.

  7. Regarding the final statistic which measures women of minorities on screen, it reports that 13% are African American. The latest census of America shows that 14% of Americans identify as Black or black with another race. This doesn’t seem to far off to me.