How Screen Directions Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes
It's hardly a secret that Hollywood has a sexism problem onscreen. But issues of bias and stereotyping might be just as prevalent behind the scenes, according to The Pudding’s new analysis of nearly 2000 film scripts.
Data scientist Julia Silge and her colleagues pulled screenplays for 1966 movies, most of which were less than 30 years old. They processed the text to scrape out just the screen directions, then narrowed it down further to two-word terms like “she runs” or “he sits.” Finally, the team calculated the odds that any given verb would be paired with a male or female pronoun.
Unfortunately, the results were bleak. Female characters were overwhelmingly instructed to behave like damsels in distress, while men took (often violent) action.
They also used information about the screenwriters themselves to investigate the relationship between writers’ genders and their characters’ behavior. Their results suggested that both male and female writers were likely to rely on gender stereotypes.
“Relative to men,” the analysts note, “women gasp, hurry, smile, hesitate, and stir (mostly while cooking), regardless of whether the writer is a man or a woman. Men are consistently more likely to smash things, draw their weapons, grin, wink, point, talk, and speak.”
But it’s not as though the sample sizes were the same, or even close. Male screenwriters were responsible for 85 percent of all the scripts in the study.
“Should Hollywood reach gender parity,” Silge wrote, “we’d expect fewer women characters to respond, kiss, and cry. The increase in female writers would also mean women would be more likely to spy, find things, and, perhaps most remarkably, write onscreen.”
[h/t The Pudding]