Theatre Unbound - Did You Know - Female Characters

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Girls and women slightly outnumber boys and men in the population of the United States, but male characters significantly outnumber female characters in plays, television shows and movies.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 50.8% of the country’s population is female. A report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film showed that 43% of characters on television were female. This percentage varied widely from network to network, from CW (51% female characters) to Fox (35% female characters). The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reports an even higher disparity when it comes to G-rated films, where male characters outnumber females three-to-one. In 2007, Theatre Unbound conducted an informal survey of programming at Twin Cities theatres, which indicated about 40% female characters in plays staged here.

Why does this matter? “Viewers identify more readily with characters of the same sex,” says Cynthia Hoffner, but “male characters were chosen as role models by girls more often than female characters were chosen by boys. This finding may be due to the fact that male characters were more plentiful and had more exciting, interesting roles.” By limiting the stories we tell, we limit what we believe we can do.

Further reading:

  • Bussey, Kay and Albert Bandura. "Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and Differentiation" (Psychological Review v. 106, no. 4, 1999).

  • Hoffner, Cynthia. “Children’s Wishful Identification and Parasocial Interaction with Favorite Television Characters” (Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, v. 40, 1996).

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