Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, February 22, 2016

Women and Representation

More on Women in Film and Onscreen

Yet another study focusing on diversity--or the lack of diversity--across media platforms in the entertainment industry. As if that news is surprising.

Today the USC Annenberg School for Communications  and Journalism released the latest study of representations of women, persons of color, and LGBT persons on screen and behind the scenes in movies and television. The numbers are not good. (For a post about another study, released just weeks ago, click here.)

The Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment is, as its title suggests, comprehensive: the study includes films, broadcast television, and digital series from 10 major media companies: 21st Century Fox, CBS, Comcast NBC Universal, Disney, Sony, Time Warner, Viacom, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

Altogether, the study covers 109 major motion pictures (released in 2014) and 305 prime-time broadcast series, cable series, and digital streaming series (from the 2014-15 television "season").

Here's just a taste: "For every female character speaking or named in a widely distributed TV show or movie, there are two male characters. For every female director making those shows and movies, there are 5.6 men. For every woman in the highest levels of decision-making at Hollywood studios, there are four men."

And: "For every non-white character on screen, there are roughly 2.5 white ones. For every non-white director, there are roughly 6.7 white ones."

And: "Just two percent of characters are identified as LGBT."

For a story in The Atlantic, from which the CARD's numbers have been quoted, click here.

The full CARD study is readily accessible and eminently readable--you can download a copy here.

But most important, keep this in mind when you're deciding where to spend your entertainment dollars . . . 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

One More Time on the Gender Pay Gap

Pay Equity--AGAIN!!!

I've posted on pay equity before: here, for example, and, more extensively, here. But this week the AAUW published its most recent analysis: The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.

While noting that the gender pay gap has narrowed over the last fifty-three years (John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963), most of this change is "due largely to women's progress in education and workforce participation and to men's wages rising at a slower rate."

The gap is still sizeable--21%. In other words, "women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid."

Many critics have tried to dismiss the pay gap by saying that the disparity exists "just" because women make different "personal choices." Women just "choose" lower-paying jobs and professions, and they just "choose" to work part-time and to take time out of the workforce.

It is true that jobs typically filled by women are lower paying. Whether they are childcare workers or office workers, elementary school teachers or social workers and nurses, women find that the jobs where they predominate--no matter how valuable to society--are lower-paying than equivalently skilled men's work.

But even this kind of "life choice"--"choosing" lower-paying jobs--doesn't fully explain the wage differences between men and women. The AAUW finds that "just one year after college graduation, women were paid 82 percent of what their similarly educated and experienced male counterparts were paid." And 10 years after graduation, "the pay gap widened, and women were paid only 69 percent of what men were paid." From the age of 35 through retirement age, "women are typically paid 76 to 81 percent of what men are paid depending on age."

Another reason frequently given for the wage gap is women's "choice" to have children. But while becoming a parent is a "life choice" of both men and women, it's women who still pay the price. The "motherhood penalty" not only reduces women's wages, it affects their professional opportunities. Employers "are less likely to hire mothers compared with childless women, and when employers do make an offer to a mother, they offer her a lower salary than they do other women." 

And there is no "fatherhood penalty"--fathers "do not suffer a penalty compared with other men"  when they become a parent. In point of fact, "[m]any fathers receive a wage premium after having a child."

The gender pay gap cannot be explained away by such "life choices." For those with a college degree:
After accounting for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status, . . . a 7 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained. 
Similarly, [there is] a 12 percent unexplained difference in earnings among full-time workers 10 years after college graduation.
Here's one more thing you may not have considered. A recent study found that five years after they graduated from college, "women working full time had paid off 33 percent of their student loan debt on average, while men working full time had paid off 44 percent of their debt."

All this is just looking at the averages for all women. It should not be surprising that the news is even worse for women of color. 

In other news this week . . . 

Student researchers from Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) and North Carolina State University reported on their their findings about women coders. Their research revealed that the contributions of female coders to projects were more readily accepted those of their male counterparts--until their sex was revealed. Once they are identified as women, their acceptance rates drop, and their work is more often rejected. For a report by The Washington Post with links to the study, click here

And if all this isn't depressing enough, Science magazine reports that women even get screwed when it comes to selling on eBay: "A study of more than 1 million auctions on the online commerce site eBay finds that women receive consistently less money than men for selling the very same products." Here's the link.

Update, 2 January 2021: To keep the links working on the blog, I try to update them. So the link for the The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap still takes you to the 2016 report. If you would prefer an updated report--from 2018, with additions from 2021, click here! (Update, 4 January 2023: You can now access the 2022 report at the same link.) 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Courageous or Cute? A Meditation on Being Pretty

I Am Not Pretty

I was working away on a new project this week, an edition of Margaret Cavendish’s comedy, The Convent of Pleasure, adding glosses and notes for words that might be unfamiliar to today’s reader and to indicate where some words have changed meanings entirely since the mid-seventeenth century, when Cavendish was writing. 

It was always fun for me to work with students reading medieval and Renaissance texts—they struggle with Chaucer’s Middle English and Shakespeare Early Modern English, but they also found the process revelatory. (Okay, to be honest, only some did—others wound up hating the reading and couldn’t wait for the semester to be over.) 

From a nineteenth-century edition of
Samuel Johnson's landmark
Dictionary of the English Language
So, for example, the word “silly.” In Chaucer’s time, it could mean someone who was happy or fortunate or innocent and harmless or deserving of pity or sympathy—so when Chaucer describes John, a cuckolded husband, as "silly" or Troilus, a suffering lover, as "silly," it is important to know how the meaning of “silly” has changed since the fourteenth century. 

And “nice.” Rather than meaning someone who was pleasant, considerate, and kind, the word “nice” could mean something silly or absurd or it could refer to a person who was dissolute. So when Shakespeare uses the word to describe a woman in Love's Labour's Lost, he does not intend it as a compliment. 

But for some reason, working with words and their meaning in my Cavendish text, I got to thinking about the word “pretty.” 

In Old English, the word prættig meant “tricky, sly, cunning, wily, astute” and then “clever, skillful, able”—in Middle English, a “pretty man” was a clever man. A philosopher could be described as “pretty” (1577), and it had nothing to do with his physical appearance. Lawyers and numerous “fellows” (1577-1712) were described as "pretty," all without irony. 

By 1400, the word had come also to mean, by extension, “bold, gallant, brave,” and even “courageous, warlike, or hardy,” and the Oxford English Dictionary is filled with examples of men, young and old, described as “pretty”—clerks, scholars, athletes, country laborers, city gentlemen. 

But as soon as the word “pretty” came to be associated with physical appearance rather than inner qualities, it began to be less “appropriate” as a way to describe men and more and more restricted in its use to women. 

So women are “pretty” now. Not cunning, not skillful, not bold, not courageous, but “pleasing in appearance, . . . esp. in a delicate or diminutive way” (though, as the New English Dictionary notes, “Pretty is somewhat of a condescending term.” In other words, pretty is not beautiful. And the Oxford English Dictionary adds, “Freq. depreciative,” illustrating these demeaning meanings with quotations that refer to “pretty little painted sluts,” “pretty little heads,” and “pretty little pop girl mode.”)