The last few decades have seen spirited efforts to increase diversity in all spheres of life in the country. At the forefront of increasing diversity have been efforts to reduce gender inequality in the media. The media is arguably one of the most powerful tools in influencing public opinion in the country and as such gender bias in the media has significant value in either stoking or killing the conversation about gender bias in other facets of life. Male dominance in the media, particularly in the film industry, is well documented. There has been a considerable body of research showing that male figures in the media often earn more, spend more time in the spotlight and are more likely ascend to leadership as compared to women of comparable skill and position (Hanusch, 2013). The need for increased diversity has led to policy changes and the establishment of task forces to oversee its achievement. Although, there is a widespread feeling that the efforts put in place to address the problem of gender bias have borne fruit and that gender equality has been achieved in the media, the reality on the ground is that gender bias still pervades Australian media and gender equality has not been achieved.
Issues of gender bias in the Australian film industry and how to end it have been approached in a variety of ways in the past. Despite the efforts, female participation in the industry still tracks along the same levels as 40 years ago. An analysis of screen Australia figures reveals that there is a great imbalance in the industry with greater levels of inequalities in traditional film. Women account for only about 16% of directors, about 23% of writers and just over 34% of producers (Harris, 2016). The dismal women number in the film industry are enabled in part by continuing arguments proposing that gender inequality is unnecessary and cannot be achieved. These arguments state that the low female participation in the film industry is attributable to the perceived physical and personal shortcomings of women. This argument, however, fails to take increasing female participation in traditionally male-dominated fields like engineering, computer science, sports and astronautics into account. It is clear therefore that there is continued use of sweeping generalizations to continue denying women an equal chance to succeed in the film industry. To fully conceptualize the issue of gender bias in the film industry, one needs to look at it from three angles: a systemic angle, a sociocultural angle and a financial angle.
Numerous systemic issues are underlining the gender bias present in the film industry today. One of the most important systemic issues is the continued lack of awareness of women's issues seen in the industry. The politics, history, and sociology of diversity and gender equality are not being taught in film schools. Feminism has been packaged as a fanatical movement attacking men, and consequently, the mention of feminism invariably elicits negative feelings in most people. Another important systemic issue in the film industry is that most work environments are not women-friendly. Most work environments in the industry do not appreciate the importance of work-family balance and the work involved in childcare is lost on most industry leaders. As a result, women often need to choose between career progression and starting a family. There is also a glaring lack of representation for women across the industry as illustrated by the dismally low number of board members, film critics, distributors, and financiers. Additionally, films with women roles or the films directed by women directors are often viewed as niche films despite the fact that women constitute about 50% of the population (Harris, 2016). While the numbers of women filmgoers have been on the increase every year, the system still serves to marginalize the stories of women.
Another systemic issue that continues to undermine female participation in the film industry is the presence of intervention measures that are either poorly crafted or not implemented fully. An example is an initiative by Screen Australia to address gender disparity in the industry, Gender Matters (Harris, 2016). While it is well intentioned, the program has several flaws that undermine its effectiveness. One of the major flaws is the requirement that for projects to be eligible for funding through its two core streams, Brilliant Stories and Brilliant Careers, at least fur of the creative positions in the projects need to be occupied by women. This arguably constitutes gender separation and is likely to continue propagating inequality. Another considerable flaw is the programs is the use of a single program to attempt to end disparity rather than addressing the underlying problem of inequality in funding and support in all Screen Australia's funding streams.
Social cultural issues is another factor. There is a general perception around the film industry is that the fate of female professionals in the industry to give up on their professions and passions to for the sake of bringing up a family. This expectation is reflected in the fact that although more women than ever are attending film schools and other institutions of higher learning; women are increasingly unable to persist in their chosen field because of the normalized idea that women in their late twenties and thirties need to be overly concerned about starting families on account of their biological clock. Another important sociocultural issue in the industry that reflects the gender disparity in the industry is the portrayal of women in popular culture. There is a widespread consensus the idea that for women to achieve equality in the industry, they must be portrayed in the same way men are- bereft of sexual objectification. However, popular culture continues to objectify women in all cadres of Australian life, including politicians (Williams, 2017). The result of all this is that the images of women attempting to forge a career in male-dominated fields like filmmaking is significantly damaged and as a result, fewer young women aspire for this field. Additionally, there is widespread silence on the issues that female filmmakers are faced with. There are very few people that are willing to talk about sexism openly because of the possible repercussions. Since the media is male-dominated, there is fear that any conversation that appears to castigate men will most likely be met with unjustified and undeserved sanctions including exclusion. The continued silence on the matter does not help the gender bias, on the contrary, it continues to provide a suitable environment for the continued propagation of gender inequality.
On the financial front, even in areas of the media where women and men are equal in all other aspects, there exists a significant pay disparity between them. In Australia, on average, women working fulltime earn about 18% less than their male counterparts. The situation is even worse in the media. For example, in Australian journalism, despite women outnumbering men, only about 36% of them earn above $72,000 as compared to more than 51% of the men. The disparity is even worse at the higher end of the scale with only about 1.2% of women earning higher than $144,000 as compared to about 10% of men (Hanusch, 2013). In the film industry, women constitute the highest number of part-time workers and volunteers, and they also have a greater presence in the screen development sector providing crucial support to the industry at significantly lower, and at times no, wages. Most production budgets also routinely fail to consider special costs like paid maternity leaves and on location child care services. The result is that women are at a significant financial disadvantage as compared to men just on account of their gender.
On the other hand, it is important to note that one of the biggest developments in helping reduce inequality has been the tremendous increase in women in some fields within the broader media fraternity. A certain survey showed that women outnumber men in the field of journalism. According to the survey, women now constitute about 55.5% of the human resource in the sector, a tremendous reversal of the situation from 20 years ago (Hanusch, 2013). There is also a generational change in the media where the women are significantly younger than the men and a lot less experienced. That generational change is associated with increased popularity in the field of journalism among women with women now making up about 70% of the journalism students in the country (Hanusch, 2013). The generational change is likely to see an increase in the number of women in senior rank within the industry in the next few years. The achievement of parity in absolute number bodes well for diversity in the industry and is now being cited as evidence that gender equality in the media is being achieved. Initiatives like Gender Matters are also likely to bring female film directors and producers to the fore and help destroy the dangerous perception that women are only good at niche films. It is expected that the projects accepted into the initiative will help spearhead a change in how people both within and without the industry perceive women.
In conclusion, it is clear that gender bias in the media persists and gender equality is still a long way from being achieved. Female participation in the media is still dismal despite women constituting roughly 50% of the general population in Australia. Gender bias in the industry can be observed through systemic issues where the system does not adequately address barriers to female participation in the industry. Gender bias can also be observed through the social-cultural perception of women where they are forced to choose between career development and being family people. Additionally, it can also be observed through financial issues where there is a significant disparity between the pay for women and comparably qualified men. While there has been progress regarding absolute numbers with women outnumbering men in some sections of the media, they are still subjected to unequal pay and are less likely to ascend to leadership positions.
Hanusch, F. (2013, May 26). Women overtake men in the media, but not in pay or power. Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/women-overtake-men-in-the-media-but-not-in-pay-or-power-14479
Harris, L. C. (2016). A Gender Policy That Aims for Equality? Not Yet. Metro Magazine, 124-127.
Williams, B. (2017). A gendered media analysis of the prime ministerial ascension of Gillard and Turnbull: he's taken back the reins, ' and she's a backstabbing' murderer. Australian Journal of Political Science, 550-564.
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