SEXISM IN HOLLYWOOD | fivethreeninety

It’s the second post in Feminist Week here on fivethreeninety and today we’re discussing something that’s an ever present problem in today’s society – sexism in the film industry.

It’s something that actually seems to be getting worse – which is why people have started to speak out about it even more.

I’ll start off with Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar winner & Hollywood it-girl who hit the headlines in the of October of last year by releasing an essay to her Facebook.


Motivated by Lena Dunham, Lawrence’s essay focused on the pay gap and how she was treated differently in the business –  “I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.”.


In May 2015 Maggie Gyllenhaal spoke to the press about how she was told by a Hollywood producer that she, at 37 years old, was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.


You heard that right. Though almost twenty years younger than the leading man, Maggie was considered too old to play his love interest. But, a significant age gap is hardly something out of the ordinary in films:

Pulp Fiction (1994)
16 years
John Travolta (40) & Uma Thurman (24)

Rear Window (1954)
21 years
James Stewart (46) & Grace Kelly (25)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
16 years
Bradley Cooper (39) & Jennifer Lawrence (23)

Entrapment (1999)
39 years
Sean Connery (69) & Catherine Zeta-Jones (30)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
17 years
Daniel Graig (43) & Rooney Mara (26)

Casablanca (1942)
16 years
Humphrey Bogart (43) & Ingrid Bergman (27)

American Gangster (2007)
23 years
Denzel Washington (52) & Lymari Nadal (29)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
16 years
Leonardo DiCaprio (39) & Margot Robbie (23)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
20 years
Tom Cruise (51) & Emily Blunt (31)

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
28 years
Colin Firth (53) & Emma Stone (25)

American Hustle (2013)
17 years
Christian Bale (40) & Jennifer Lawrence (23)

Spectre (2015)
17 years
Daniel Craig (47) & Léa Seydoux (30)

So whilst the Maggie Gyllenhaal story shocked the world, age gaps similar and even larger have been in front of our nose without us even really realising it for almost as long as films have been being made. We’re just so used to seeing such an age gap that we don’t notice it until it’s really pointed out for us.


And then there’s Patricia Arquette, who used her Oscar acceptance speech to bring light to the issue of sexism in the industry when she was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her 2015 role in the film Boyhood.


In the speech that Arquette had written in preparation, she said: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

This caused a massive surge of support from the audience immediately – that gif you’ve seen of Meryl Streep & Jennifer Lopez? Came from that moment.



These are some statistics for the top five hundred films from 2007 – 2012:

30.8% of speaking characters were women

28.8% wore sexually revealing clothes (opposed to 7.0% of men)

26.2% of women actors were partially naked (while 9.4%) were)

Only 10.6% of films featured an equal balance between male and female

The average ratio of male to female actors is 2.25 : 1

The percentage of teenage females depicted with nudity has increased 32.5% from 2007 to 2012

Roughly a third of female speaking characters are shown in sexually revealing attire or are partially naked.

There’s a 10.6% increase in female characters when a woman is directing.

And an 8.7% increase when a female screenwriter is attached.

And women purchase half of movie tickets (in the US)

And then here’s a little load of pie charts for you, showing Academy Award winners and how their male: female ratio works out:



Let’s elaborate on The Bechdel Test a little.

In order to pass the test, a film in question has to include three specific criteria:
(1) It has to have at least two women in it
(2) Who talk to each other
(3) About something besides a man.

You’d think that would be a pretty simple thing to achieve in a film. But no.

Here’s a list of films that don’t pass The Bechdel Test: 

The original Star Wars trilogy

The Lord of the Rings trilogy





Life of Pi

The Imitation Game

The Grand Budapest Hotel

21 Jump Street

22 Jump Street

The Social Network

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There’s a load of other tests that set out to prove inequality for woman in cinema which you can research about yourself – but my favourite is this:

The Sexy Lamp test 

Created by Kelly Sue DeConnick, a comic book writer, the Sexy Lamp test goes as follows:
“If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.” 
The sexy lamp test checks for protagonism and non-stereotypical characters rather than only the representation of women as in the Bechdel test.

With all this attention it’s gaining, hopefully women in film can progress somewhere.


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