How Balanced is Gender Representation in Media? (2017–2018)
Revelations about the abuse of power by men have been manifold over the past year. In particular, it has become clear that the media business suffers from some of the worst sexism of any industry.
How has this lopsided power imbalance between men and women been reflected in the media that we consume? I set out to answer one part of this question by gathering the latest data on as many forms of media as I could find. Mainly, I wanted to know, can we measure gender imbalances at the top end of media industries? Among the highest performers in books, music, movies and more, what does gender representation look like in 2017–2018?
The results are unsurprising and somewhat depressing. Nevertheless, they provide glimmers of hope that the world may be changing.
Representation in Music, Fiction, and Movies
Despite women being dominant when it comes to making number one hit songs, in the last year, they are rather underrepresented on the Billboard charts. The below plot is ordered by the songs which spent the most time on the Billboard Hot-100. Female artists are in red, and male in blue.
Gender balance is much healthier in the realm of fiction publishing. In fact exactly 15 of the top 30 novelists this past year are women (as measured by weeks on the NYT Fiction Bestsellers List).
Movies on the other hand remain something of a boys club. In the below graph, I show the top grossing films of 2017, again splitting those with a male protagonist (blue) and those with a female protagonist (red).
The situation is not quite as bad as the chart suggests. Many of the year’s hit films (including Jumanji, Guardians, Kong, War for the Planet of the Apes, and the Mummy) also have strong female protagonists alongside the male one.
Where the movie business really fails is in the representation of women directors. In 2017 Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) was the only woman director who made a film that broke into the top 30 at the box office.
Social Media (a hope for the future?)
Though inequality is still rampant in the world of old media, things looks much more promising on social media platforms. The chart below shows the top independent Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter accounts — ie those not representing large companies or groups.
Women are ubiquitous on Instagram. A full 2/3s of the top accounts, including 4 of the top 5 are held by women. Similarly, on Twitter, 14/16 of the top 30 accounts are held by women (incuding 6 of the top 10). It seems that when it comes to popularity and celebrity, women are doing better than men.
The situation is reversed on YouTube, where only 2 of the top 20 channels are run by women. This may owe to the fact that many of the top YouTube channels are devoted to gaming. That women are not well represented in video games is a separate and controversial topic.
Show me the Money…
As gender representation in old-world media is found wanting, we may wonder whether women’s dominance on social platforms translates into larger paydays. Alas, this is not the case. The below chart shows the total incomes of the top musicians, actors and celebrities in 2017 (courtesy of Forbes).
Even though the top earning celebrities list includes social media superstars like the Kardashians, most still do not make it into the top 30. The highest paid celebrities are still mostly men, with only Beyonce, JK Rowling, Ellen Degeneres, and Adele to break things up.
Update: Since the time of this writing, it does seem that one of the kardashian clan has made it into the top earners of 2018. We’ll see how many women are represented there when the full 2018 list comes out.
Clearly gender equality in media has a long way to go. Nevertheless, the world is changing. As the old paradigms of media consumption are disrupted by new forms of entertainment, we may hope to see women’s social media popularity translated into well-earned cold, hard, cash.