Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter:
It’s no secret that sci-fi and superhero stories are largely the domain of male characters, even in the era of Wonder Woman and the first female Doctor Who.
A new study suggests the gender gap in onscreen representation in superhero and sci-fi films and TV series can have real-world effects on even the youngest consumers of such media. Teenage girls are less likely than boys to describe themselves as confident, brave and listened to, and nearly two-thirds of girls 10-19 say they don’t see enough role models or strong and relatable characters of their own gender onscreen.
“There’s something sort of elemental to sci-fi [and] fantasy, magic storytelling that just feels really resonant as girls and boys are forming their ideas of who they can be,” Sarah Barnett, general manager and president of BBC America, told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think ultimately the role of a superhero is an expression of power that is very important in shaping boys’ and girls’ ideas of who gets to inhabit the power situation and how. For us, it felt like the right space to explore for the study.”
The study notes that while majorities of both boys and girls describe themselves as confident and brave, there’s a significant gap between genders. Most significantly, a majority of girls surveyed — 57 percent — said they’re not listened to (the percentage was even higher among girls of color than their white counterparts), compared to 38 percent of boys.
Just more than a third (34 percent) of teen girls — and almost as many teen boys, 28 percent — said girls have fewer chances than boys to be leaders.
In the study, three-fourths of girls 10-19 said their favorite female superheroes make them feel strong, brave or inspired. And nearly six in 10 say watching female heroes makes them believe they can do anything — with girls of color more likely to strongly agree with that statement.
Boys are much more likely than girls to express interest in STEM careers, perpetuating a gender gap in those fields. Burton argues that representation in media can help close that gap.
“Part of the work is creating the imagination for girls in superhero and sci-fi shows that they can be leaders in STEM, they can be workers in STEM,” she said. “We have to feed the imagination that girls have an equal place to create and build and be part of our STEM present and future.”
Burton also believes better onscreen representation is just good business, a point the study backs up. Not surprisingly, 85 percent of girls 10-19 want to see more women as superheroes and sci-fi protagonists — but so do a large majority of boys (69 percent) and more than 80 percent of parents of kids 5-9, regardless of their children’s gender.
“We continue to pay attention and encourage stories that are fresh and are representing the lived experience of all of our audiences,” Barnett said. “It’s exciting. I think there are these moments where people collectively start to see things a little differently. It’s not easy, and it’s not quite as quick as some of us would like, but I do think they’re exciting moments, and I think this is one of them.”