To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I want to shout out to some female voiceover heroines. Not the usual suspects, though. Rather than focus on top female voiceover artists who crush it, like Tara Strong, Nancy Cartwright, and the late great June Foray this is looking at heroines from a different perspective. Inspired by watching the documentary This Changes Everything (on Netflix), I want to pay tribute by sharing insights from this doc as it relates to voiceover and also to media (and especially Hollywood in general). Because if you assumed the voices (and faces and behind-the-scenes creatives) are equally represented between males and females (not forgetting non-binary peoples), that assumption is oh, so wrong.
Gender Equality in the Media… Or Lack Thereof
Founded by its Academy Award-winning namesake, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has been working tirelessly since 2004 to bring about a tangible, not to mention long overdue, the balance of gender equality in the media.
As it stands, most films are made by men, for men – yet the Geena Davis Institute found that movies with a female lead tended to gross 38.1% higher profits than any male-driven film in 2017. So this begs the question if more women are going out to see these movies than men, why aren’t they being represented as such?
Take Finding Nemo for example – in an animated film with an on-screen cast almost entirely made up of fish, nearly every character is male. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Circling back to my experience as a voiceover actor, it’s shocking to see that among the few female voiceover roles that DO exist in Hollywood, they just so happen to be three times more likely to be sexualized – even as G-Rated characters in films made for children. Young women need to be inspired, not typecast as objects.
This brings us to the Bechdel-Wallace Test.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test
What began as a gag from the funny pages quickly evolved into a method of determining just how accurately written a female character is and follows two simple criteria:
- Are there at least two named female characters?
- Can they maintain a conversation that isn’t about a man?
That’s it. And the test is staggeringly more difficult to pass than you might expect, with only 58% of films actually meeting all of the criteria in 2015; if it were an exam, that would be a failing grade.
Female Voices in the Media
While women make up about half of the population, only 1 out of 5 narrator roles are cast with female voices in mind and 72% of ALL speaking roles in film are given to men. When only 0.5% of Hollywood projects are greenlit for female directors, it forces them to fight each other over the crumbs that male directors don’t even need to think about. This needs to change – because it hasn’t since 1946. As Meryl Streep put it, “Progress will happen when men take a stand – it’s the chivalry of the 21st century.”
It’s up to men to take up the cause – they’re the ones holding the cards, shuffling the deck and keeping the score, so naturally, the only way to burst through that glass ceiling is for them to acknowledge their privilege and do their part to change things; even if it’s uncomfortable. “It’s difficult sometimes for men to see that because they feel like it diminishes the nature of their achievement or their life,” said John Landgraf (Chairman of FX Network), “I’ve been increasingly open as I’ve gotten older to seeing my white male heterosexual characteristics are an unearned advantage in the world.”
Change doesn’t just happen, it needs to be pushed and as Judd Apatow pointed out, “People will hire the same type of people every time if you don’t have that meeting to tell them not to.”
If she can see it, she can be it!
If young girls are shown the potential of what they CAN be, it makes it tangible and attainable. It pushes them to pursue careers and hobbies they can actually relate to because they saw a woman do it on-screen, and that’s what makes it real for them. It’s important to give these characters the room to breathe and develop, but it’s usually stunted because, as of 2017, male leads still had twice as much screen time, as well as most of the screens themselves. Most girls and boys want to be the same things up until the age of five, but the way that the media portrays female characters actively discourages girls from going after the same paths boys do because they literally cannot see themselves doing it.
As noted in This Changes Everything, after the release of The Hunger Games and Brave in 2012, the percentage of girls who took up archery skyrocketed to 105% above boys – and all it took was a strong female lead with a bow.
Could you imagine if even half the movies in Hollywood followed suit?
“What’s good for women is good for everybody” – Geena Davis
Take my International Women’s Day challenge and watch This Changes Everything, if you don’t already do so, follow the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and see how you can get involved.