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‘Best actors for your buck:’ Why women in Hollywood are worth it

It's encouraging to see women topping rankings, but in an industry dominated by men, the work is far from over

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Four of the five “best actors for your buck” in Hollywood are women. In a new list published by Forbes magazine, Mila Kunis, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Stone were all considered the most valuable actors in Hollywood. Only Chris Evans beat them all to first place.

It is encouraging to see so many women at the top of the rankings, but in an industry dominated by men, the work is far from over.

In Hollywood, the wage gap is difficult to measure, as actors make a variety of different salaries. That said, we do know there’s still a $28 million pay gap between the highest paid male and highest paid female actor. The United States as a whole continues to struggle with the gender pay gap, ranking only 74th in this years Global Gender Gap Report.

It’s not about the money

Many actresses have spoken out about the issue, including Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Patricia Arquette, Cate Blanchett and Rose McGowan. This year, Sandra Bullock pointed out that the problem is less to do with the pay gap itself, and more about a culture of misogyny in general:

It’s a bigger issue than money. I know we’re focused on the money part right now. That’s just a by-product. I keep saying, ‘Why is it that no one is standing up and saying you can’t say that about a woman?’ We’re mocked and judged in the media and articles. Really, how men are described in articles versus women, there’s a big difference.

Women are (sometimes) seen and not heard

Many are familiar with the Bechdel Test, which measures the presence of women in film on three basic criteria:

  • A movie has to have at least two women in it
  • They must talk to one another
  • They must talk about something besides a man

When applying this test in Hollywood, a staggering number of popular films fail – one-third as of July 2015. But the test in not foolproof. The film 50 Shades of Grey (which was directed by a woman), for example, passes the test but has been widely criticized for its portrayal of women.

The situation is actually getting worse

In a study by USC, only 28% of speaking characters in the top 100 films of 2014 were women. That number was down from the previous year. Even if a female role did have lines, it was often not of much significance, as only 21 films featured a female lead or co-lead. None of those leads were 45 or older.

And Hollywood is about more than actors. According to the same study, of 1,326 content creators surveyed, only two directors and 33 writers were women. If you combine all seven years studied (with the exception of 2011), only 24 female directors have ever worked on a major Hollywood production since 2007.

On an executive level, another survey found that in 2013, 71% of all TV network and studio executives were men, while 100% of all major and “mini” film studio executives were men.

Stereotypes are holding us back

Jennifer Lawrence, who placed eighth on the Forbes rankings, has spoken out on several occasions about the sexism she sees in Hollywood. In an impassioned essay, she attributed many of her “failures” to gender stereotypes.

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. Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.

Lawrence’s point actually extends far beyond Hollywood. In a recent global survey, it was found that people expect women to demonstrate authority in a reserved way, while men were encouraged to do so assertively. People also expect women to be softly spoken and guide listeners to their conclusions.

This article was first published in the WEF Agenda Blog on Dec. 22, 2015.

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Author: Donald Armbrecht is a freelance writer and social media producer.