“Frail, frumpy and forgotten: A report on the movie roles of women of age” (2019)
In 2004, Geena Davis set up the Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM), (fiscally sponsored by Mount Saint Mary’s University) in Los Angeles, California. According to their mission statement: “the Institute is the only research-based organization working collaboratively within the entertainment industry to create gender balance, foster inclusion and reduce negative stereotyping in family entertainment media” (GDIGM, 2020).
In 2019, the GDIGM conducted a global study in partnership with TENA, analyzing the top 30 grossing films in 2019 from the US, UK, France and Germany in order to examine “representation of older adults, with a specific focus on women ages 50+ in entertainment media” (GDIGM, 2020). “The final dataset included 32 films with 1235 leading, supporting and minor characters in these films. More specifically, the dataset includes 36 leading/co-leading characters (referred to as ‘leading characters’), 472 supporting characters, and 727 minor characters” (GDIGM, 2020).
As part of their research, they applied The Ageless Test to determine if women 50 years of age or older are represented as having “fully realized lives rather than serving as scenery in younger people’s stories” (GDIGM, 2020). The Ageless Test had two stipulations in order to pass the test. Each film that was analyzed must have:
- “At least one female character who is 50+ who matters and is tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have significant effect.
- That [female] character must be presented in humanizing ways and not reduced to ageist stereotyp”
They GDIGM produced a report of their findings: Frail, frumpy and forgotten: A report on the movie roles of women of age. The study “examined how entertainment media contributes to ageism by erasing older adults and presenting them in stereotypical ways in the top grossing films of 2019 in Germany, France, the UK and the US. The following are some of the findings from that study:
- “Female characters make up only 25.3% of characters over 50, but 0% of females age 50+ in these films had leading roles.”
- 8% of films had a stereotyped female character age 50+, while 28.2% had no female character age 50+ at all (GDIGM, 2020)
- “Female characters 50+ are four times more likely than male characters 50+ to be shown as: ”senile (16.1% vs 3.5%); seven times more likely to be depicted as homebound (16.1% vs 2.4%; four times more likely to be portrayed as feeble (19.4% vs 5.9%); and four times more likely to be shown as frumpy (19.4 % vs 4.7%) than men.”
- Female characters 50+ are more than twice as likely to be shown as unattractive than male characters age 50+ (29.0% compared to 12.9%).
Findings from the Ageless Test:
- “Only 1 in 4 films passed the Ageless Test by having a non-stereotypical female character age 50+ “
- “Characters age 50+ are under-represented in the most popular films when compared to the broader population (21.8% compared with 28%)”
- “One-in-three (35.3%) of characters under 50 are female compared with one-in-four (25.3%) characters 50+. This means that when audiences see female characters on the screen she is more likely to be a younger woman.”
- “While a small percentage of characters 0.3%) are depicted as gender non-conforming in films in this study, none of these characters are ages 50+. This is a complete erasure of older gender non-conforming adults in popular films.”
- “Characters under 50 are more than twice as likely to be cast in leading roles than characters 50+ (1.8% compared with 0.8%).”
- “No women ages 50+ appeared in leading roles in the top-grossing films in the study, while 2 men age 50+ were featured as leads.”
- “Characters ages 50+ are more likely to be shown in supporting roles than younger characters (46.5% compared with 35.1%).”
- “Characters ages 50+ constitute 16.9% of screen time in the films [they] analyzed.”
- “Characters ages 50+ speak 21.8% of the time that characters are speaking in the film.”
- Older adults in popular films are commonly depicted in stereotypical, degrading ways tied to age. Over half (56.9%) of characters 50+ are depicted with at least one stereotype, with two stereotypes on average
- Mental stereotypes depicted by older characters found in these films include: stubborn (32.8%, cranky (31.9%), intolerant or bigoted (10.3%), feeble (9.5%), senile (6.9%), stingy (5.2%).
- Emotional stereotypes depicted by older characters found in these films include: lonely (15.5%), socially inactive (10.3%), depressed (5.2%)
- Physical stereotypes depicted by older characters found in these films include: physically inactive (12.8%), sickly (6.9%), homebound (6.0%), dependent on others (4.3%)
- Appearance stereotypes depicted by older characters found in these films include: physically unattractive (17.2%); frumpy (8.6%), ‘not at all fashionable’ (17.2%)
- Sexuality: “Characters under 50 are more likely to have at least one sexual partner than characters 50+ (16.6% compared with 9.5%). “
- Sexuality: “Among characters 50+, male characters are more likely go have at least one sexual partner than female characters 50+ (10.6% compared with 6.5%).”
- Sexuality: “Characters under 50 are 3 times more likely than characters 50+ to be depicted in a sex scene (8.4% compared with 2.6%). They found no difference by gender in sex scenes for characters 50+.”