Despite the Existence of Orange Is the New Black, TV Isn’t More Woman-Friendly

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Photo: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

If the reign of Shonda Rhimes and the success of Orange Is the New Black made you think that TV was on its way to solving its gender imbalance, think again: According to a new study first released by Deadline, women remain badly underrepresented in the TV landscape, and their roles both on- and offscreen have decreased in recent years. According to the annual “Boxed In” report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women make up only 27 percent of the behind-the-camera workforce in broadcast television, down 1 percent from the previous season. Meanwhile, women make up only 42 percent of onscreen broadcast speaking roles, a 1 percent decline from last season.

“For many years, women have experienced slow but incremental growth both as characters on screen and working in key positions behind the scenes. However, that progress, small though it was, now appears to have stalled,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Other disappointing broadcast stats: Women occupy only 25 percent of television writing jobs, down 9 percent from last season; female directors of photography are down to a paltry 2 percent, dropping 1 percent from last season; and only 20 percent of show creators and 23 percent of executive producers are female, both displaying a 4 percent drop. Meanwhile, 44 percent of shows employed four or fewer women total.

And despite popular misconceptions, cable and Netflix have similarly dismal numbers (you can read the full study here). According Lauzen, “People believe that cable is more female-friendly than broadcast, but that’s really not really the case.”

One practical lesson that can be gleaned from the study: There is a positive correlation between the number of women working behind the scenes and the number of female characters that end up onscreen. “When women are employed behind the scenes, they make a difference,” Lauzen continued. And there have been a few, albeit minor, gains. This year, women in broadcast comprised 43 percent of producers (a 5 percent increase), accounted for 13 percent of directors (a 1 percent increase) and had 17 percent of editing jobs (a 1 percent increase).