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USC Study Cites More ‘Eye Candy’ in Movies

USC Study Cites More 'Eye Candy' in Movies
The latest USC Annenberg survey looked at films released in 2009.

A new study by USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism researchers Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Stephanie Gall illustrates Hollywood’s bent for films that marginalize and sexualize women is as strong as ever.

The study, “Gender Inequality in Popular Films,” can be found at

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the findings, which are based on the top 100 grossing movies of 2009, is that they dealt with young teen characters.

Smith and her research team of undergraduate students found the same prevalence of sexually revealing clothing and partial nudity in female characters in all age groups from 13 to 39. In fact, 13- to 20-year-olds were as likely as 21- to 29-year-olds to be depicted in that manner.

The survey found that 33.8 percent of female teen characters were seen in sexy clothing, and 28.2 percent were shown with exposed skin in the cleavage, midriff or upper thigh regions. For male teen characters, the numbers were much lower – 5.3 percent shown in sexy clothing and 11.2 percent showing skin.

Sexualizing a significant portion of women this age may contribute to males viewing girls and women as “eye candy” at younger ages, Smith said.

“Viewing sexualized images of females in film may contribute to self-objectification in some girls or women, which in turn may increase body shame, appearance anxiety and have other negative effects,” she said.

Smith’s team also found numbers that echoed a discouraging trend revealed in her studies of movies from 2007 and 2008.

The team examined 4,342 speaking characters in 2009 movies, including Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Hangover.

Of the speaking characters, 32.8 percent were women and 67.2 percent were men. That equals 2.05 males for every female. The percentage was identical to movies of 2008.

Less than 17 percent of films were gender-balanced, meaning that they featured girls or women in 45 to 54.9 percent of speaking roles. Those findings were similar to the previous two years – 15 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2007.

“The infrequency of females in film is symptomatic of a greater industry issue,” Choueiti said. “Our data show that females are simply not equal in film, in front of or behind the camera. Yet females control a vast majority of the purchasing decisions in the home and buy roughly half of the tickets at the box office. Hollywood is failing to court one of its most financially lucrative audiences.”

And the unchanged numbers of gender-balanced movies and women behind the camera year after year reveal a “norm” in Hollywood that is damaging to women, according to the researchers. It’s almost as if the statistics reveal an industry formula regarding gender, Smith said.

“It’s completely consistent: There are about 4,300 characters across 100 films per year, and under a third are female. There’s a remarkable stability. It becomes normative without some content creators even thinking about it. It’s a status quo.”

The report is part of an annual survey conducted by Smith and Choueiti on the top 100 domestic films.

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