Gender Bias and Discrimination of Women

Television has always been is primarily heteronormative. In TV shows, it can be seen that men are most commonly portrayed as the head of the house, while women normally have less power. People who believe in heteronormativity not only believe in the gender binary, but also believe that heterosexuality is the default sexuality. Also, they believe that men and women should follow distinct gender roles. When producers create a character, they usually form characters around known stereotypes of society, such as the standard of men being athletic. Stereotypes used in television are often a misrepresentation of a population because not everyone conforms to gender stereotypes.

In a heteronormative society, men dominate women in a variety of ways. In fact, “…male characters [are] more likely than females to be portrayed as leaders (9% vs. 5%)” (Lauzen, 2017). Female actresses, also, have nowhere close to the number of roles that male actors do. A study showed that 79% of TV shows have more male characters than they do female characters (Lauzen, 2017). In 2017, only 31.8% of speaking characters were female, a ratio of 2.15 males to every female. “[The] absence of women in the industry meant that there were fewer strategically placed women within networks, which meant that the difficulty of entry and sustaining employment for women was unlikely to alter” (O’Brien, 2014). Men dominate the television industry completely, including outnumbering women on production teams; there are cases where there are no female members assisting in producing roles.

Gender inequality is a consequence of heteronormativity. Within the beliefs of heteronormativity, people believe that men should make more money than women and are also more likely to have better jobs. Back in 2013, the highest paid actor, Robert Downey Jr. was paid $75 million compared to Angelina Jolie, the highest paid actress, who only received $33 million (Lowe, 2014). This pay inequality is not uncommon. In 2016, Emmy Rossum, who plays Fiona Gallagher on Shameless, “refused to sign on for the Showtime dramedy’s eighth season unless she was offered more than her co-star William H. Macy” (Leon, 2017). She fought for more pay than Macy that season to make up for significantly less pay for the past seven seasons. With the support of the Internet and Macy himself, Rossum was able to win and receive equal pay.

There areas of gender bias in the television industry including the working conditions and the perception of women’s skills. In some cases, working conditions are geared towards men. Female actresses are “expected to subscribe to a traditionally masculine practice of long working hours, a rigid separation of career and life, and a lack of workplace flexibility” (O’Brien, 2014). Women found it hard to juggle a pregnancy and their career in television at the same time. They also often experience bias in relation to their skills. The skills that actors are perceived to have are very gender based. In some cases, women are not hired for certain jobs because they are assumed to have a lack of relatability pertaining to specific subject matters. This gender bias causes many women to leave, whether due to the lack of flexibility or the hard-working conditions.

Within the past decade, TV series have begun deviating from established societal norms and have started to introduce transgender characters. This is an influence of the rise in LGBTQ+ acceptance in society. One of the first shows to introduce a transgender character was The L Word, a show about a group of lesbians. In season 3, the show decided to introduce Miora, a butch lesbian. By the end of season 3, Miora transitioned from female to male and started to go by Max. “Max is a fascinating example of how online fans expressed mixed responses to fictionalized trans people” (Siebler, 2018, p.128). This caused a lot of discussions between the lesbians and trans communities. The lesbian community was upset because The L Word made the only butch lesbian a trans man, but butch and transgender are not the same thing. The trans community was upset about that, and the fact that they were keeping the original actress. This was a misrepresentation of the transgender community because the role was being played by a cisgender woman.

Originally, transgender actors have had a hard time being casted for roles. Recently new TV shows, such as The Fosters and Sense8, have casted transgender actors to play a transgender role. With the hiring of trans people, these shows are actually able to better represent the trans community. These transgender roles are hard to come by, though. Trans actors are still outnumbered by cis actors, and the number of trans roles support this. No TV show has yet to hire a transgender actor to play the role of a cis character. This is very unfair because trans men or women are capable of the same talents that any cisgender person has.

Reality TV shows starring transgender women have begun popping up on television. Back in 2015, I Am Cait and I Am Jazz both premiered. I Am Cait was a show that revolved around the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn Jenner was a former Olympic gold medalist who came out as a trans woman in 2015. The premiere of I Am Cait had “E!’s largest audience for a premiere in four years with 2.7 million viewers” (Wagmeister, 2016). When season 2 premiered, the ratings of the show began to drop tremendously, some episodes having an audience of only 480,000 viewers. The series ended up getting cancelled. Unlike Jenner’s show, Jazz Jennings’s show still airs. I Am Jazz is a show revolving around the life of the teenage transgender girl, Jazz Jennings. This show goes through Jazz’s life and her transition, including the family’s transition with her. The show has an average viewing of less than 1 million viewers an episode. Compared to other reality TV shows, these amounts of views do not hold up to industry standards.

Everyone other than men experience immense amounts of gender discrimination in television. Not only are women and transgender people outnumbered significantly by men, but they also deal with gender bias as well. Female actresses have had to suffer through an unfair pay gap and biased working conditions. After years of fighting, actresses still do not have the gender equality they deserve. With the recent push of the LGBTQ+, transgender characters are on the rise, though there are still very few of them. Transgender programs are hard to come by due to the very little views they receive. This could be because of the misrepresentation of transgender people within the show. Heteronormativity has always been a problem, but with recent advancements, there will hopefully be a wider range of representation in television and media.