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Casting directors should disregard sterotypes

19 September 2013

In a submission to Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman's Commission on Older Women, Equity urged government to encourage casting directors, agents, producers and directors to disregard stereotypical female characters.

Equity's submission reads: “gender stereotypes are still widely accepted in the performing arts, film and television industries”. It added that the portrayal of women often focused on “caring responsibilities, attractiveness, or on perceptions of women as sex objects or victims. Raising awareness among casting directors, agents, directors and producers to disregard stereotypes is also vital, particularly in more commercial sectors of the entertainment industry. There is a role for the government in helping to lead this change.”

Initiatives in France and Belgium have led to new efforts to stamp out gender stereotyping, Equity says. In Belgium, for example, new guidelines for broadcasters recommend they promote a “balanced picture of diversity of roles and functions of men and women throughout programming” and be “vigilant with regard to sexist stereotypes”.

Labour’s Commission on Older Women, which includes in its members Equity vice president Jean Rogers, aims to analyse the issues that affect women as they reach their 50s.

Equity's submission highlights research from the Creative Diversity Network in 2009, which found 54% of women on TV were in the 16-39 age bracket, and an International Federation of Actors (FIA) report that found female performers have shorter careers than men. Affordable and flexible childcare remains an issue in the industry, with FIA’s report finding 56% of women considered parenting a “career disadvantage” compared with 15% of men.

Audience research by Harris Interactive concluded that older women in particular feel marginalised and rather than being seen as background, sexless figures they're keen to see roles in film that more accurately communicate the characteristics of the modern, sexually liberated older woman.

“Throughout the arts and entertainment industries, practices such as touring, night-time working, filming away from home and extended rehearsals are common. Some sectors also involve considerable physical demands and extensive travelling such as ballet, contemporary dance, stunt performance and modelling. In this environment, work-life balance issues can become, at best, secondary concerns. Certain Equity members, such as variety artists and models, are also not able to benefit from statutory provisions due to their self-employed status,” Equity's submission said.

The union was also concerned that actors who made demands in favour of improving their work-life balance felt “vulnerable to exclusion from employment opportunities”.

Equity claimed equal opportunities data was rarely published transparently, and added that its campaign for more roles for women on stage and TV had “not been helped by the absence of valuable data”. It argued that where employers did carry out equal-opportunity surveys, these were confined to employees and did not include self-employed people, such as performers.

The union pointed to research by the Society of London Theatre that found women make up 66% of West End audiences. “There is a commercial interest in tackling stereotypes and developing new approaches to portrayal,” it said.

Download the full submission here.

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