Film industry needs to revamp 'overly masculine' roles for men, researcher says

Credit: Unsplash
free copyrights
Researchers from Northumbria and Durham universities found that characters actors portray in films, television and on stage conform too closely to traditional gender roles. Credit: Alex Litvin/Unsplash

The film industry needs to revamp roles for men to come closer to gender equity in society, a researcher has said following a study which found male actors were being asked to portray "overly masculine" roles.

Researchers from Northumbria and Durham universities found that characters actors portray in films, television and on stage conform too closely to traditional gender roles.

Male actors questioned as part of the study said they were asked to portray characters who were more stereotypically masculine than they identified as themselves.

In contrast, women taking part in the research identified more strongly with the gender traits of the characters they were playing.

Dr Clare Cook, of Northumbria University's department of psychology, said: “There has been lots of research carried out into how the audience perceive and identify with the gender roles of characters on stage and screen, but up until now nobody has questioned the actors who are actually playing these roles.

“What we found interesting was that it was the male actors who felt least represented by the characters they were being asked to play, with many saying the roles available were very gender typical and overly masculine.

From left: Thomas Pollet, Jamie Callahan and Clare Cook. Credit: Northumbria University

“The female actors we surveyed felt their characters more closely resembled how they identified themselves as women, which is a really positive step forward and perhaps shows the positive impact that having more women working within the creative industries over the last few years is having.”

More than 300 actors were questioned about their experiences of being required to conform to traditional gender roles in the course of their work, and the disparity between their acted and ideal characters.

While the vast majority of those questioned identified as either men or women, a small number of participants in the study – less than 4% – identified as non-binary, third gender or other gender identity or preferred not to specify their gender identity.

As such, analyses which relied on gender groupings only included participants who identified as men or women.

However, many of the actors – both men and women – said they would like to play less gender typical roles.

Dr Cook, who carried out the research alongside Thomas Pollet, of Northumbria University and Jamie Callahan, of Durham University, added: “While it appears there have been positive changes, there is still more work to do in ensuring the roles portrayed in the entertainment industry more accurately reflect society as a whole and do more to promote gender equity."

The academics found that both male and female actors were required to portray traditional gender roles, but that men were required to conform with these traditional notions of gender to a greater extent, resulting in the broadcast of a masculinised ideal.

Both male and female actors indicated they would prefer to portray characters that conform less with traditional gender roles than their most recent character.

Prof Callahan, of Durham University Business School, said: “The entertainment industry both reflects and reinforces culture. Our study shows that 'if you can see it, you can be it' has improved for women and the roles they get to play, and this helps move the dial on gendered social norms that get reinforced.

"But, to come closer to gender equity in society, the entertainment industry needs to revamp the roles they create for men.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...