Media, arts and culture

Media and the arts are powerful sources of information and culture, shaping social norms, attitudes and public discourse around gender. These industries have the potential both to reinforce and to challenge restrictive gender norms.

Cultural norms and attitudes

Media and the arts shape cultural norms and attitudes around gender and violence

In 2016 gender stereotypes still dominate the mainstream media and the arts, shaping ideas about how one should look, act and treat others.

When women and girls are depicted, they are twice as likely as men to be shown in sexually explicit scenes; they are also more likely to be the subject of violence.

The implications are far reaching:

  • idealised depictions of women as young, thin and (sexually) submissive, and men as muscular, powerful and unemotional can contribute to poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and sexual dysfunction
  • rigid constructions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ contribute significantly to violence against women
  • depictions of violence against women can serve to normalise it and increase its acceptance in real life
  • stereotypical depictions of beauty, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation intensify the gender-based discrimination faced by diverse groups of women and girls.

What works: Banning sexist advertising in Iceland

In Iceland, sexist advertising is regulated under the Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, which mandates that advertisements do not ‘work against the equal status and equality of men and women in any manner.’ Violations of the law are followed up by the Centre for Gender Equality and companies can be fined if they do not voluntarily remove advertisements after being instructed to do so.


What works: Making gender inequality visible

Evidence shows that simply drawing people’s attention to a problem can bring about change. In 2014, ABC News’ internal analysis found that 80% of interview time was dedicated to men. Over the next 12 months, women’s representation in interviews grew by 6%, and ABC News has since made greater diversity a requirement, aiming for equal male and female representation to more accurately reflect Australian viewers.

Industry culture

Changing industry culture starts with greater workforce diversity

Diversifying media messaging around gender requires that we first overcome gender discrimination within these sectors. Despite higher participation rates in creative industries, girls in Victoria enjoy fewer opportunities than their male counterparts for careers in these sectors. Leaders and decision makers (including exhibitors, distributors, sales agents, investors, producers, directors and writers) are also overwhelmingly male.

Across Australian arts awards, only 30% of nominations go to women, even though the gender balance in the overall artist population is relatively even.

Women comprise just 22% of senior managers and 29% of middle managers in the Australian news media.

Women in the media earn on average 23% less than their male counterparts—a gap wider than in other industries.

Despite making up 50% of the population, Australian women represent less than 23% of all sources quoted in the news.

In the arts, less than 25% of all films are about women or include women as principal characters.

Getting on with it: Film Victoria Fellowships

Film Victoria has introduced fellowships for women in the Victorian screen industry and gaming sector, and has introduced diversity and equality considerations as assessment criteria for film funding.

Early actions

  • promote women’s cultural activities and innovations within community and business settings
  • promote an annual calendar of women’s cultural and campaign events
  • work with major media entities to raise awareness about gender equality and challenge stereotypes
  • examine workplace initiatives in major media and arts bodies to address discrimination and increase women’s representation in decision-making roles
  • promote strategies that lift women’s visibility as subject matter experts, leaders and spokespersons
  • review, with a view to strengthening, the Victorian Government’s Gender Portrayal Guidelines. The review will also consider the portrayal of positive images of cultural and religious diversity in Victorian women.