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Movie industry’s prejudice against people with disabilities still strong

More than half of the films (58) evaluated in 2018 did not include a single character (even non-speaking role) with a disability, a four-year high. Furthermore, 83 films had no female characters with a disability. This is an increase from 2017 but on par with 2015.

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Unlike in television, where disability representation has gone up in recent years, the percentage of characters with disabilities in the top 1,200 films has hit a four-year low. Just 1.6% of the 4,445 speaking characters analyzed have a disability, according to a study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Five of these films revolved around an underrepresented leading character with a disability and one showcased a leading character from the LGBT community.

“Including characters with disabilities does not happen by accident,” said Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s VP of communications and author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit. “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on filmmakers choosing to include individuals with disabilities in diverse and accurate portrayals. Thus, when just fewer than two percent of films include speaking characters with disabilities, the disability community is pretty much erased on screen. When filmmakers choose to include characters with disabilities, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities.”

When the Annenberg study began tracking disability four years ago, it found 2.4% of speaking characters had disabilities, staying fairly consistent at 2.7% in 2016 and 2.5% in 2017. In each of those years, at least one film (two in 2015 and 2017) had proportional representation of characters with disabilities, compared to the US Census information. None of the films evaluated from 2018 featured proportional representation of characters with disabilities when compared to the US population.

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“With more than a quarter of the US population identifying as having a disability, these numbers are dismal,” Appelbaum added. “In fact, the difference between the percentage of speaking characters with disabilities and reality in the US population is the largest difference in the inclusion crisis in film, at 25.6 (27.2% of US population versus 1.6% of speaking characters).”

More than half of the films (58) evaluated in 2018 did not include a single character (even non-speaking role) with a disability, a four-year high. Furthermore, 83 films had no female characters with a disability. This is an increase from 2017 but on par with 2015.

“You’re basically seeing the erasure of whole communities,” said Marc Choueiti, program director at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and one of the study’s authors.

“Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals,” RespectAbility’s president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi added. “With just 1.6% of speaking characters having disabilities in film, compared to 25% of American adults having a disability, we will continue to work with entertainment leaders to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. Disability impacts every gender, race, age and sexual orientation. We want the film industry to understand that accurate, authentic and diverse portrayals of disability benefit everyone.”

Disability Affects All

Despite the fact that people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc., have disabilities, the films evaluated in this study do not show it.

Nearly three-quarters of the characters with disabilities were male (72.5%) and 27.5% were female. Most characters with disabilities were white (63.1%), while 36.9% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Just two characters with disabilities were LGB.

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One statistic represents improvement, however. The percentage of underrepresented characters with disabilities increased 9.9% points compared to 2017. A corresponding decrease in white characters occurred. However, the numbers leave a lot of room for additional improvement.

“Once again, the predominant picture of characters with disabilities is one of a straight, white, male,” the study reports. “These results have remained consistent across the four years of films examined, which means that for nearly half of a decade, audiences have seen persistent under and misrepresentation of individuals with disabilities in top movies.”

Disabilities Represented

A total of nine films had a lead or co-lead character with a disability. These individuals experienced depression, dyslexia, disfigurement, blindness, heart conditions, HIV/AIDS or missing limbs. Five of these films centered on an underrepresented leading character with a disability, and one movie showcased the story of an LGBT leading character with a disability. In terms of ensemble casts, two films featured leading characters with disabilities, one male and one female, both of whom were white, and one was bisexual.

In terms of all characters with a speaking role, more than half of the characters (38) were shown to have a physical disability (55.1%), including mobility issues, amputation or severe disfigurement. Nearly one-third (30.4%) of characters have a cognitive disability, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. And 27.5% of characters were shown with a communicative disability, such as blindness or deafness. As a character could experience a disability in more than one domain, the percentages do not total to 100%.

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When looking behind the camera, there are no statistics for people with disabilities. Currently, no major production company tracks disability status for any of its employees, so the data does not yet exist.

Room for Improvement

While the statistics for characters with disabilities – as well as those who are LGBTQ – are lackluster, the overall numbers for women and people of color as leads increased in meaningful ways.

“The good news is companies are making more of an effort to be inclusive,” said Stacy L. Smith, director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and one of the study’s authors. “We’re seeing movement. Of course, we always want it to be faster, but all of the activism and advocacy appears to be yielding results.”

She added, “We’re seeing that studios are recognizing that all that mythologizing about who can lead a film or carry a film was just that — mythologizing.”

NEWSMAKERS

Boys who are bullied online may have more risky sex

Adolescent boys who are cyber bullied pursue risky sexual behaviors more frequently than girls who are cyber bullied. Results may reflect a culture of toxic masculinity and highlight the need to pay special attention to male victims, who may be reluctant to self-identify, and therefore, at greater risk of negative health outcomes.

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Peer victimization is associated with adverse psychological and behavioral problems, including depression and risky health behaviors such as substance use and unprotected sex with multiple partners. This is according to a A collaboration of researchers at Louisiana State University, University of Missouri, and University of Tennessee in the US.

The study, “Peer victimization, depression and sexual risk behaviors among high school youth in the United States: a gender-based approach“, by Youn Kyoung Kim, Mansoo Yu, Courtney Cronley and Miyoun Yang has been published in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. The authors examined gender differences in the relationships between four types of peer victimization (school bullying, cyber bullying, physical dating violence, and sexual dating violence), depression, and risky sexual behaviors among US high school students.

In 2015, approximately one-third of high school students in the US alone reported having sex recently. Of these, 43% had not used a condom, 21% had drunk alcohol or used drugs before sexual intercourse, and 14% had not used any contraception.

Recent research suggests that adolescent boys who are cyber bullied pursue risky sexual behaviors more frequently than girls who are cyber bullied. Results may reflect a culture of toxic masculinity and highlight the need to pay special attention to male victims, who may be reluctant to self-identify, and therefore, at greater risk of negative health outcomes.

For this newer study, the researchers analyzed the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior System Survey, a nationally representative survey of US high school students containing data from 5,288 individuals who reported having engaged in sexual intercourse. The results show that all types of peer victimization are related to symptoms of depression for both females and males, and physical and sexual dating violence are associated with increased risky sexual behaviors. However, school bullying does not predict risky sexual behaviors. Among males, cyber bullying predicts increased risky sexual behaviors and the relationship is greater when a boy is depressed.

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Bullying is, of course, a big issue for members of the LGBTQIA community.

In April 2018, for instance, a study that investigated gender expression and victimization of youth aged 13-18 found that the most gender nonconforming students reported higher levels of being bullied, were more likely to report missing school because they feel unsafe, and are most likely to report being victimized with a weapon on school property.

The effects of bullying are also long-term. In November 2018, another study found that 35.2% of gay/bisexual men who had experienced frequent school-age bullying experience frequent workplace bullying. Among lesbian women, the figure was 29%.

“It is critical to create safe and private spaces for boys to share their experiences, and we hope that this research will encourage schools to consider efforts to destigmatize victimization through peer mentorship and open communication,” said Youn Kyoung Kim.

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NEWSMAKERS

Progressive gender beliefs in teen boys may be protective against violence

Adolescents with more equitable gender attitudes – those who felt boys and girls deserve equal opportunities and respect – had lower odds of reporting violent behaviors.

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Teenage boys who witness their peers abusing women and girls are much more likely to bully and fight with others, as well as behave abusively toward their dates, compared to teenage boys who don’t witness such behaviors, according to an analysis led by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Conversely, the study found that adolescents with more equitable gender attitudes – those who felt boys and girls deserve equal opportunities and respect – had lower odds of reporting violent behaviors. The results are published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“The #MeToo movement brought to light how pervasive sexual violence and derogatory behavior toward women is in our society,” said lead author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, public health and clinical and translational science at Pitt. “Our findings highlight the wide-ranging impact that witnessing sexual harassment and dating violence has on our teenage boys, and present an opportunity to teach adolescents to challenge negative gender and social norms, and interrupt their peer’s disrespectful and harmful behaviors.”

This study is the first to gather information from U.S. male adolescents in community-based settings, rather than schools or clinics, about multiple types of violence, including bullying and sexual harassment, and the role of gender norms and peer behaviors.

Miller and her team surveyed 866 13- to 19-year-old boys at after-school programs, libraries, churches and other youth-serving organizations in 20 lower-resource Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The teens completed the surveys anonymously between August 2015 and June 2017 as part of a larger study evaluating the effect of a prevention program to reduce sexual violence. Seventy percent of the teens identified as African American and 21% as Hispanic, multiracial or ‘other.’

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Of the 619 boys who had ever dated, 1 in 3 reported using abusive behavior toward someone they were dating in the previous 9 months. Sexual harassment, whether dating or not, was also common, with 485, or 56%, saying they’d engaged in such behavior. And 587, or 68% of the respondents, said they’d been in physical fights, or threatened or injured someone with a weapon.

Boys who said they’d witnessed their peers engaging in two or more of nine different harmful verbal, physical or sexual behaviors toward women and girls – such as making rude or disrespectful comments about a girl’s body – had 2 to 5 times higher odds of engaging in a variety of violent behaviors, some having nothing to do with women or dating.

“This reinforces that pressure to conform to stereotypes about masculinity that perpetuate harmful behaviors toward women and girls is also associated with getting in a fight with another guy,” said Miller, who is also director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s. “These behaviors aren’t happening in silos – if we’re going to stop one, we need to also be addressing the other.”

Interestingly, the research team did not find that teens who reported having more gender equitable attitudes were any less likely to engage in homophobic teasing, something three-quarters of the survey respondents endorsed.

“It’s a puzzling and troubling finding. We believe it may be because these teens have normalized homophobic teasing – it is so commonplace, they may see it as a form of acceptable, possibly even pro-social, interaction with their peers,” said Alison Culyba, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s. “This study illustrates the need for cross-cutting prevention strategies that address multiple aspects of youth violence.”

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As part of their study, this team of researchers are evaluating a sexual violence prevention program called Manhood 2.0. Miller has also conducted research on a program called Coaching Boys into Men that guides middle and high school coaches in talking with their male athletes about stopping violence against women and girls. Both Manhood 2.0 and Coaching Boys into Men involve reinforcing more equitable gender attitudes and increasing the number of youth who intervene when witnessing peers’ disrespectful behavior.

Kelley A. Jones, Ph.D., of UPMC Children’s and Pitt, is senior author of this research. Additional authors are Alison J. Culyba, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., Taylor Paglisotti, B.A., Michael Massof, M.P.A., and Qi Gao, M.P.H., all of UPMC Children’s and Pitt; Katie A. Ports, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Jane Kato-Wallace, M.P.H., of Promundo-US in Washington, DC; Julie Pulerwitz, Sc.D., of the Population Council in Washington, DC; Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Kaleab Z. Abebe, Ph.D., of Pitt.

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NEWSMAKERS

From as young as 4, children see males as more powerful than females

When the children had to consider their power relation with a person of the same gender as themselves, the girls and boys both largely identified with the dominant character.

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As early as 4 years old, children associate power and masculinity, even in countries considered to be more egalitarian like Norway. This is what scientists at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) report, in collaboration with the Universities of Oslo (Norway), Lausanne and Neuchâtel (Switzerland), in a study published in Sex Roles. They also show that in some situations the power-masculinity association does not manifest in girls.

Little is known about how representations of power interact with gender in early childhood. Researchers at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), in collaboration with the Universities of Oslo (Norway), Lausanne and Neuchâtel (Switzerland) wanted to know whether children aged 3 to 6 years old in France, Lebanon, and Norway attribute more power to masculine figures than feminine figures.

In a first experiment, they showed the children a picture with two non-gendered individuals. One of them adopted a dominant physical posture and the other a subordinate posture. First the children had to guess which of these two individuals was exerting power over the other. Next they had to assign a gender to each individual (Who is the girl? Who is the boy?). The results reveal that from 4 years old, a large majority of children consider the dominant individual to be a boy. The power-masculinity association was observed in both boys and girls, and just as much in Lebanon as in France and Norway. However it was not significant in 3-year old children.

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In a second experiment, this time in children aged 4 and 5 years old all in school in France, had to imagine themselves in the picture and imagine the other person as a boy or a girl. When the children had to consider their power relation with a person of the same gender as themselves, the girls and boys both largely identified with the dominant character. But when they had to consider their power relation with a person of the opposite gender, boys identified more often with the dominant character whereas girls did not significantly identify more with one or other of the characters.

Finally, in a third experiment, children aged 4 and 5 years old in Lebanon and France watched a series of exchanges between two puppets, one representing a girl and the other a boy, behind a board (1). In one case, the puppets were getting ready to play a game together and the child heard one impose their choices on the other. In the other case, one puppet had more money than the other to buy ice cream. In France and Lebanon, most of the boys thought that the puppet that imposed their choices or that had more money was the male puppet. However, the girls in both countries did not attribute the dominant position preferably to one or other gender.

These results show that children have early sensitivity to a gender hierarchy, though in some situations girls do not associate power and masculinity. The scientists now hope to find out what power forms they attribute to feminine figures and whether they legitimize the expression of gendered power.

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1 The puppets, which were shown to the children before being hidden behind the board, were manipulated by the same speaker and “spoke” with the same voice, working as in a cartoon. So, behind the board, it was not to possible to differentiate them by their voice.

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LIVING HISTORY

Supreme Court junks with finality petition for same-sex marriage

But in its earlier ruling on the matter, the SC said the Constitution does not restrict marriage on the basis of sex. It stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”

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The Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines has junked – with finality – the petition that sought to legalize same-sex marriage in the country.

In a two-page notice issued by the SC last December 10, 2019 (but only made available on January 6, 2020), the SC denied “with finality the said motion for reconsideration as no substantial arguments were presented to warrant the reversal of the questioned decision.”

In October 2015, Atty. Jesus Nicardo Falcis III filed the petition that sought to strike down the prohibitions against same-sex marriage under the Family Code. But the SC dismissed Falcis’ petition “on account of his lack of standing, violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy,” SC’s spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a news conference on September 3, 2019.

But in its earlier ruling on the matter, the SC said the Constitution does not restrict marriage on the basis of sex. It stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”

The High Court, nonetheless, had to deny the petition based on Falcis’ lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.

This time around, the SC stated that “no further pleadings or motions will be entertained,” said SC Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta.

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For the SC, through Associate Justice Marvic Leonen who penned the decision, “same-sex couples may morally claim that they have a right against discrimination for their choice of relationships and that official recognition of their partnerships may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”

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NEWSMAKERS

Gender norms affect attitudes towards gay men and lesbian women globally

Negative attitudes are guided by the perception that gays and lesbians violate traditional gender norms.

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Gay men and lesbian women have often been the targets of prejudice and even violence in society. To better understand what shapes these attitudes and prejudices, Maria Laura Bettinsoli, Alexandra Suppes, and Jamie Napier (all New York University – Abu Dhabi) tested how beliefs about gender norms (expectations of society for how men and women act and look) and people’s attitudes towards gay men and women relate across the globe.

They found that globally, gay men are disliked more than lesbian women across 23 countries. Their results also suggest negative attitudes are guided by the perception that gays and lesbians violate traditional gender norms. But in three countries, China, India, and South Korea, the correlation between beliefs in gender norms and attitudes towards gays and lesbians was absent or even reversed.

The research appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The team assessed attitudes towards gay men and lesbian women separately, noting that most research focuses on homosexuality as a broad category and doesn’t separate attitudes by gender.

Bettinsoli and colleagues were surprised at how consistently gay men were rated more negatively than lesbian women in a vast majority of their samples.

They were also surprised “at the consistency of the relationship between gender norm endorsement and sexual prejudice,” says Bettinsoli. “Even though there were some non-Western countries that did not conform to the pattern, the majority of countries did.”

These findings were true for western countries including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the US. The same was true for Russia, South Africa, and Turkey too.

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“We also found that, in line with previous research, the endorsement of gender norms was associated with anti-gay attitudes–toward both gay men and lesbian women–in every Western country in our sample,” says Bettinsoli.

In South Korea, the researchers saw that endorsement of gender norms was unrelated to attitudes toward gays and lesbians, and in Japan, there was a small association between gender norm endorsement and attitudes toward gay men, but not towards lesbian women.

“In China and India, the reverse pattern emerged. Those who were highest on endorsement of traditional gender roles were the most positive toward gay men and lesbian women,” says Bettinsoli.

While some of the countries show friendlier attitudes towards gays and lesbians, Bettinsoli notes that even in the more tolerant places discriminatory attitudes still exist.

The study is one of several appearing in a future special issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science focused on underrepresented populations.

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NEWSMAKERS

Having to defend one’s sexuality increases fear of childbirth

Fear of childbirth is the same, regardless of sexuality. The difference is that in addition to this fear, lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people are afraid of being questioned or offended because of their identity.

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In order to help people with fear of childbirth, there must be trust between the patient and the healthcare staff. But for many lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people, this trust never develops. These are the results of a study in the journal Midwifery from researchers at Linköping University.

Fear of childbirth (FOC) in heterosexual people is a well-researched field, but we know little about how lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people experience pregnancy, childbirth and reproductive healthcare. Anna Malmquist and Katri Nieminen, researchers at Linköping University, have investigated the topic in depth. The study has been published in the journal Midwifery.

“This study shows that fear of childbirth is the same, regardless of sexuality. The difference is that in addition to this fear, lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people are afraid of being questioned or offended because of their identity. That is, their fear has an added dimension,” says Malmquist.

The study includes interviews with 17 people who identify as either lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Many of the interviewees state that they have numerous positive experiences of maternal care and obstetrics, but also negative experiences. The additional layer of fear and stress felt by this group in its encounter with health care is called minority stress. This is the stress experienced by people who challenge norms when they must repeatedly explain their relationship or are forced to deal with comments, misunderstanding or incomprehension.

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The study’s conclusion is that lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people with FOC are particularly vulnerable in healthcare. In order to help people with FOC, there must be trust between the healthcare staff and the patient. If instead the staff stress the patient more, for instance by assuming the patient is heterosexual, this trust will never develop to a level where the FOC can be addressed.

Malmquist explains that improving the situation for lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people with FOC requires training. Healthcare staff must be familiar with the various groups they can encounter at work, keep in mind that not everyone is heterosexual, and understand what minority stress is.

“It’s not enough that healthcare staff feel they are ‘open-minded’ in their interaction with this group. They need knowledge. These patients are already having a lot of difficulty with their fear of childbirth. They shouldn’t have to train their midwife as well,” says Malmquist.

Looking forward, Malmquist and Katri Nieminen will study whether FOC is more common in lesbian and bisexual women and transsexual people than in heterosexual people.

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