Yesterday was International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month. During this time we celebrate women’s achievements, we raise awareness about discrimination, and we take action to drive gender parity. Or, if you’re on social media, you post lots of pictures of women because that’s going to create so much equality, right?
Forgive me for being cynical about having special days and special months. What are we supposed to do on other days and other months? Some of my best friends are women, and they don’t have the answers either. Misogyny is everywhere, and the people who need to hear the message of equality don’t pay attention because they believe nothing’s wrong.
Six years of federal complaints, three years of litigation and decades of domination of the women’s soccer circuit finally paid off, as the U.S. Women’s National Team finally got its long-awaited victory: equal pay. To refresh your memory: American women received a $110,000 bonus for winning the 2019 World Cup; the U.S. men would have received $407,000 had they won in 2018.
Women have long been paid less than men. In 2022, women earned 82 cents for every $1 men earn when comparing all women to all men, according to data from the software firm Payscale. For women of color, the gap is even larger.
MY OWN INDUSTRY
But what about my own line of work? I’m sad to say that sexism is alive and well, and pretty much anyone in the entertainment industry is keeping it alive. This includes voice actors, by the way.
One of the highest paid actresses in the world, Jennifer Lawrence, is still paid millions of dollars less than her male co-stars. According to 2017 research, women earn about $1.1 million less than male actors, and women over fifty earn $4 million less.
Let’s talk about voice actors.
One of our roles as voice overs, is the role of an ENABLER. Our voluntary cooperation in creating messages that influence people, keeps old stereotypes alive, and shows viewers and listeners how to approach things like gender.
Take commercials, for instance. Did you know that women only make an appearance in one out of ten adverts, even though they make three-quarters of all consumer purchases? This statistic comes from Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, the authors of Brandsplaining: Why Marketing is (Still) Sexist.
Jane and Philippa spent over 12 years researching the extent of sexism in advertising. Even adverts that seem to be all about empowering women (like women should be more confident and independent) are an example of “sneaky sexism.”
The authors say that the hidden message implies that women still need to improve or do more to succeed because they are not good enough.
Tim Parkin is a global brand marketing expert, author, and speaker. Parkin believes that by the time a girl reaches her 17th birthday, she has seen a quarter of a million adverts, and the majority feature negative gender stereotypes.
Parkin says: “These adverts affect girls self-image. It affects how they perceive their place in the world, the career they think they can go into, and their interpersonal relationships.”
If you think we’ve made some good progress in the past decades, why are baby food ads still voiced by women, and why do car commercials usually feature male voices? Why do laundry detergent ads mainly feature women, and why do male actors demonstrate lawn equipment? Why do only 4 percent of ads show women in leadership positions (according to media consultancy Ebiquity)?
Could it have something to with the fact that over seventy percent of creative directors are men?
Of course I’ll get comments from female colleagues telling me they have voiced a car commercial, but as far as I’m concerned, exceptions prove the rule.
If we’re truly serious about equality, voice actors should examine their role in keeping old stereotypes alive. Perhaps we should start refusing jobs that reinforce typecasting and reek of sexism.
Remember: Change starts with you!
Lorena Belcher says
Thought provoking and insightful! Thanks, Paul!🌻
Deb DeVries says
Thank you for this! It’s difficult to articulate when you’re a member of the affected group. You usually get an eye roll and people walk away. The acknowledgment is truly appreciated.
Paul Strikwerda says
Your comment is very much appreciated!
Heather Henderson says
THANK YOU, PAUL. Absolutely true, and I’m glad you ferreted out those solid statistics to back it up. I learned long ago (almost 30 years now, and it hasn’t changed) to ignore any audition that starts with, “We’re looking for a male or female voice . . . ” because they will always choose the male voice. I think that there is a lot less of what you call “secret sexism” in the audiobook world than in commercial VO, especially for those of us in the union, but it’s still there, especially in casting. Male narrators are often cast to voice female-authored books, but rarely are women cast to voice male-authored books. Thanks for keeping this top-of-mind.
Paul Strikwerda says
I’m not sure how many voice actors really care about this, based on the lack of responses to this article. Which is why sexism will remain part of the business we’re in. Things will only change if and when people give a damn.
Heather Henderson says
Wow — these are the only comments, huh? Do you have a disproportionate number of male readers, may I ask? And how does this level of response compare to the number of comments you get on most of your other posts?