Women to Women – Manifesto Background Information Document
April 15, 2019
We, ”Ta‘a Marboutah“, are a group of activists, workers and academics in the field of audio and visual industry in the Arab World, working collectively on addressing the issue of women‘s stereotyping in the TV drama series, cinema and documentary films.
Our research at ”Ta‘a Marboutah“ is concentrated on two main pillars; 1) women‘s image in front of the camera and drama content related to gender equality issues. 2) Women‘s professional working conditions behind the camera. The research covers trends and content across the Arab World in the last five years.
We work on advancing the professional and creative trends in the drama and cinematic scene in the Arab World towards achieving gender balance throughout artistic and creative content and realizing a stage where gender stereotyping is seriously addressed and reported.
We are committed to follow firm methodological framework, based on our collective and accumulative professional experiences, enforced through an extensive program of workshops, seminars, conferences, forums and closed meetings that were held in Amman and Beirut between September 2018 and June 2019.
These efforts were followed by a Monitoring and Analysis Study for drama series, films and documentary content produced in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco between the years 2015 and 2018. The Study was inclusive of four drama series from Egypt, two drama series from Lebanon, one drama series from each of the following countries; Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The study was also inclusive of 24 films, split in two fiction and two documentary films from each of the above mentioned countries.
On top of that, we have launched an online questionnaire in Arabic and English to members of the audio and visual industry. We have received over 60 responses that were studied and analyzed qualitatively.
Based on the above three layers working framework we have reached to the following indicators in regard to stereotyping women‘s image;
1. Mega Arab production corporations that were covered in the monitoring study, whom enjoy outstanding reach across the Arab World 10 different corporations, each produced one drama series that was covered in the monitoring study – noting that we avoid generalization- do not pay attention to showcase the positive role of women in society. On the contrary, these production entities do focus on excitement, suspense and commoditizing women‘s role to achieve wider and faster reach. In many cases, the women representation in these drama productions reflects the corporation’s political, social and economic agendas.
According to the monitoring study findings, 70 per cent of the drama content enforce the acceptance of women‘s stereotyping without resistance or reluctance within the dramatic context of these drama series or films. What was astonishing in the findings is that the resistance or confrontation on stereotyping range between 20 to 30 per cent of the monitored TV drama scenes. On top of that, 10 per cent of these scenes do endorse and support gender stereotyping within the dialogue and context.
2. In general, women do suffer from stereotyping. Actresses do accept jobs that limit their role in order to realize swift reach and in-line with the job-market conditions and unwritten rules. All these circumstances do emphasize women‘s stereotyping in front of the camera. 70 per cent of the sample who responded to the questionnaire do agree with this observation.
Although do realize that women‘s circumstances in our societies are subject to many challenges that should be tackled through drama and delivered to the audiences as they are. However, there should be further work and research carried out into addressing challenges that women face without stereotyping it
3. We have found a gap between the real progress of women in their societies on various professional and social fronts and the retroactive, one-dimensional and reductionist image that is presented on screens. For instance, according to the monitoring study findings, women are usually introduced by their family status (Mother, wife, daughter and sister) instead of their professional status or their academic positions in society.
4. We have noticed a scarcity in civic and modern treatment of tackling topics in the audio-visual content, which could be a tool to limit the effect of racism, tribal and sectarian systems. What we mean by “modern treatment” not the prevalent consumerist life style but treating contemporary issues with a pioneer and vanguard’s approach.
5. There is a severe limitation of drama scenes in which women play the principle role. Scenes built on women as the main or solo character can reach to 6 per cent of the total scenes of a drama production and in best cases to 20 per cent.
The study has observed that 99 per cent of household roles are played by women. Women also monopolize the social and union activists roles Women have shared almost equally with men roles related to health, law and media posts. Women did dominate education roles by 75 per cent, however the treatment maintained stereotyping by all means.
(On the other hand, men did monopolize roles related to sports by 100 per cent; government executives‘ roles by 98 per cent, politicians‘ roles by 71 per cent, engineers‘ roles by 69 per cent, investors‘ roles by 80 per cent. Men dominated illegal and criminal acts, which were categorized as masculine roles by 91 per cent).
6. We have concluded that in many cases women‘s roles are concentrated on the helpless caretaker or the other extreme; the evil leader. There is an exception here for drama works that do emphasize on women‘s leadership in the society as mentioned above. However, these roles do not dominate the content on screens.
In many roles, women appear in ultra-religious roles, almost a saint, otherwise she will be socially outcasted and immoral.
7. Most of the drama script do exclude women when they reach to older age groups under the pretext of drama and production requirements. Most of the key roles for women are concentrated on young age groups. Therefore most of women‘s roles are driven by ”beauty“ criteria, which enforce beauty procedures amongst actresses community. These practices come on the expenses of the true values of art, beauty and creativity of the profession.
8. We have observed that men do dominate the directors‘, scriptwriters ‘and producers‘ jobs. Therefore in many cases they lack a gender sensitive content, and they presented from a masculine point of view which is often reductionist towards women.[67 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample do agree strongly with this point]. This observation is in regard to women‘s roles, their issues, the angle and treatment of the scripts from directors‘, artistic, intellectual and creative perspectives.
9. The monitoring study found out that there is almost a complete absence of tackling questions and topics related to gender equality in TV dramas. In one of the monitored drama series, such issues represented five scenes out of 822 scenes.
10. We have found out that there is systematic emphasis on domestic violence against women on screens. Although it is representing the social norms in the real world to a certain extent but it does not take into consideration addressing or solving these issues from a dramatic point of view. Therefore there is a lack of social awareness that conveys messages which honor her role.
Finally, whenever there are roles that has stereotyping but with valued messages, it should be treated within its dramatic context in a smart and artistic approach while catalyzing constructive debate through drama series and films.
Behind the camera
- We have noticed through monitoring films and drama series the constant gender imbalance between women‘s and men‘s jobs behind the camera. This reflects the decline of these professions amongst women. We encourage women to enroll in academic courses related cinematic and production professions and to demonstrate their creativity. 65 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample do strongly agree that there is a negative stereotyping about women‘s capabilities in the production field. Meanwhile, we should acknowledge the unique achievements of women along with their men colleagues in the production field, mainly in scriptwriting, and particularly in Morocco and Tunisia .
- We have noticed that main jobs such as directors, DPs, editors are vastly dominated by men and mostly excluding creative women. We have noticed the limited number of women directors that could influence positive change in women‘s image and limit women‘s stereotyping.
- Through our research, one to one and group meetings with audio- visual professionals we have concluded that there is a gender pay gap in the audio and visual industry. [More than 50 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample strongly agree with this point]. where Men gets usually much higher salaries.
- We have found out that most of media production companies do not have recruitment regulations regarding gender balance. More than 50 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample that production companies have tendencies to recruit men.
- We have noticed the limited Arab funds versus foreign funds that are available for women working in the audiovisual industries. (More than 50 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample do agree with this point). But women in this field aren’t aware of these opportunities.
- We have noticed the absence of solidarity network or groups that can lobby and act as pressure groups to address issues related to Genderism across production fields in the Arab World. These networks should be a main platform to support women in the industry and play a bigger role by achieving positive change and raising awareness on the importance of criticism, monitoring, gender sensitive and producing valued scripts for drama and films, encouraging women to play senior and main roles in the production and eliminate spreading negative image about women. [90 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample strongly agree with this recommendation]
- We emphasize on the need of avoiding enforcing roles for women in Drama just for the sake of gender equality. We believe such an approach will lack authenticity and will be misrepresentative for women.
- There should be more studies and surveys available about women‘s issues as well as their image in-front and behind the camera. We have found severe lack of such research efforts except few studies which are partially about women presence in media industry not in audio- visual industry (Drama and cinema).
- The need for monitoring commissions that evaluates content (We do not mean here the censorship entities that usually sensor content related to politics and religion in our region). There is a drawback in the quality of criticism in the media and social platforms that address stereotyping and avoid normalization amongst viewers.( 90 per cent of the questionnaire‘s sample do agree with the need to establish such an entity)