You may be shocked, but what now?

Sophie Charlotte Rieger
Sophie Charlotte Rieger

You may be shocked, but what now? – A study on gender in German media

Two months ago, the study “Audiovisual Diversity”, conducted by actress Maria Furtwängler, her foundation “malisa” and the University of Rostock, revealed a serious on-screen gender imbalance in German film and television productions. And even though none of this came as a surprise, the results were still shocking.

All in all men are twice as probable to appear on screen and the disparity is especially grave in respect to characters over 40. Also, only 57% of the examined TV and cinema productions passed the Bechdel-Test, which means that female characters are either less present and/or still mainly concerned with men and relationships.

Especially when it comes to news broadcasts and the non-fictional entertainment segment, women are seriously lacking representation. In the news, only 28% of voice over speakers and 21% of interview partners are female, while at least hosting jobs are equally distributed. When it comes to non-fictional entertainment, the situation is even worse: Only 20% of the hosts and 4% of voice over speakers are female.

The most shocking results though are the numbers for children's television programs: One in four human characters and only one in ten (!) non-human characters (talking animals, plants, robots, etc.) are female.

But what now?

Facts and figures are one thing, actions another. In the press conference, where the study's results were made public, the attending representatives of major television stations and the German Federal Film Board all agreed on an indisputable necessity of change. At the same time none of them was willing to agree to a binding strategy like a quota or mandatory gender monitoring.

In 2016, the German Federal Film Board conducted a study on gender and filmmaking, revealing the lack of female directors as well as structural sexism that prevents them from succeeding in the industry. And it didn't learn anything from its own numbers: The most recent list of movie productions to be funded by the board did not include a SINGLE female director. If anything, this proves that facts and figures are nice to look at but do not automatically lead to any actual change.

But what are people afraid of?

Maybe even more shocking than the results of the “Audiovisual Diversity” study was a TV interview between Claus Kleber, a respected journalist of German public television, and Maria Furtwängler, founder of malisa and initiator of the study. With rhetorical questions of the sort that revealed his profound aversion to topics of Gender and feminism, Kleber forced his interview partner into defense. Do you have an agenda? Do you want to re-educate people? Do you really want to gendermainstream Benjamin Blümchen (a beloved talking elephant in children's television)?

Maria Furtwängler, an actress rather known for the famous TV show “Tatort” and celebrity appearances but not necessarily for feminist activism, had no choice but to deny everything. There was no way to actually announce some kind of agenda connected to the study - even if there was one - without confirming the “aggressive feminist” stereotype that Kleber was laying out for her.

Two months later

It's been two months now. The before mentioned interview steered some discussion on public television's approach to feminist topics but it's all long gone. Maria Furtwängler and her foundation already announced another study, this time focusing on gender construction in music videos, and the facts and figures of the former one remain just that: facts and figures.

So far, no visible action has been taken as a consequence of these facts and figures, no programs or incentives have been announced – neither by TV stations, the film board nor the malisa foundation. It is true that the discourse on gender in media is gathering strength in Germany. But it is quite obvious that all these shocking numbers and findings, the presentations and discussions do not necessarily entail changes of the status quo. So the question remains: When will we stop talking and actually start doing something?