Hollywood representations of women in geology: Women geoscientists in film (1986–2016)
Beth A. Johnson, 2018. "Hollywood representations of women in geology: Women geoscientists in film (1986–2016) ", Women and Geology: Who Are We, Where Have We Come From, and Where Are We Going?, Beth A. Johnson
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Thirty-six theatrically released movies containing characters identified as geologists were analyzed in order to see if Hollywood casting practices reflected real-life demographics of women in geology between 1986 and 2016. Forty-eight actors portrayed geologists in these movies, with fifteen of them women (31%). This figure is only slightly lower than the percentage of members of the Geological Society of America self-identifying as women, which is 34%, as well as the percentage of geoscience jobs in the U.S. workforce being held by women, also at 34%, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Although the percentage of women entering the geologic workforce has increased over the thirty-year period, this analysis finds that the number of women portraying fictional geologists has not.
To determine the likelihood of the one of these characters leaving a positive impression on the viewer, the gender demographics of the actors were compared with the movies’ ratings by professional film critics on RottenTomatoes.com. Only three of the fourteen movies featuring women geologists received the highest rating possible compared to thirteen of the twenty-eight movies featuring male geologists. (Movies with both men and women are included in both totals.) The Fresh ratings for the women range between 85%–96%, a potential proxy for their character’s likability.
The final metric used to estimate public perceptions of female geologist characters was to look at the box office success for these movies. Nine of the fourteen movies featuring women geologists were considered box office successes in their time, including some films that had received low ratings from professional critics (i.e., 1997’s Dante’s Peak).
By understanding how fictional women in geology are perceived by the public, it is possible to effect change to present more positive representations of such characters on screen. Suggestions include using the Bechdel-Wallace Test and the Finkbeiner Test to create accurate, intelligent, capable characters that could serve as positive role models. Such representation could allow the public to see themselves as geologists, which may result in support or participation by members of the public.