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Women in Hollywood

Women in Hollywood: The Ongoing Fight for Equality

by Caroline Heldman, PhD, and Nicole Haggard, PhD

This paper investigates why progress for women in television and film has been so slow. Gender equality is especially important in the media industry because entertainment media shapes culture in profound ways. Gender justice advocates have been pushing for reform — both inside and outside the industry — for more than half a century. Heldman and Haggard examine the status of women in key roles in the industry today and find that they remain vastly underrepresented behind the scenes in key decision-making roles, and on both the big and small screens. The authors analyze the obstacles to women’s advancement in media, namely, gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The paper concludes with a discussion of what actions can be taken to effectively reform the industry: systematically addressing gender discrimination and disparities in representation, training a new generation of female leaders and leaders of color in the industry and harnessing consumer pressure to demand better representation.

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About the Authors

Caroline Heldman PortraitCAROLINE HELDMAN, PhD, is an associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the research director for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s. Her research specializes in media, the presidency and systems of power (race, class, gender). She has edited and authored numerous books and papers, and has been active in “real-world” politics as a professional pollster, campaign manager and political commentator. Heldman co-founded the New Orleans Women’s Shelter and the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. She also co-founded End Rape on Campus, Faculty Against Rape and End Rape Statute of Limitations.

Nicole Haggard PortraitNICOLE HAGGARD, PhD, teaches in the film, media and social justice program at Mount Saint Mary’s. Through her project “Race, Sex and Hollywood,” Haggard has spent 14 years studying and contextualizing the intersection of race and gender in American culture and the media’s ability to impact society. Among her publications are the “Film and Television” entries for The Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California (2016 and 2017), and chapters in “Race in American Film” (2017) and “American Multicultural Studies” (2013). Haggard founded the Center for Women in Hollywood and serves on the board of the Center for Restorative Justice Works.


To learn more about the research and resources from the Center for the Advancement of Women at Mount Saint Mary’s University, visit Or contact the director, Emerald Archer, PhD, at or 213.477.2544.