It’s no secret that, in Hollywood, male actors tend to have more speaking roles than their female counterparts. The Washington Post reported that from 2007 to 2014, women only played 30.2% of all speaking characters in box office hits. Meaning, less than a third of all speaking roles go to women. That’s a huge gap in gender equality! Here we are SIX years later, and that gender ratio doesn’t seem to be improving. Whether you are talking about film or theater, male actors outnumber females two to one. Studio executives, who are mostly older males, seem to think that fairly representing women in their projects just isn’t important. This is a strange attitude to adopt, considering half of all movie and theater patrons are, in fact, female. It has been suggested that audiences prefer to see a male lead, but there is absolutely no statistical evidence to support this claim.
What about voiceover actors? Is the disparity between men and women in the voiceover community just as big? Do audiences actually have a preference for male or female speakers? That’s a little harder to answer. First of all, the majority of voiceover work is now being done by independent contractors; people sitting at home with a computer and a mic. That makes relevant data harder to track. Second, it depends on the target audience and the product being sold whether a male or female voiceover is more effective. A 2010 study from AdWeek Media discovered that male voices are perceived as more forceful, while female voices are more soothing. Participants were reportedly more likely to buy a car from a male spokesperson, but more likely to trust a female when it comes to fashion. Both genders’ voices were considered equally persuasive, depending on what they were selling and to whom they were selling. Of those polled, 64% even said that gender made no difference to them.
Does that mean voiceover work is more equal-opportunity? Not necessarily. If gender really didn’t matter to most people, advertisers probably wouldn’t still be using a predominately male cast to sell tech gadgets and auto parts. Or mostly females to sell cleaning supplies and cosmetics. There is a preconception that women know about domestic tasks, but men know about technical or mechanical ones. Like it or not, society is still very fixated on what are considered to be traditional gender roles. As the trend in on-camera seemingly changes to become more inclusive, that of voiceovers has remained steadily the same. Logically, we understand that a woman can be a computer expert, but we are still more likely to trust a man’s opinion on the subject. Even so, it’s hard to say whether advertisers are at fault for perpetrating these stereotypes or whether they feel pressured to cater to society’s expectations in order to sell their products.
So, what do you think? When it comes to voiceovers, are women still being outnumbered? Is there a huge gap between the number of available roles for each gender? If you are a voiceover artist, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever had trouble finding work because of your gender? Let us know in the comments!