BBC America and Women's Media Center Release New Study on the Impact of Representation in Sci-Fi and Superhero Genre on Girls

While Wonder Woman and Black Panther have made significant strides in increasing representation in the superhero genre, overwhelmingly, girls say there are not enough female role models or other strong, relatable female characters in film and TV, according to new research released today on the heels of New York Comic Con, by BBC America and the Women’s Media Center.


Superpowering Girls: Female Representation in the Sci-Fi/Superhero Genre, is the first in a series of studies from the two organizations highlighting the impact of representation on youth between the ages of 5-19. Every demographic group surveyed expressed a desire for more female heroes in the in the sci-fi and superhero genre, with girls, especially girls of color, and, also boys of color, most likely to want more sci-fi/superheroes who look like them. The study — an online quantitative survey was administered late summer to 2,431 girls and boys aged 10-19 and parents of children aged 5-9, who answered on behalf of their child — confirms that representation onscreen can positively affect child’s confidence, career trajectory, and overall self-image.

Other key findings:

• Teen girls are significantly less likely than teen boys to describe themselves as confident, brave, and heard. And these challenges are even more pronounced for girls of color, who are significantly less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to feel listened to when they speak.

• Despite notable campaigns to boost women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), we still see a 23-point gender gap between teen boys and girls with regards to interest in STEM careers. And that translates to leadership in STEM industries. For instance, only 20 percent of tech executives are women — 80 percent of tech executives are men.

• 1 in 3 teens agree that girls have fewer opportunities than boys to be leaders.

Julie Burton, President of the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER, stresses, “At this time of enormous, sweeping, social change, it’s important that television and film provide an abundance of roles and role models for diverse girls and young women. We know that representation matters, as evidenced by this report. Our research found that female sci-fi and superhero characters help bridge the confidence gap for girls, making them feel strong, brave, confident, inspired, positive, and motivated.”

“If you can’t see her, you can’t be her,” BBC AMERICA President Sarah Barnett implores. “It’s time to expand what gets seen, and we hope this report will contribute to sparking change in the stories we see on screen. With greater representation of female heroes in the sci-fi and superhero genre, we can help superpower the next generation of women.”

The alliance with WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER is part of BBC AMERICA’s recently launched “Galaxy of Women” initiative. “Galaxy of Women” spotlights the phenomenal women across the network and connects with fans while highlighting powerhouse women and girls around us. From Orphan Black’s sestras to Killing Eve’s beloved assassin and spy, and the pioneering first female Doctor on Doctor Who – BBC AMERICA’s vibrant female universe allows audiences to ponder the possibilities of their own barrier-breaking opportunities of the future. The “Galaxy of Women” initiative aspires to change how we see women, how we listen to women, and how we experience them across media and culture to more accurately and authentically reflect the audience.


The sample included an even gender split and was representative of ethnicity and region in accordance with the U.S. Census Bureau data for persons 5-19 years old.

Participants were recruited through a mix of voluntary opt-in and parental consent depending on age. Base screening criteria included non-sensitive industries, multichannel TV households, and genre non-rejecters.

All reported statistical differences are significant at the .05 level. The margin of error for the study is less than 3 percent by gender and less than 5 percent by age group.

The research was conducted on behalf of BBC AMERICA and WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER by SCREEN ENGINE/ASI – a research and analytics firm specializing in entertainment and media.

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