women are most likely to win oscars for playing wives, widows, and heiresses

A new report explores the occupations of every Best Actor and Actress-winning character. The results? Predictably sexist.

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Feb 24 2016, 6:30pm

Joy

Joy bears some similarities to Silver Linings Playbook. Both films are directed by David O' Russell and feature casts including Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Lawrence. Both films have earned Lawrence Best Actress Oscar nominations, the first resulting in a win. Seems like pretty good odds going into Sunday's awards, right? Well, maybe not.

Yesterday morning, Fusion published a report charting the professions of characters that have won Best Actor and Best Actress since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. Of the 88 actresses who have claimed the prize, 16% of them have done so playing a wife. The next most frequently winning professions are entertainers (think Reese Witherspoon's role as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line) at 14%, followed by service workers and widows, each at 11%. Lawrence's winning Silver Linings character, Tiffany Maxwell? A widow.

For the record: "if a female character were a high-powered businesswoman who also happened to be married, we didn't label her as 'wife,'" says Fusion. "The categories of spouse and widow or widower were only applied when they were vital to a character's identity, typically in the absence of a career." In other words, Lawrence's role as Joy Mangano -- the inventor of the Miracle Mop -- won't land her in "wife" or "divorcée." In fact, if she nabs the statue on Sunday, she'll be the first actress in six decades to do so for playing an entrepreneur or business owner ("a profession that five Best Actors have portrayed since 1994," Fusion notes).

Though Best Actors are more likely than Best Actresses to be entrepreneurs, they're most likely to be criminals (13%), members of the military (11%), entertainers (10%), arts and literary figures or royalty (each at 8%). "No Best Actress winners have won for playing military members or journalists, occupations that account for 10 and three Best Actors, respectively," says Fusion. "Likewise, no Best Actors have won for playing boyfriends or prostitutes, though there are two girlfriends and six prostitutes in the annals of Best Actresses."

The information is sobering, but it's only a piece of the film industry's larger issues of representation. The Academy's proposed membership changes -- intended to immediately diversify its voting body in light of the ongoing #OscarsSoWhite controversy -- may result in future nominated roles branching outside of these sexist occupational categories. But the results more meaningfully indicate that the film industry desperately needs more diverse directors, screenwriters, and executives to helm projects that don't depict women so narrowly. 

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Text Emily Manning
Image via YouTube