Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis (of Thelma and Louise and Beetlejuice fame) founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to advocate for diverse portrayals and equal representation of female characters in the media.
The Institute and its program, See Jane, promote gender equality in media representation through research, education, and advocacy. The focus is on children’s entertainment and media with a demographic of children ages 11 and younger.
Geena was inspired to take action after recognizing the noticeable shortage of female characters in family entertainment that she watched with her daughter. Narrow-minded, sexist portrayals of women and girls (which are especially conspicuous when there are so few female characters to begin with), can affect everything from body image and self-esteem to occupational goals.
In other words, fantasy has a tendency to become reality as children absorb the damaging message that girls aren’t as valuable as boys.
The Institute regularly reports their findings and research studies on these topics and, according to their website, have assembled “the largest body of research on gender prevalence in entertainment,” covering more than 20 years. For instance, the following research facts were provided from research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism:
• Males outnumber females three to one in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
• Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
• Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
• From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.
Geena’s organization also works with the entertainment industry, educational institutions, and other influential organizations (like the United Nations) to create programs and educational tools that raise awareness about gender-related issues in the media.
For example, See Jane partnered with USA Today Education to create Gender Equality Lessons for Schools. Some of the featured lessons include “Do TV Shows and Movies Influence Careers Held by Women and Men?” and “Do TV Shows and Movies Make Sexual Harassment a ‘Normal’ Part of the School Experience?”
To me, it’s always inspiring to see celebrities recognize their power of influence and take responsibility for promoting important issues, specifically those that pertain to gender stereotyping and representation.
Geena Davis is admirable for committing the time and resources necessary for providing statistics and other evidence that point to the need for change in sexist media representation.
When you were a child, how were female characters portrayed in your favorite TV shows and movies? What are other ways you would like to see celebrities use their influence to discourage sexism in the media?
Allie Semperger studied English at Kalamazoo College and screenwriting at UCLA. After studying abroad in London and traveling around Europe, she became a travel lover for life, and is always making plans for her next adventure. She recommends Marina and the Diamonds. She created the feminist Tumblr blog, Women’s Issues Are Society’s Issues, and aspires to make the world a better place for women and girls.