Last night I had the opportunity to see Geena Davis in conversation with Pat Mitchell at the Paley Center for Media in NYC. They talked through her career but spent the bulk of the time talking about the work she is doing now at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media which is an organization that does research on gender disparities in media for children. She then takes the research and meets with studios and networks and presents them with the facts in hopes that this will address the disparity.
Some of the things that can be done are simple. For example Davis mentioned a scene in a film she was shooting (I think it was Stuart Little) where there were boys and girls as extras. The assistant director positioned all the boys in front with a remote control in their hands and positioned all the girls behind the boys. Davis noticed the set up and nicely said “can you give half those remotes to the girls?” The AD looked at the scene he had set up and said of course I can. It’s not that he meant to make the boys active and the girls passive, it’s just how people think.
While that might seem like a simple solution, most of the gender disparities in media are way more complicated. What moved me last night was how deep Davis’ commitment to this work is and how well she articulates the issue. She started this work when she had her daughter and began to notice all gender stereotyping of girls in films and TV as well as their hypersexualization. She couldn’t believe this was going on and started mentioning it to people and lots of people couldn’t believe that was the case. So she decided to get some numbers to prove what she knew to be true.
As an actress and Oscar winner herself totally gets the larger context of what goes on for women but felt that she could make a difference starting at the beginning with kids. That makes perfect sense, kids are less threatening than women. And the brainwashing and stereotyping does begin the moment the TV goes on and the first book is read.
Here are some of the things to think about that she mentioned:
- Most female characters have limited aspirations. Their goals are romance, and the limited career options are entertainer and royalty.
- The more hours of TV a girl watches the less options she believes she has. The more hours of TV a boy watches the more sexist he becomes.
- Female characters in G rated films wear as much sexually revealing clothing as an R rated film.
- The absence of female characters is impactful. If they created more female characters in these films then the one girl wouldn’t have to be perfect and all things to all people. The boy characters are rich and diverse. Why can’t there be rich and diverse female characters?
Here are some of her points about Hollywood in general and her career:
- She would love to see Commander in Chief resurrected on a cable station.
- After Thelma and Louise she realized how few opportunities we give to women to feel empowered when they come out of the movie theatre.
- After Thelma and Louise people thought there would be more films made like that. Nothing happened. After A League of Their Own people thought there would be more female sports films. Nothing happened. The next female sports film was Bend it Like Beckham a decade later.
- The ratio of female to male characters in films has been 1 to 3 since 1946.
- The worldview of people in Hollywood is that women will watch men and that men won’t watch women. This is deeply ingrained in their psyches and because we are so used to seeing stories about men, we don’t realize this is an issue.
Some great quotes:
I was attracted to complicated multi-dimensional women in charge of their own destiny. I wanted to play active parts. I’ve been fortunate to not just be a witness or the wife.
On Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win:
I’m worried that it will be like The First Wives Club, a one off.
Just because one film is made or one woman wins an award doesn’t mean that Hollywood has changed or is changing. It’s a good thing we have a woman like Geena Davis who is unafraid to talk about these issues.
Here’s a reminder of how good of an actress she is too.
More information or how to get involved: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media