“When are we going to get over the idea that it’s shocking that women can do things?”

September 28, 2011 by
Geena Davis
Good CausesMediaTelevision

Last week, we introduced you to Gina Davis, the award winning winemaker from Davis Creek Cellars in Idaho’s Snake River Valley. That post got us thinking about the other Geena Davis – you know, the Academy Award-winning actress. We wondered what she was up to. Guess what? We learned something really interesting about this well known woman that we didn’t know.

As it turns out, Geena Davis the successful actress is also a pioneering advocate, fighting to change the media’s portrayal of women. In fact, she was in NYC just last week asking the very question in the title of this post to the audience attending the 2nd annual Social Good Summit. In her talk at this think tank event held during UN week, Geena went on to explain why we’re not “over the idea that it’s shocking that women can do things.” It is largely the result of American media. She said that industry-wide, women have been typecast in stereotypical, sexualized or less-powerful roles. Most of that media is being produced in the United States, but exported all over the world, and has led to a general feeling that women can’t or shouldn’t do as much with their lives as men.

Geena Davis Commander In ChiefIt may seem odd that the actress who played a fearless female in Thelma & Louise and a baseball player in A League of Their Own, and who boldly portrayed the country’s first female president on TV in the 2005-2006 series Commander In Chief, would be questioning the image of women in film and TV. But her choice of such roles underscores her personal commitment to advocate for equality and against gender stereotyping in Hollywood, a commitment she has brought to her career outside of acting.

Geena concluded long ago that there was something wrong with the way women were portrayed in film and television. This was compounded as she watched children’s entertainment with her young daughter, astounded by the lack of female characters. She also found that the women and girls who were depicted were grossly misrepresented in family films.

“If girls can see it, they can be it.” – Geena Davis

Rather than sit back and accept what she was seeing, she did something about it. Geena commissioned the largest research project on gender in film and television ever undertaken, conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The research confirmed the disparity she observed: in family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. The repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that these negative stereotypes are ingrained and imprinted over and over.

Gina Davis Institute Logo

The conclusion of the research led her to found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004. The Institute, a research-based organization, and its programming arm, See Jane, are at the forefront of changing female portrayals and gender stereotypes in children’s media and entertainment targeting children 11 and under. To facilitate positive change, they pursue a three-tiered approach: Research + Education + Advocacy. Their mission is to work within the entertainment industry to dramatically alter how girls and women are reflected in media.

see jane logoThe Institute has commissioned over 12 groundbreaking research studies, and has amassed the largest body of research on gender prevalence in family entertainment, spanning more than 20 years. But, this is not just talk. Read about the impact Geena and her organization have made.

A long-time advocate for women, Geena’s efforts on behalf of girls and women are on par with her acting accomplishments. She serves on the Board of Directors for the White House Project and has partnered with the Women’s Sports Foundation, including ten years as a Trustee, advocating for girls’ rights and equal participation in sports and supports Title IX. Geena serves on California Commission on the Status of Women and is a partner with UN Women in the effort to change the way media represents women and girls globally.

Although this Geena Davis needs no formal introduction, what we didn’t know about her is what makes her a Woman You Should Know. So, we hope we’ve helped you get to know a very different, very important side of a woman who has brilliantly entertained us for years. We were fans before, but now we’re truly inspired by Geena Davis.

  • Word Sleuth

    As you said in the post, I was a fan before, but now I am even more of a fan. Kudos to Geena!

  • Phyllis Ryan

    The article on actress Geena Davis was very timely for me. I just heard on the radio today that if more women ran Wall Street, our country would not be in the economic mess it is in now! Kudos to Geena Davis for creating the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to change the portrayal of women in film and on television. Reflecting women respectfully in high-profile financial, political, sports, leadership, and family roles in film and television would have a tremendous impact on young girls (and boys). Great story!

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