Geena Davis Discusses Role as Advocate for Gender Balance in the Media

September 16, 2011

When Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis became a parent and began watching television with her young daughter, what she saw was shocking. In movies and television programs created for young children, males dominated the screen.

Davis spoke about her new role as an advocate for gender balance in the media with Undergraduate Dean Norean Sharpe in Lohrfink Auditorium to an audience of some 400 students, faculty, staff, and alumni as part of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business’ Distinguished Leaders Series on Sept. 16. Davis is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm See Jane.
 
After her initial observations, Davis sought data on the subject, commissioning a research project at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The study found that males outnumber females three to one in family films, and from 2006 to 2009, no female character was depicted a G-rated film in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or in politics.
 
Davis feels that the media shows an unhealthy picture of women to children. “Kids are seeing an incredibly narrow vision of female characters,” Davis said. “The most common reason for a female character to even be there is eye candy. They don’t have a job and their function is to be sexy.”  
 
According to Davis, there’s a direct correlation between hours of television watched and future aspirations. The more hours of TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life. The more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become. “There’s clearly a very strong, negative message about girls coming through.”
 
To combat these negative stereotypes, Davis recommends that parents watch media with their children. “It’s very helpful for them in a media literacy way to point out what they’re seeing. Not just how few female characters there are, but what they’re doing and things like that. I’m always leaning over to the girls and the boys saying ‘Why do you think she’s wearing that if she’s going to rescue somebody?’”
 
Allie Doughty (COL ’13) was impressed with Davis’ work to bring gender equality to media. She commented, “If I’d been watching a TV program I never would have been that observant. I think it’s a really unique perspective.”
 
“Geena Davis spoke with passion about the lack of female characters, especially quality characters, in all levels of TV and movie entertainment,” added Elly Drygas (MBA ’12). “This event created a real opportunity to assess our own levels of awareness on this issue.”            
 
Tags: gender