Geena Davis on Media and the Devaluation of Women

There are woefully few women CEOs in the real world, but there can be many in the world of film. We have not yet had a woman serve as President of the United States, but Geena Davis plays President on the television show, Commander in Chief.  In a recent poll, 67 percent of people reported they were more likely to vote for a female president after watching Geena Davis as president on TV. This demonstrates the power of media and its ability to tip the scales one direction or another.

How can we fix the problem of corporate boards being unequal without quotas?  By making these corporate boards half women, onscreen.

How do we encourage more young girls to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering ? By casting droves of women holding STEM jobs in movies and on TV.

"It would take me many years to become a real nuclear physicist, but I can play one tomorrow. Here's what I always say: If they can see it, they can be it," says Davis.

The actress and founder of the Geena Davis  Institute on Gender in Media has collected data showing  there are three male characters for every speaking female in family-rated films. 

"We are in effect acculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as less valuable as men."

Since the Institute was founded in 2006, 18 groundbreaking studies have been commissioned dedicated to researching gender in media. These studies have been led by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. and her team at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The findings are sobering.

One study conducted between 1990-2006 found that of the top 300 G, PG, and PG-13 rated films,  less than 26.2 percent of characters were females. Another study led by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. and her team discovered that women played only 30.2 percent of all speaking roles or named characters in the 700 biggest box office films from 2007 to 2014. Only 28 of those films were directed by women.

“The whole point of having the research is so--  because I’m in the industry-- I can go directly to the premieres of children’s media and share the research in a colloquial and private way. Its reception has been remarkable,” said Davis.  “I had no idea from the very first meeting what their reactions would be. Their jaws were on the floor; they absolutely cannot believe how many female characters they are leaving out. The worlds they are creating are nearly bereft of a female presence.”

The unprecedented research of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is beginning to have an impact on the way the entertainment industry approaches their projects.

“We’ve actually conducted a survey of everyone who has heard my presentation. 63 percent said it impacted two or more of their projects, and 41 percent said it impacted four or more of their projects. Because of the reactions and positive reception we are getting, I feel confident saying it won’t take another seven decades from 1946 to start progressing towards gender equality in Hollywood. Instead, maybe it’ll be just another seven years to move the needle significantly.”

Audrey Cavenecia