Let’s picture this:
- In family rated films, for every one speaking female character there are three male characters.
- Females are over two times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing attire (24.8% vs. 9.4%), thin (38.5% vs. 15.7%), and partially or fully naked (24.2% vs. 11.5%).
- There is virtually little or no difference in the sexualization of female characters between the ages of 13 and 39 years.
These harsh statistics are not a thought experiment, rather the realities of the current global entertainment industry. On Monday, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media hosted the 2nd Global Symposium on Gender in Media to discuss the underrepresentation of women in the industry. It was an honest, concise and transformative event that is sure to alter the way I consume media for the rest of my life.
Academy Award winning actress, producer, writer, model, and athlete, Geena Davis, founded the Institute at Mount St. Mary’s College after spending time watching television with her young daughter and discovering the extent of gender imbalance in television shows and films – particularly those geared towards children. It is the only research-based organization working within the entertainment industry to highlight the need for gender balance and create necessary female characters in children’s programs.
Davis’ speech began by presenting the gender disparity in the media and its effects on youth today. As a result of female underrepresentation “we are saying that women and girls are less valuable than men and boys.” The more television a girl watches, the more her self-esteem drops because she thinks she has fewer options. For boys, it’s quite the opposite. The more television a young boy watches, the higher his self-esteem.
“The change must be dramatic. What reason can we possibly give to children to explain why women and girls are missing from their TV shows and movies or devalued?” – Geena Davis
The Gender Bias Without Borders report compiles findings from 120 global films from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S., the most profitable territories worldwide, and compares data based on female roles, sexualization, and sectors represented by a female leader. In the movies examined, there are very few (if any) lawyers, judges, doctors, professors, journalists, sports figures or clergy female characters.
If young girls do not see all the potential opportunities in the media, where else will they find these role models?
“We tell [kids] that boys and girls are equal, but if they don’t see it, it doesn’t sink in,” Davis adds. As a result, the message becomes boys are more important than girls and this skewed representation is a disservice to all children.
Davis also noted that the ratio of male to female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. In the U.S. and the U.K., the percentage of women in leadership positions stalls out at nearly the same percentage of women depicted in media – approximately 17 percent. Even in overhead shots of crowd scenes, the percentage of women shown remains a mere 17 percent. Although there has been a slight improvement in gender equality in the media over a 20 year study, if gender parity continues at the same pace, we will not receive gender equality in the media for 700 years.
Also in 1946, the UN Commission on the Status of Women was established with a mandate to “set standards of women’s rights, encourage governments to bring their laws in line with international conventions and to encourage global awareness of women’s rights.” Fast forward nearly 70 years and we are still discussing similar issues regarding women’s rights. It is no coincidence that the representation of women in the media has not changed in the same time frame.
But the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is arming itself with information to represent women accurately and abundantly by creating original content for children under 11 and disseminating their reports to industry executives.
“Media itself can be a cure for the problem it’s created.” – Geena Davis
Davis concluded with an inspirational call to action: “In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.” Media images are a very powerful force for shaping how women and girls are viewed around the world, and how they view themselves. Unlike other areas where women are underrepresented, the shift in the entertainment industry can happen immediately and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is spearheading this revolution. Don’t sit back and watch.
September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.
All facts and statistics were found in the Gender Bias Without Borders report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.