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NATIONAL | spring 2006

A Girl's Own Story
Geena Davis advocates for gender balance in children's movies.

Actress Geena Davis
Photo: ABC / Peter "Hopper" Stone

Accepting a Best-Actress award at the 2006 Golden Globes in January, Geena Davis revealed that, as she walked the red carpet, a little girl tugged at her dress and told her that Davis’ TV show Commander in Chief, in which she plays the first woman president, made her want to be president one day. An “awwww” rose from the audience. “Well, that didn’t actually happen,” Davis added with a devilish smile, “but it could have...and then all of this would be worth it.”

With her humor, Davis hinted at the pet cause that motivates her both on- and offscreen: creating strong female role models for young girls. She founded the See Jane program in 2004 to advocate for gender equity in media, and this past February it released the first results from its study of gender representation in G-rated movies.

Research showed that in 101 top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2005, three out of four characters were male. Girls accounted for only 17 percent of the film’s narrators and 17 percent of the characters in crowd scenes. Only seven of the 101 movies were nearly gender-balanced, with a ratio of less than 1.5 males per 1 female character. “Although many people would argue that things seem to be
getting better, our data shows that this is not the case,” says the principal investigator, Stacy L. Smith, an associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, where the research was carried out.

The findings square with Davis’ own unscientific conclusions, drawn while
watching preschool videos with her daughter by counting male characters
on one hand and female on the other. “It pretty consistently came out three or four to one,” says the actor, whose daughter Alizeh is now 5.

See Jane is under the umbrella of the nonprofit foundation Dads & Daughters (DADs), dedicated to empowering girls by improving father-daughter relationships, and DADs founder Joe Kelly shares Davis’ concern about the impact of movies on impressionable young minds. Since children tend to watch the same movies repeatedly, he says, “These imbalances are being imprinted over and over again on the youngest children at the most vulnerable developmental ages.”

Davis first realized the importance of big-screen representations of women when fans reacted so gratefully to her popular 1991 film Thelma & Louise. “It would be women saying, ‘Oh my god, you have no idea — that movie changed my life‚’” says Davis. “We offer women so few opportunities to feel like that, to come out of a movie going, ‘Yeah!’ “There’s an adage in Hollywood that women will watch stories about men but men will not watch stories about women,” she continues. “If your movie gets labeled a chick flick it’s the kiss of death. What if that has something to do with having seen the exact same gender disparity from minute one, from the very first cartoons and programs you see — couldn’t that possibly affect the way we grow up feeling?”

For more information about See Jane, and to keep abreast of its research findings, visit www.seejane.org.

Photo: ABC / Peter "Hopper" Stone