Geena Davis and Women’s Roles in Children’s Media

Last night, I saw Geena Davis. Cool enough all by itself, but I found her to be an impressive speaker with an interesting message. I’ve never been much of a feminist — perhaps because I live in a time and in a country where I can do mostly what I want without worry.

But she made me think about a few things. About how women are portrayed to our children. As the mother of a 9-year-old, this rang a little more loudly than it may have otherwise. Her examples were matter-of-fact, entertaining, engaging and leave me still thinking about it this morning. For instance…She compared the cartoon “females” available to her growing up. Since we are approximately the same age, I can relate to all of them. One of the ones that stood out most was Smurfette. The ONE female in the 100 male-group of Smurfs. Initially ugly, and created by the enemy to bring down all the Smurfs (isn’t that nice?), Papa Smurf reworked her by plastic “smurfery” and she became a blond bombshell adored by all the boys. Hmmmm.

She talked about the “mysterious dead mother syndrome” wherein many films dealt with women by killing them off before the story started. Think The Rifleman, Bonanza, and even Nemo.

She mentioned that Loony-Tunes had one long-term woman. Granny. Davis explained, that she was the one who “owned Tweety bird and had to leave so the story could begin.” Interesting, I thought.

Then her other examples really hit home for me. She talked about Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie and Star Trek. Now, these first two shows were my childhood favorites — and as she pointed out they were about two powerful women who “sat on their powers for fear of pissing off their men.” I liked Star Trek too, and the only recurring female character there, Lt. Uhura (sp?) was “a glorified telephone secretary.”

On my own, I started thinking about the other women in Star Trek — all foils for Captain Kirk’s sexual foibles. Hmmmm.

Yes, I realized, she was right. There was a serious lack of female role models in TV when we were growing up. No wonder I was a tomboy and always “play acted” the male roles. Geena Davis did the same thing. (That’s comforting.)

What surprised me was that the disparity is still with us. Her not-for-profit did the largest study ever done of G-rated movies and found that 3 out of 4 characters are male — even today! SeeJane is currently undertaking a study of TV shows and will be doing a study of PG-13 movies soon.

She ended by stating her goals:

  • Work with the industry to close this gap and dramatically increase the number of female characters
  • Create a public education/awareness campaign
  • Reduce the gender stereotypes

She hopes in five years that reviewers will notice if there is only one woman in a movie and will make a note of the fact.

Davis ended the presentation with a few facts about our current political system. She said that we are 68th in the world for females in our government and that if we continue to add women at the current rate to public office, we will reach parity in 500 years. Davis said, “I think that’s too long.”

It was an excellent presentation. And I, for one, will now notice this when I see a movie.