Hollywood still has a long way to go to reach complete gender equality. A study published by the New York Film Academy recently showed some statistics outlining just how unfair it is, with the majority of women earning way less than men doing the same jobs, and being grossly underrepresented both on camera and behind the scenes.
One woman who has been part of the ongoing fight toward a better industry for women, is Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis. She is know for her strong female characters in A League of Their Own, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Thelma and Louise, and of course playing a female US President in the Commander in Chief TV series.
She created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004 to lead the charge in changing female portrayals and gender stereotypes in children’s media and entertainment. She is a genius, because if you can affect a child’s mind and life from the early stages, then you have a great chance of having an impact. It is much harder to change attitudes and thought processes in adults, so going right to the start of the formative years for impressionable minds is the right thing to do.
Geena wrote a piece in The Hollywood Reporter about her mission to balance the scales out for women in Hollywood, giving two distinct solutions showing how easy this can be.
She starts off by saying how having her own daughter gave her a heightened awareness of what girls see in the media from a young age and how it affects their self-views and shapes their opinions. Geena could see a gross under-representation of strong female leaders, and wanted to use her influence to change things up.
Mentioning a study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Geena points out “for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. Throw in the hypersexualization of many of the female characters that are there, even in G-rated movies, and their lack of occupations and aspirations and you get the picture.”
She points out while there are more and more lead female roles, the general population of females in film is pretty dismal, which is not an accurate representation of real life.
“We are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half of the space. Couldn’t it be that the percentage of women in leadership positions in many areas of society — Congress, law partners, Fortune 500 board members, military officers, tenured professors and many more — stall out at around 17 percent because that’s the ratio we’ve come to see as the norm?”
What she wants is for young women to see more varied types of female roles in the media they consume so that their own desires and possibilities for life can be influenced in a more realistic way.
She writes two practical solutions that content creators in Hollywood can do to play their part and make the media not just a powerful tool, but a powerfully positive tool for younger generations.
Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?
Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.
She makes a great argument in that you can’t just snap your fingers and have instant gender equality in most industries, but the beauty of Hollywood is that you can! All it takes is thoughtful writing, casting, decision-making etc.
“In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.”
“There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films. How can we fix the problem of corporate boards being so unequal without quotas? Well, they can be half women instantly, onscreen. How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM jobs today in movies and on TV.”
She ends her plea with a quote from Marian Wright Edelmen, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, which poignantly sums up Geena’s crusade: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Dear Hollywood content creators, please take Geena’s advice and do your part to change the way young girls view the world. Use your power for something positive. If you don’t take her advice, women are going to have another woeful year, as outlined by this video showing the awful ways we were represented in the media in 2013.
The thought that inequality literally can be changed overnight with the stroke of a pen or hitting a few keys on a laptop means there is no more room for excuses, OK? Don’t make Geena mad, or she’ll come after you like this…