Many movies have negative stereotypes of women. In 2004, Geena Davis, the Oscar-winning actress, film producer, writer, and former fashion model, was watching children’s movies with her daughter and noticed there were few female roles, and many of those portrayed negative images.
She decided to do something about it and sponsored the largest research project ever undertaken on gender in children’s entertainment. This effort resulted in four studies, at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. It was discovered that there were slmost three males for each female character in nearly 400 G, PG, PG-13, and R-Rated movies the undergraduate team analyzed.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media was formed, aiming to study and quantify gender inequity in children’s entertainment, so the data could be used to bring about change in the industry. The institute uses a three-tiered approach to work towards its goals – research, education and advocacy.
The institute’s latest study, “Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films,” by Stacy L. Smith, PhD and Marc Choueiti, examined 122 top-grossing domestic family films rated G, PG, PG-13 from 2006-09.
“Our latest research shocked us. Zero progress has been made in what is specifically aimed at kids. What children see affects their attitudes toward male and female roles in society. And, as they watch the same shows and movies repeatedly, negative stereotypes are imprinted over and over again. Eye candy is not for kids.” – Geena Davis.
The study reviewed 5,554 speaking characters. 71% were male, 29% female, a ratio of 2.42 males to every 1 female, which has not changed significantly in 20 years.
The statistics show that female characters are more likely to be shown as “eye candy,” and a higher percentage of females than males are depicted in sexualized attire (24% vs. 4%) and as physically attractive (14% vs. 3.6%). They are also often portrayed as younger than their male counterparts, reinforcing the idea that youthfulness, beauty, and a sexy demeanor are more important for females than for males.
The institute says the constant reinforcement of skewed patterns seem normal to everyone, and viewers fail to notice the lopsided view of gender.
“These portrayals of women and girls become so normal to audiences that they do not see the need for gender parity in entertainment content,” – Dr. Stacy L. Smith.
“Gender issues need to be top-of-mind for children’s content creators. Media has gotten a bit better about how race is portrayed in film and TV, but the needle hasn’t moved at all for the biggest section of our population: females. We envision a world where boys and girls share the sandbox equally.” – Madeline Di Nonno, GDIGM Executive Director
As well as looking at gender distribution in front of the camera, the study also looked behind the cameras.
- 93% of directors are men
- 87% of writers are men
- 80% of producers are men
Movies with one or more female screenwriters depict 10% more girls and women on screen than those with all male screenwriters.
Geena Davis says this is encouraging, because it clearly shows that women can drive change.
The Institute seeks to influence the number of female characters in movies, especially in non-stereotypical activities, and they want to see more women behind-the-scenes. “We just want diverse female characters and more of them. We know that if girls watch female characters in unstereotyped activities, it heightens the possibility that girls will seek employment in nontraditional vocations. Boys will come to see it as the norm and not the exception” Geena Davis said.
The Institute has a programming arm called See Jane that works collaboratively with studios, networks, and leading content creators using cutting-edge research, providing strategic guidance to create actionable solutions.
Geena Davis says, “When entertainment executives see the results of our studies, they are surprised and open-minded to change. They care about the future of our kids too.”