What We See When We See Ourselves Onscreen: Geena Davis

April 26, 2010

After Women's History month in March, and having attended so many women’s events, I find myself reflecting on “the tipping point.” In many ways, we are at its cusp, with people of both genders recognizing that the empowerment of women and girls is the critical component for social, economic and political development. Yet, in other ways we are not even close.

On April 5 at the Paley Center for Media, I joined other NYWICI members to hear the Center's President and CEO, Pat Mitchell, speak with Academy Award-winning Actor Geena Davis about her effort to change the way media represent women and girls. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) and its programming arm, See Jane, are working for gender equality and serving as advocates for women's empowerment in movies and TV shows aimed at young children.

The United States produces more television programs and films than any other country in the world. With this in mind, Davis cited a survey by Dr. Stacy Smith and her team at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

The study analyzed the amount and nature of portrayals of male and female characters in 101 of the top-grossing G-rated movies from 1990 to January 31st, 2005. Based on Nielsen EDI© estimates, they tracked over 3,000 individual speaking characters: roughly 1,000 characters who spoke in all male or all female groups and more than 40 narrators. They found that fewer than one in three (28%) of the speaking characters (both real and animated) were female. More than four out of five (83%) of the films’ narrators were male.

If a true and permanent shift will ever be made, Davis said, “kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.”

At the GDIGM annual conference in October 2009, before an audience of key entertainment executives and creators, Davis made the following recommendations:

  1. Include more females as main characters, secondary characters, in crowds and as narrators.
  2. Provide female characters with aspirations beyond romance.
  3. Develop the inner character of female characters, too.

For the rest of us, GDIGM recommends we:

  1. Co-view media content with children.
  2. Spend time with children as they consume media content.
  3. Critically engage and discuss what is present and absent in modern media-based stories.
  4. Ask children who is missing in the story and whether the depiction looks like their family, social or school environment.


  • For more information please visit the See Jane website.
  • To read the Annenberg School survey, click here (registration is free but required).

— April 26, 2010

Posted by: 
Karen Karpowich

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