Geena Davis: Too Many Women Serve as Eye Candy Onscreen

Actress formed an institute to get to the root of gender inequality in media

Actress Geena Davis says women have been disproportionately represented in film for decades and is working with the industry and a new public media initiative to improve gender equity in media.

"For every one female character there are three male characters. If it’s a group scene or crowd scene it goes down to 17 percent female characters,” Davis told PBS NewsHour's Simon Marks in an interview last week at the public broadcaster's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the Academy Award winner has been collecting research on women in film for the past six years and says that the statistics on the frequency of women represented in G, PG-13 and PG rated films has remained the same for the past 20 years.

“At first I didn’t intend to launch an institute about it, but I realized that it's one of those problems where people think that it's already been dealt with, when in fact it hasn’t," Davis said. 

 

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According to an October 2010 survey of 108 male and female content creators that the institute completed with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, the reasons for the infrequency of female characters include positive male market forces, the male dominated industry, the male target audience, resistence to female stories, negative female market forces and cultural influence. 

Davis' research also found that female characters tend to be highly stereotypical.

“There’s a very narrow window that the female characters tend to have to fit — very beautiful, very thin, usually body types that can’t exist in real life — in animated movies because you can draw them that way,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of using the female characters as eye candy and the “other” rather than someone that’s really involved in the script.”

The report found that films with women as directors or writers had more female speaking characters on screen than films with only men working as directors and writers.  

With these statistics in hand Davis has been meeting with producers and casting directors, who she says have been shocked by the research. Davis believes that by the time the Institute releases its next report in 2015, the numbers will improve.

In addition to working with the industry, Davis will serve on the advisory board of “Women and Girls Lead,” a public media initiative launched at the PBS conference. Sponsored by ITVS, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the initiative aims to use documentary film, television, new media and global outreach partnerships to work toward gender equity.