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Geena Davis: "Looney Toons has 11 characters. The only female character is Granny."

May 11, 2010

Ever since I went to see Geena Davis (and freaked out a little) at the Paley Institute, I've gotten a somewhat nerdy in my admiration of her. Since founding the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Davis has been outspoken in her support of stronger, and more frequent, female characters in entertainment – particularly in children's programming. The research of the Institute has uncovered the dire reality of gender in film and television, including the fact that the amount of sexually revealing clothing on female characters in G-rated films is equal to those in R-rated movies, and that the ratio of male to female movie characters (3 to 1) hasn't budged since the 1940's. Women's Media Center has been highlighting these issues for years, and we're excited to begin collaborating with Davis's Institute. WMC Program Director Rebekah Spicuglia was at the First Ladies, Young Women’s Summit today talking about very similar issues – her Sexism Sells workshop included the fact that less than 20% of narrators in children’s films are female. Davis was on Ronn Owens' KGO AM talk show yesterday, and the first thing Owens brought up was Davis' request to be called an "actor" on-air, rather than an "actress." To explain, Davis turned to the good book: "The dictionary definition of an actor is a person who acts," she said. "So, 'actress' is sort of an unnecessary word. It's old fashioned. The tendency was to add 'ess' to every profession that was female. Doctoress, poetess. Those words all went by the putting a feminine ending on a word that just means 'person' is unnecessary." (When Davis explained this, I couldn't help thinking about WMC founder Gloria Steinem's comment from earlier this year – "As long as one group requires an adjective and the other is the central definition of humanity, we are in trouble.") Just like words we toss around without thinking about their implication, Davis says we also rarely notice the stark gender disparity in nearly all our entertainment. But a male-centric media has a real impact: "We judge our value to society by seeing ourselves reflected in the culture," she said. "And if you don't see yourself reflected, or if you see yourself being sidelined...or being hyper-sexualized, you're going to take in something about your value. And boys are going to take in something about the worth and value of girls and women as well, when they don't see them represented." Listen to more here – including a listener calling in to ask Davis whether she thinks Thelma & Louise is an apt analogy for George W. Bush's presidency. No joke!