Have you ever wondered where the girls are in kids films?
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media does. Launched in 2006 by the Oscar-winning actress (and women’s Olympic archery team semi-finalist), the institute recently released its second report on a study of the presence of girls and women in children’s films. The first study examined years spanning 1999-2004 and this study looked at years 2004-2009. In both studies, the institute found that of the thousands of speaking roles in these films 71% went to boys and only 29% to girls. Meanwhile, even in crowd shots and group scenes only 17% of characters were girls.
Davis had this to say to the New York Times:
“I was absolutely floored to see that the same kind of imbalance and unfairness that exists in movies made for the general populace was also in these movies made for the very youngest kids.” Not only were the women and girls in those videos less than ideal role models, but there were very few women and girls at all.
She started bringing this up with the people who were in charge — studio executives, producers, writers. She found small victories on set, she said, citing the scene in “Stuart Little” in which children were racing remote-controlled boats on the lake in Central Park. “The first assistant director was choosing extras,” she remembered of the day that race was filmed. “He would choose some little boy and sit him at the edge of the lake with the remote. Then he would pick a little girl and put her behind the boy. So I went over and said, ‘What would you think of having half the remotes go to girls?’” The A.D. looked around. then looked sheepish, then said, “Why didn’t I think of that myself?”
If art is supposed to imitate life, where are the girls at? Women and girls make up roughly 50% of the population and, yet, we’re all but absent in the movies. This just speaks to the institutionalized nature of sexism. Children absorb the messages around them as they learn society’s mores and cultural identity. What we view as entertainment says a lot about how our culture values women and girls.
It’s all fine and good if we tell our daughters that they can grow up to be anything, but will they believe it if they never see positive images portrayed in the media? Will my daughter believe she can be president or an astronaut or an awesome basketball player (or an accountant or a marine biologist…) if the only girls she sees in film and TV are not only scarce but ultra-girly (sometimes hypersexualized) stereotypes?
As far as I can tell, the only way to get Hollywood to listen is to hit them in their bank accounts. Object to anti-girl messages and non-inclusive stories you don’t like! But don’t just boycott or refuse to see something without telling them why. Let Hollywood know that you are fed up! And then put your money where your mouth is.