Monday, September 20, 2010


Hey y'all. I'm at the "Social Good Summit," sponsored by Mashable and the 92nd Street Y in association with the United Nations Foundation. Basically, it's a whole mess of cool people talking about how social media can be used to further the UN's Millennium Development Goals to end poverty and hunger, achieve universal education, attain women's equality, and so on.

Super-actress Geena Davis just spoke. May I say, I loved Geena in her ABC-TV show "Commander in Chief," where she played the nation's first female president of the U.S. It was like "The West Wing" only with a first gentleman and a lady-pres. She ruled, in more ways than one.

Geena -- we're of course on a first-name basis -- talked about her organization, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and why she thinks we need more representations of females on TV and film for kids. Six years ago, when her daughter was just 2 years old, Geena noted how crazily disproportionate the representation of females to males was. Not too many female characters in kids' programming, and the girls that did show up on TV or film were relegated to secondary or otherwise lame roles. She started talking with friends about this, and in time decided to set up the Institute to provide research on gender representations in media. A little bit of what they've found... In movies (I believe she's talking about G-rated movies here), there is only one female character for every 3 male characters. And only 17% of people in crowd scenes are females. What's more, the male characters get to do all the fun stuff, and the female characters -- even young girls -- are hyper-sexualized. The result is that girl viewers get the message that they're second class, and only good in relationship to men. That's not news, of course, but what is new is that the Institute is documenting these disparities, so nobody can deny 'em. Another interesting thing Geena said is that an astounding 80% of media consumed worldwide is produced in the United States. (There's got to be some qualification here, this couldn't include radio; but anyone who has traveled internationally knows just how dominant American films and TV shows are.) We're exporting our media, and with it, our media's views on the social roles of girls and women. 

The question is, what to do about it? Geena suggests that parents talk with their kids about how girls and boys are represented in the shows they're seeing. We could also support media produced by women. She admits that the more systemic the change you want to effect, the harder it is. Geena herself is also working through her Institute and with other organizations to increase and improve the representation of girls and women on TV and in film. Maybe if she were the real President of the U.S., she could push this agenda more effectively, but she seems to be doing a pretty good job even as a former fictional president. You might even say she's the Jimmy Carter of fictional presidents -- the best fictional ex-president!


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