Show your kids Emma Watson’s speech on feminism

Please show your children this video of Emma Watson’s excellent speech to the U.N. about feminism. Launching the “HeForShe” campaign, Watson is changing the public face of feminism and urging men to join the movement.

While watching the video, ask yourself: Why is Emma Watson one of the few actresses who dares to be a spokesperson for feminism? If Watson had not grown up playing the brave and brilliant Hermione, do you think she would have bloomed into the courageous, public feminist that she is, calling for the social, political, and economic equality of women and men? And most importantly, what would happen if more girls and women played heroes in movies and books? What would happen if more children grew up experiencing  narratives where females are celebrated for their skills instead of for their appearance? Then, how many of the next generation, girls and boys, do you think would proudly call themselves feminists?

In her speech, Emma Watson says: “No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.” But why have so few fantasy worlds achieved gender equality as well, worlds created for children, places where anything should be possible?

Even Hermione, of course, is not the star of the Harry Potter series. She, like so many other Minority Feisty, plays the essential sidekick. She is there to help the male star of his 8 eponymous movies complete his quest to vanquish the villain and save the world. J. K. Rowling was told by her publisher to conceal her gender with her initials in order to sell her book, and that incredible act of sexism happened our modern, ‘post-feminist’ world.

Here are some statistics from the Geena Davis institute on Gender and Media:

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
  • Only 16% of protagonists in film are female
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
  • From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

Please also look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies documenting the years from 2011 – 2014.

If we can’t even imagine gender equality, how can we create it in the “real” world?  Fantasy meets reality meets fantasy meets reality.

Once again, I ask you to show Hermione’s speech to your children.The video and transcript are below.

Today we are launching a campaign called “HeForShe.”

I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.

This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN: we want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.

When at 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press.

When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.

Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?

I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.

No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.

These rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are. And we need more of those.  And if you still hate the word—it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been.

In 1997, Hilary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly many of the things she wanted to change are still a reality today.

But what stood out for me the most was that only 30 per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.

If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.

I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.

You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.

And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”

In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt I’ve told myself firmly—if not me, who, if not now, when. If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you I hope those words might be helpful.

Because the reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.

If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier.

And for this I applaud you.

We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen to speak up, To be the he for she. And to ask yourself if not me, who, if not now when.

Thank you.


Geena Davis, real life superhero, brings education on gender bias into schools

Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you, heroes act. They make choices. They take risks. Heroes are not passive.

Geena Davis saw a problem and instead of safely sitting around griping about it, she took a risk and took action. She started a non-profit, raised some money, and now she’s changing the world with the Geena Davis Institute.

I just got this email from the Institute about a new program they’ve developed for schools that includes an “eight-lesson curriculum introduces topics like media and bullying in the context of gender equality.”

Courses include:  Do TV Shows and Movies Influence Careers Held by Women and Men? Do TV Shows and Movies Make Sexual Harassment a “Normal” Part of the School Experience? and Who is Your Hero?

Please go to this link to see all the curriculum and consider talking to teachers and administrators about bringing it into your children’s schools.


Why I give money to the Geena Davis Institute

To me, it’s pretty obvious that females– half of the kid population– are presented as a tiny minority in animated movies. It’s also obvious that Hollywood’s manufactured minority translates to minimal female representation in everything from toys and clothing to icons on diapers, and, most tragically, into children’s imaginary play.

The Geena Davis Institute is the only organization that I know of which does major studies to calculate statistics on the lack of females in children’s media. This lack, by the way, is consistent whether kids are watching PBS or Disney.

Here’s a recent interview from Yonhap News (ever heard of it?…Emphasis below is mine)

While watching television programs with my daughter, I was astounded by the lack of female characters,” Davis said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “This maybe (is the reason why) I decided to help improve the situation.”
In 2004, Davis founded the research-based organization to work within the media and entertainment industries to engage, educate and influence the need for gender balance, a reduction of stereotypes and the creation of a wide variety of female characters.

Since then, the institute has been at the forefront of changing the portrayal of females and gender stereotypes, by commissioning large research projects on gender in film and television.

The institute holds a biennial symposium to release its research and showcase it to producers in the film industry. The actress also regularly meets with movie and animated film producers in attempts to change how they think about gender balance.

Despite her efforts, Davis said there is still “no improvement because the ratio of female to male characters has been exactly the same since 1946.”

If we add female characters at the rate they have been, we will have equality in 700 years,” the actress said, citing a study. “It’s the same thing in other sectors of the society. If we add women to congress (at the current rate), it will take 500 years (to reach equality.)“…

“We are raising funds for the first global study on gender depiction in the media,” Davis said.

I give money to the Geena Davis Institute because the world likes to see numbers before actually creating change. Those numbers get publicized, and that, hopefully, convinces parents that this radical sexism is not the “opinion” of  a few, but factual and rampant. If you see what I see, protect your children’s imagination. There is no good reason for the fantasy world to be sexist.

Donate to the Geena Davis Institute now. Help spread the word and change the world.  Here is the link.

Reel Girl is 2 years old today! Progress made against ‘genderfication’ of childhood?

I started Reel Girl on December 27, 2009 in a post Christmas pink haze. It was my first holiday season with three daughters, my youngest child was nine months old. I was amazed by how gendered all their Christmas presents were. Truly amazed. Even the little one had a stack of all pink toys and clothing. But it was Polly Pocket who drove me to blog. Those teeny-weeny clothes. I can’t even deal with organizing all the clothing for my own kids, not to mention Polly’s ugly, shiny outfits. It wasn’t just Polly, of course. So many toys given to my kids had to do with getting dressed: magnetic dress dolls, paper doll cut out coloring books, Barbie dolls, on and on and on. Talk about training your daughters to be obsessed with clothing and appearance.

In the two years that I’ve been blogging and paying a lot of attention to this issue, have we made progress limiting the ‘genderfication’ of childhood? (I’m using ‘genderfication’ instead of ‘gendering’ to highlight the mass-market, artificial drive to segregate kids)

Movies and TV seem worse than ever. Girls are half our kid population but show up only as a tiny minority on the big and small screens. In 2010, Disney switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and announced it would make no more princess movies. Who cares, right? Princesses suck. But the complex problem is, tragically, if a girl character gets top billing in a film at all, chances are she’s a princess. It’s kind of like if you want to win a Miss America college scholarship, first you’ve got to parade around in your bathing suit. By saying no more princesses, what Disney was really saying was: coming soon, even fewer girl stars! At that time, in response to Disney’s blatant sexism of switching a title to hide a girl and publicly announcing that decision, hardly a parent made a peep.

And toys? Also, only worse. To me, the new Legos for girls that just went on the market hit an all time low in the genderfication of childhood.

But on the positive side, parents are getting pissed off. Hundreds (can I say thousands yet?) are going to Lego’s Facebook page and complaining.

There’s other evidence parents have had enough. Early this year, Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter came out and became a best-seller. Melissa Wardy’s Pigtail Pals, a company aimed at creating empowering clothing for girls, grew enormously, in part when posts Wardy wrote about JCPenney’s sexist T shirt  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother did it for me” went viral. JCPenney pulled the shirt.

The Geena Davis Institute released an in depth study about the sexism in kids’ media. Other organizations doing great work as far as activism around these issues include Powered by Girl, SPARK, About Face, SheHeroes, Hardy Girls Healthy Women, Princess Free Zone, 7Wonderlicious, Achilles Effect, Pink Stinks, New Moon Girls, and more. In the past two years, I’ve discovered some great blogs that monitor the sexism marketed to our kids including Balancing Jane, Mama Feminista, The Twin Coach, Blue Milk, Hoyden About Town, and many more.

In two years, Reel Girl has grown as well. Reel Girl posts have been featured, written about, or linked to major sites around the web including The Week (best opinion a couple times), Jezebel, Blogher (Spotlight Blogger),, Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Ms., Common Sense Media, and many more. Reel Girl is also cross posted on SFGate.

Reel Girl guest poster Melissa Spiers wrote about a sexist ad from ChapStick. Her post received over 25,000 page views and the company ended up taking down and discontinuing the photo of a woman’s ass.

This summer Pixar is coming out with Brave, the animation studio’s first film ever to star a female protagonist. It’s kind of unbelievable that we’ve  had to wait this long for one girl, but I’m excited to see her. I hope people go in droves and take their sons as well. This whole issue is really about the parents, and I’m happy they’re taking more action.

But there is a kid who is really pissed off and telling the world about it herself. Her name is Riley and the youtube video showing her smart observations on the gendered aisles, toys, and colors forced on kids is going viral as I post this. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. It’s awesome.

And finally some exciting news around here: my husband and I are writing a Middle Grade book inspired by a story he started telling our daughters. It’s a fantasy adventure. Here’s one sentence about it: “Legend of Emery: The Battle for the Sather Stone is the story of how Nessa, a Frake, and Posey, a Fairy, overcome a history of mutual prejudice to become great friends, working together to stop a war by recovering the stolen Sather stone, the source of all magic, and returning it to its rightful owner, the Fairy Queen Arabel.”

Here’s to hoping we take many more giant steps forward in 2012.

Geena Davis’ new study on gender bias in kids’ media

Variety reports:

The L.A.-based Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is set to release this summer the findings of a lengthy study on gender roles in movies and TV shows aimed at viewers 11 and under. The org is also planning a daylong conference in L.A. this fall. The institute has a programming unit dubbed See Jane that aims to work with execs, creatives and other industry orgs to encourage the inclusion of a wider range of femme characters in kid-oriented programming.

Geena Davis

Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis says, “Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.”

Here is her institute’s mission:

While watching children’s television programs and videos with her then 2-year old daughter, Academy Award winner Geena Davis noticed a remarkable imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters. From that small starting point, Davis went on to raise funds for the largest research project ever undertaken on gender in children’s entertainment.

The research showed that in the top-grossing G-rated films from 1990-2005, there were three male characters for every one female – a statistic that did not improve over time.

The concern was clear: What message does this send to young children?

I can’t wait for this new study. Thank you to Geena Davis for recognizing the gender bias in kids movies and doing something to change it. Go Thelma!