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), Forbes.com, 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!