'700 Years Needed to Reach Gender Parity in Kids’ Media


Human Wrongs Watch

Actress Geena Davis on 12 March 2015 told a standing-room only event on gender and the media at the United Nations that the paucity of female characters in entertainment media for young children can be changed overnight, saying: “We don’t have to fix the ‘unconscious bias’ they are raised with later on. We can fix it from the very beginning.”

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (left) and actress Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown (file)

The Academy Award-Winning Actor, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said the data from her research shows “disturbing” results of how “profoundly fewer” female characters are in family movies and television programmes aimed at young children under the age of 11.*

Davis, known for her portrayals of strong female characters in films such as “Thelma and Louise,” went on to say the message the children were getting through entertainment media was of “hyper-sexualized” female characters judged by their appearance.

“If we added female characters at the rate we have been over past 20 years, we will achieve parity in 700 years,” Ms. Davis said, adding that she believed gender parity in children’s entertainment media can be reached dramatically faster – possibly even seven years.

She noted that the message kids are getting through entertainment media is that women and girls are second class citizens.

“There is one sector where this gross imbalance can be changed overnight and that is on screen,” she said. “We don’t have to fix the unconscious bias they are raised with later on. We can fix it from the very beginning.”

Davis was speaking at an event on the side lines of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women taking place at UN Headquarters to promote gender equality in and through the media, as central to the so-called post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals that will drive the global development agenda for years to come.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in remarks read by one of her deputies, said women represent “just third of reporters, and quarters of media decision makers.”

“Only a quarter of people questioned, heard or seen or read about in the media are women,” according to Ms. Bokova. “How can we get the whole full story with only half of the world’s voices? We do need to redress this imbalance.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, which co-hosted the event with UNESCO, and Ms. Bokova agreed on the imperative to change the underlying stereotypes of women.

“Progress is not the same as success,” the UNESCO head said. (*Source: UN).

Global film industry perpetuates discrimination against women – UN-backed study

Actress Geena Davis. Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

Nowhere to be “scene,” women protagonists have less than one-third of all speaking roles in film and are largely absent from powerful positions, according to a United Nations-backed survey which argues for the involvement of more female film-makers in the industry, and for greater sensitivity to gender imbalance on screen, the UN had reported on 22 September 2014.

“The first-ever global study of female characters in popular films, launched today, reveals deep-seated discrimination and pervasive stereotyping of women and girls by the international film industry,” according to UN Women, which supported the study along with The Rockefeller Foundation. It was commissioned from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

“The fact is – women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent,” said actress Geena Davis, founder of an eponymous Institute on Gender in Media, which released the 22 September 2014 study.

Actress Geena Davis. Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

Geena Davis. Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

“In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like,” Ms. Davis added noting that media images can have a positive impact on perception.

According to the study, while women represent half of the world’s population, only about 30.9 per cent of all speaking characters are women.

Only about 22.5 per cent of the fictional on-screen workforce is comprised of women, and when they are employed, less than 15 per cent of them are portrayed as business executives, political figures, or science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) employees.

“There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films,” Davis said. “How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies.”

The study also showed that women are more likely to be hypersexualized than men, with girls and women twice as likely as boys and men to be shown in sexualized attire, nude, or thin.

“Two decades on, this study is a wake-up call that shows that the global film industry still has a long way to go,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in reference to the Beijing Platform for Action.

Adopted in September 1995, the Beijing Platform became the international roadmap for gender equality, which among other factors, called on media to avoid stereotypical and degrading depictions of women.

“With their powerful influence on shaping the perceptions of large audiences, the media are key players for the gender equality agenda. With influence comes responsibility. The industry cannot afford to wait another 20 years to make the right decisions,” Mlambo-Ngcuka added.

The study analyzed popular films across the most profitable countries and territories internationally, including: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United States, and United Kingdom. (**Source: UN).

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