Sunday, October 31, 2010

Geena Davis - a feminist icon

Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Geena Davis was a featured headliner at the Vision 2020 conference on gender inequality. Davis explained her choice of now iconic roles, “After Earth Girls Are Easy", I only played strong characters – no parts in which I wore a bikini. The only housewife that I played was a dead one. I tried to choose roles that made women feel good about themselves. Women need to come out of the movie theater feeling uplifted."

Off screen as well, Davis has been a leading light in the fight for gender equality. Davis wants women to have their rightful seat at the table. She credits three events for her passion for feminist issues, “Being half of Thelma and Louise, taking up archery at the age of 41, and playing the first woman president.”

Davis is a trustee of the Women's Sport Foundation although she did not take up sports until she starred in “A League of Her Own” at the age of 36. Davis elucidated her fervor for sports now, “Learning a sport changed my self image for the better.”

She actively spreads the gospel of women playing sports because she believes it will help them succeed in the corporate word. “80% of the female managers of Fortune 500 companies played sports. Women playing sports will increase the amount of women managers,” Davis stated.

Davis, a member of the high IQ club Mensa, established the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media after watching cartoons with her then two year old daughter Alizeh. “I noticed that there were far fewer female characters than male in children’s cartoons,” said Davis. “The women drawn by the animators were hyper- sexualized. Their waists were so narrow that there was no room for a womb," lamented Davis.

Davis felt that she could not go to the producers of children’s television without statistics, so she funded the largest study of gender in children’s entertainment ever undertaken. The study from the Annenberg School of the University of Southern California found that there was one female character for every three male roles on children's television. Only 17% of the extras in a crowd scene were female.

The actress believes that fighting for equal representation in children’s television is important because "it is no secret that children watch a lot of television." Davis argues, "Girls and boys have to learn to play in the same sandbox. Studies have shown that girls feel that they have fewer options with the more television they watch. Boys become more sexist."

With the UN as a partner, Davis, armed with her study, has asked the creators of children’s television to reduce gender stereotyping. Children’s television producers are beginning to listen to her and make incremental changes.

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