Geena Davis
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Institute on Gender in Media head challenges conference to alter view of femmes in toons

What do Congress, Fortune 500 boards and the Animation Guild have in common? Women account for about 17% of their members, and according to Geena Davis’ keynote address at the annual Conference of the Society for Animation on Wednesday, that 17% is true for children’s media, too.

“Seventeen percent of film directors, producers and writers are female,” Davis said.

“And guess what the percentage of females in crowd scenes in animated movies is? 17%,” Davis said at the USC-held conference. The same stat goes for live-action pics. The Bono-proclaimed “factivist”  went on to explain that the ratio of male to female characters hasn’t changed since 1946.

“What if by consuming these vast amounts of media that we do, increasingly so, that ratio of males to females of 6-to-1 looks normal?” Davis said. By continuing to make those films, “we’re in effect saying that women and girls are less important than men and boys––that they don’t take up half the space in the world.”

At the helm of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Davis seeks to assess and alter the representations of female characters in TV and film, with particular attention to programming for children ages 11 and under. According to Davis, the worst segment of programming with regards to gender parity is TV shows aimed at viewers aged 7-11.

“The sexualization of female characters is rampant,” Davis said. “In G-rated animated movies, female characters wore same amount of revealing clothing as the female characters in R-rated movies.”

As a result, women are learning to self-sexualize by age 6, she said. Davis was referring to a 2012 study published in the journal Sex Roles.

Davis compelled animators to change these statistics by making a few key changes. For one, she advised that writers go through their scripts and simply change male characters to female ones.

“You don’t even need to but a giant bow or giant lashes to signify that it’s female,” she said. “You can just change it. They can be just as quirky and unusual as the male characters.”

Davis cited “Finding Nemo’s” Dory as a remarkable character and an example of how animated females can still be funny.

Davis also turned to her own body of work for an example of how strong depictions of women can affect change, citing a survey conducted after the airing of “Commander in Chief,” in which Davis played a female president of the United States. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that after watching the show, they were more likely to vote for a female prexy.

Another rousing example: the “CSI” effect. Shows depicting forensic scientists have a strong female presence, and perhaps as a result, studies show that about 75% of graduates from forensic science programs are women. As Davis put it, “if they can see it, they can be it.”

“Media is incredibly powerful. Images are incredibly powerful and can have an incredibly positive effect. They can create opportunities to overcome these unconscious biases and social barriers.

“We were able to measure progress and discovered that if we add female characters at the rate we have over the past 20 years, we will achieve parity in 700 years. We are dedicated at my institute to cutting that in half,” Davis quipped. “And I hope that I can ask you to join in our fight.”

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