Celebrities Care, Too: Geena Davis Takes on Gender Inequality in the Media

Where are all the strong female characters?

That’s what award-winning actress Geena Davis asked herself after watching several television shows and movies with her young daughter. Seeking to answer this question, Davis launched The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007.

With collaboration from University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, and headed by Dr. Stacy Smith, The Geena Davis Institute conducted “the largest research study ever done on G-rated films and kids’ television programs.” The findings confirmed what Davis suspected: “There were far more male characters than female; the male characters were doing all the interesting things and having the adventures. The female characters were stereotyped, often serving as eye candy.” (To read the full study, click here.)

The results of the study led Davis to ask more questions: “With such disempowering images, then, what message are girls absorbing about themselves? And what message are boys taking in about the worth and importance of girls? In fact, studies show that the more television girls watch, the more limited they consider their options in life; the more boys watch, the more sexist their views become.

Davis, no stranger to portraying strong women on-screen (including the President of the United States in the TV show Commander in Chief), began to understand the impact of gender roles can have on people after starring in Thelma & Louise

The reaction of people [to the movie], especially women, was overwhelming. They’d stop me and talk about how this movie changed their lives. I realized that we give women too few female characters they can really cheer for who have meaning for them.

The next movie I did was ‘A League of Their Own’ where I suddenly had 15-year-old girls coming up and saying, ‘That movie changed my life; I play sports because of that movie.’

Since concluding the study, Davis has been working hard to promote more strong female representation in the media. “We judge our value by seeing ourselves reflected in culture,” Davis said. “So we’re acculturating the next generation to feel women are lesser [by not representing them].

She has spoken at conferences and written articles, urging entertainment executives to tell more stories that have women as the main characters and whose goals are not exclusively romantic. She’s also working on an updated version of the study that covers movies from 2006 to 2009, in addition to “interviewing directors, producers, writers to talk about their perception, beliefs, attitudes.

Davis is relentless in the pursuit of gender equality in the media, especially for children. “Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.” She hopes to share with her daughter a day “when gender inequality is no longer a fairytale.


Gender inequality is unfortunately still a reality, both on-screen and off-screen, but you can take action to help secure equal rights for women by signing the following petitions:

Photo Courtesy of David Shankbone
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone / CC BY 2.0


Christine B.
Christine B.7 years ago

It's not just the girls that we parents need to worry about when females are cast in stereotypical roles in the media - we also need to worry about the boys. They are learning how to treat their future girlfriends, wives, and even own family (mothers, grandmothers, sisters, or aunts).

I find some of the looks and image of the female US newscasters particularly disturbing as you hardly ever see woman who is under 35 years old or other than drop dead gorgeous with perfect white teeth and a beautiful smile; the personality portrayed is often bubbly rather than authoritative. The same cannot be said of male newscasters. A double standard is definitely at play here.

johan l.
paul l7 years ago

Nothing wrong with eye candy but it is true that you seldom see a woman making important statements.
Not that there are fewer women who are able to do this but because they are very often ignored.
Geene Davis has the right idea but I am sure she will achieve more if she gets an important male to join her. Not that I think females can't do the job themselves, but solely because of the influence of men who can aid their cause!
Keep it up girls!

Catherine W.

It is wonderful that Geena has decided to use her resources, including time to work toward this goal. Geena is amongst the greats such as Katherine Hepburn who fought against the battle of not being the right look (too angular and too shrill a voice) and gender inequality. Unfortunately, over the decades past women have almost make it out of the bubble and so far we have not been able to pierce it and be rid of it. Here's hoping that a time of true enlightenment will exist in my lifetime. I think that body issues such as makeup are important but secondary concerns. Understanding that you matter, that you are powerful and can direct your life is critical. Having women in action in this world with men provides balance. We need to keep on target and don't start arguing just for the sake of it. That is a waste of energy. Way to go Geena!

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Thank you Geena. I've been saying this for years, with most people looking at me like I was insane. I wanted more than fairy tales, because growing up, I didn't want to be the princess, I wanted to be the president. Now I have someone who gives that more credence than what you'll ever know. Thank you again, Geena, and keep up the good work.

Karilyn K.
Karilyn K7 years ago

Thanks Geena - I am with you 200%! This has been obvious to me for years, it's part of the reason that I got out of acting seriously while in college in the late 80's because I saw that there were such limitations on the roles for women ---all the stereotyping that goes on is horrible! Instead I created my own strong persona and songs to perform which ignore the usual gender limitations.
And somehow in the last few years feminism has even gone backwards in the pop media reenforcing the woman as the "shy-side-kick", "overly-sexy side kick" and "hung-up-on living for a man lead", even with kids stuff. I hope things change.

Re S.
Re S7 years ago

It's always bizarre to me to hear celebrities who shoehorn themselves into mainstream ideals complain about mainstream ideals.

Yes, obviously it's a problem. But are we so blind as to miss the obvious... that any woman who appears in front of a camera is always covered in makeup, has plucked eyebrows, etc? True bravery is showing the world your face as it really is.

I'm not saying that women don't have the right to wear makeup if that's what they like... but our reasons for doing it should be examined. And although we have the right, that doesn't make it the best thing to do. Choosing to face the public with a natural body is the single best thing a role model for girls can do this day in age.

Though I mostly agree with what Reg B. says, I disagree that women must give up being beautiful... We just need to learn how to redefine beauty.

Abo Ahmed r.
Abo r7 years ago


gail d.
gail dair7 years ago


Anna M.
Anna M7 years ago

Thank you Ms. Davis.

Alicia N.
Alicia N7 years ago

Way to go Geena D. and good luck.