Why Media Matters To Gender Equity
“If she can see it she can be it”
How are women going to move forward? I recommend reading Fast Forward by outstanding leaders Melanie Verveer and Kim K. Azzarelli. Their combined professional experience spans corporate America, public and global service. The book covers hundreds of powerful stories of people working together to elevate women. The real common core of these stories is about unity. When we unite in purpose, we ride the fast track to gender equity — valuing women for their worth. Some stories are heartbreaking, yet all are encouraging.
One of the many valuable chapters in the book is Media Matters. It has educated me on the important role media plays in gender equity. Verveer and Azzarelli interview well known actresses, directors and producers from the film industry. Actresses Meryl Streep, America Ferrara, Geena Davis and others contribute personal stories of how they have used their influence to impact change and create more gender equity.
Media is not real life, but it influences our lives and society as a whole
Award winning actress Geena Davis has experienced and seen gender inequity in media. “Depictions of strong female leads are still the exception to the rule.” Davis took action and launched The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media — now led by Madeline DiNonno.
The Institute has conducted the largest ever research on how girls and women are represented in TV and film. The results of the extensive project are mind boggling, “male characters accounted over 70% of speaking parts in family films from 2006–2011. A 2014 global report shows that female characters are often characterized in a sexualized light — they are more than twice as likely as male characters to be thin, wear revealing outfits, or appear in the nude.”
The institute has also found that onscreen marginalizing of women occurs even in innocuous scenes like crowded street scenes. When women represent half of the world population, why do they only comprise 17% of actors there? What affect do these numbers have on a viewing audience?
Davis believes this creates an abnormal assumption which crosses from media to real life. It may prompt viewers to internalize the lower percentage of women as a norm in all areas of life.
Could that contribute to why we stall at 16 percent of women in leadership? Davis observes, “You get up to about 17 percent women, whether it’s tenured professors or law partners, or military officers or Congress, and because the vast amount of media we consume has trained us to see that as the normal ratio, you feel done.” Her observations aren’t unfounded; research confirms that audiences internalize these kinds of stereotypes and imbalances.
Balancing the Power in Media
Further research illustrates the imbalance of power in media. Davis states, “Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.”
When organizations have more diverse leadership, they are more profitable. Could that apply to film and media? Yes! The Bechdel test is a three part rule in which a movie should feature:
· At least two named female characters
· Who have a conversation with one another that is
· Not about men
The irony in the report is that only about half of all films passed this threshold from 1970 to 2013. Those that did pass the test had the highest returns, even though many were small budget films.
What if we used media to tell a new story of women? An empowering one that would affect societal change in the right direction?
If She Can See It She Can Be It
What we watch on TV and film influences how we think about groups of people. As an example, when television introduced shows CSI and Bones years ago, young women watched female TV heroes lead in forensic fields. It drove them to dominate forensic departments in U.S. universities. This phenomenon is known as the “CSI Effect.” Between 75 and 80 percent of students in these accredited fields are now women.
Media as a Societal Influencer
Why should we care about how media portrays us? Because media misrepresents women and creates dangerous stereotypes. These internalized stereotypes set us back.
How can we use media to promote gender equity in fields? Davis believes writing women into more leadership characters on TV and film will help. Female viewers will see themselves in empowered roles in the future. Media can help reach gender parity in a fast forward way. Davis reports, “By one analysis, it will take more than a century for the U.S. Congress to reach gender parity at its current rate of progress. In contrast, Davis notes that entertainment is ‘the one hugely imbalanced sector of society where we can make change overnight.’”
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender Media is a rich resource center, offering strategies for parents, consumers, educators, and anyone interested in improving the current state.
The site provides ample research to educate and share awareness, as well as resources to implement in your home and community.
http://seejane.org/ Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media