WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–The days of inaccurate, stereotypical or even missing portrayals of women and girl characters on television and in movies are long over.
Or so actress Geena Davis was told when she approached studio and television executives six years ago about the problem she was seeing in the shows and films she was watching with her then-2-year-old daughter.
"That issue has been taken care of," Davis told a gathering here earlier this month, hosted by the Girl Scouts of the USA. The event focused on improving media treatment of girls.
To persuade them otherwise, Davis launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, based in Los Angeles, to fund research of persistent anti-women and anti-girl media images.
"They were shocked," said Davis.
Among the findings she showed the executives: Males were nearly three-quarters of all characters in the 400 top-grossing films in a recent 16-year period, and animated movies are more likely to portray both women and girls in sexually-revealing attire than live action films.
Other researchers have found that the more television a girl watches the less likely she is to believe that she will be successful. At the same time, the more hours of television a boy watches, the more likely he is to hold sexist views of girls.
Dora the Explorer in Short Supply
Dora the Explorer–Nickelodeon’s intrepid animated girl adventurer–as it turns out, is still an exception to the rule.
Girl Scouts of the USA, based in New York, has started trying to change that.
The group–an umbrella organization for 3.4 million girls in scouting troops–has enlisted the help of such industry leaders as the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Television Association. The goal is to get entertainment and media companies to improve the images of girls projected by Hollywood, advertising and even among kids on the Internet.
The girls’ image campaign and ongoing gatherings is led by a partnership of 12 groups representing girls’ advocates, broadcasters, studios and lobbying firms. The Girl Scouts said they have no funding numbers to put on the project, just "countless staff hours."
As part of this effort, the Girl Scouts lobbied for support of proposed federal legislation–introduced by Reps. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican in March–to fund more detailed research on media’s impact on girls.
Additionally, a national "Watch What You Watch" public service announcement sponsored by The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan political advocacy group of the entertainment industry, began airing on cable outlets on Oct. 15. It is aimed at girls and recommends avoiding broadcasts or Internet sites that feature negative images of girls.
Social and Emotional Well-Being
"Girls’ social and emotional well-being is not being talked about [in pop culture] in a way that makes sense to girls," said Laurie Westley, senior vice president of Girl Scouts of the USA, in an interview with Women’s eNews.
The Scouts’ decision to partner with media groups, instead of attacking or boycotting them, follows the lead of one of its partners, The Entertainment Industry Council, based in Burbank, Calif. The council has encouraged accurate depictions of people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems for the past 15 years. It provides access to clinical experts and rewards media productions with its annual Prism Awards.
One sign of the council’s success: a leap in industry nominations from 35 in its first year in 1997 to 430 last year. The group says that television producers are also increasing their requests for mental-health advisors.
Marie Gallo Dyak, an executive vice president for the council, says it will be easy to pitch more positive media portraits of girls to studios and networks.
"There are not only amazing women with stories to be told, but there are also a lot of men with amazing women in their lives," she told Women’s eNews.
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Rich Daly is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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The Girl Scouts’ "Watch What You Watch" Campaign: