We Heart: Geena Davis

Geena Davis is a powerhouse actor, best known for her strong and often comical roles in such Hollywood films as Thelma & Louise, A League of Their Own and The Accidental Tourist (for which she won an Academy Award). We love her consistent portrayal of strong women who take charge of their own lives, including her too-short stint as the first woman U.S. president, in ABC’s Commander in Chief (rest in peace, beloved drama).

But we heart Davis for more than just her screen roles (and for her decision to take up Olympic archery at age 41!). We especially appreciate her work at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, where she seeks solutions to gender inequity in children’s programming.

This Monday, a few Ms. bloggers had the opportunity to hear Davis speak with Pat Mitchell at The Paley Center for Media about her quest for gender-balanced programming. Passionate and articulate, Davis shared how she came to recognize the unbalanced gender representation in her daughter’s favorite TV shows:

My daughter was about 2 (she’s 9 now) and I started watching little kids shows and G-rated videos with her and it really struck me how few female characters there seemed to be. … I started counting the characters while we were watching. I knew there were far fewer parts for women in movies in general, but that we would be showing that to kids was sort of a revelation.

When she would mention this information to others, she was often met with incredulity. Surely this wasn’t happening in the programming of today?

[It] made me realize that if I wanted to actually have an impact I should probably have the numbers … the actual data to show people, and it kind of snowballed into a whole institute.

Six years later, the Geena Davis Institute is rolling out data on gender representation in children’s programming, lobbying for legislation such as The Healthy Media for Youth Act and establishing See Jane, a program that uses research to work with entertainment creators to make positive changes.

Some of the data Davis has found is astonishing:

  • The aspirations of female characters are limited almost exclusively to finding romance; male characters almost never have “finding romance” as their ultimate goal. 
  • The number one occupation of girls and women is royalty (not a likely profession for most of us). 
  • Female characters in G-rated movies, from 1990-2010, wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as female characters in R-rated movies.
  • The more hours of TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life; the more hours a boy watches the more sexist his views become.
  • If female characters are added to media programming at the current rate, gender balance won’t occur for 700 years. 

But Davis is quick to point out that the problematic media can also be a part of the solution:

The media can powerfully affect people positively. For example, girls seeing characters playing [nontraditional] roles will be much more likely to seek unconventional occupations later in life.

That’s right! I want to see more journalist heroes that are women and girls. Heck, I’ll even draw the cartoons! We heart you, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Keep it up!

Photo by Sarah Richardson


  1. GOD I LOVE HER. always and forever.

  2. Thanks for bringing this to my attention,Sarah. I’m part of a group of female writers and I’ve passed along the links.

  3. As a former circulation marketing manager at Ms. Magazine, it was so refreshing to read such an informative and impressive blog. I had the opportunity to see Geena Davis in Manhattan during a “One on One” with Pat Mitchell at The Paley Center last year, and she is truly an inspiration. We need more voices like Geena Davis out there to keep the momentum going and to make a different in roles for girls and women. We cannot afford to wait 700 years to make a difference.

  4. Leslie Hoffman says:

    Dear Geena,

    I wish that you could help your fellow SAG Members first. Are you aware that in our SAG Contract, it has the language “When applicable and due regard for safety, Women can double Women and minorities can double minorities…

    Don’t you find this horrible for all stuntwomen let alone if you happen to be a Black Stuntwomen or as the Guild states it…a minority stuntwoman.

    We can really use your help at your “home”, until the Guild and the Producers change that language, nothing will change for what your Daughter is watching.

    Please help change the Screen Actors Guild language as well as the AFTRA’s language.

  5. I’ve been struggling with this for my 2yo, looking ahead to what kinds of things I am going to give her to watch, play with, read.

    It seems that most existing strong female characters are also tomboys. It’s bad when girls are forced into existing female professions and pastimes, but it’s equally bad when they’re forced into acting out the traditionally male attitudes and pastimes if they want to be powerful/smart/strong/etc. It’s like they decide if a girl is going to be strong, she has to act like what we expect a man to act like – she has to choose between the traditional female gender role and the traditional male one. That’s not freedom either!

    I think that people calling themselves feminists are often to blame for this. I get so angry when they mock women for consciously selecting a profession or lifestyle that is stereotypically female. It’s bad to be herded into something, thinking there is no other option, but when a woman makes an educated choice on what she wants to do with her life, true feminists should applaud. More often, you find the species of pseudo-feminists who don’t want to be shoehorned into the traditional female gender roles, so they decide everyone should be shoehorned into the opposite gender’s traditional role. It’s still stereotyping – it’s just not the traditional flavor.

    I wish that more characters would be like Olivia the pig, who can be “girly” and enjoys frou-frou when she’s in the mood, but also likes using her brain, being active, saving people, directing a group, and so on.

    My daughter loves birds, jewelry, construction vehicles, dirt, pink and purple, sheep, feeding dolls, play food, and trains. She is affectionate and fearless, determined and dramatic. I want her to grow up feeling free to be what she wants, whether that’s a teacher, a veterinarian, a garbage collector, a nanny, a stock broker, an engineer, a secretary, or a homemaker.

    I sincerely hope that Ms. Davis is impactful in bringing about some change.

    • Jessica Ann says:

      I completely agree. A lot of “feminists” attack women who are too “girly”. If they are truely for women they should be for all women and not hinder those who are ok with being a nurse or an at home mom who wants to home school. Women attacking women only makes things worse on us. Why does a woman have to be girly or a tomboy. Why can’t we just be diverse women who all support and help each other so that we can truly make a difference for our children. Showing our girls they can do anything and our boys that they can do anything but that they need to treat everyone equal, no one is better or should be treated better than another.

      We are different than men and that is ok. We should use the differences to our advantage not attack each other because some see it as bad and others don’t.

  6. I love learning about what women are doing for women, girls, and equity. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  7. I’ve never been attacked by any feminist for trying to be independent & raise children who understood that. On the contrary, I’ve been attacked by “traditional” wemin for not taking my husband’s name, having children w/hyphenated names (mine & his – after all I should get a little credit for helping to form them), insisting that I, a Ms, never “mrs” anything, refusing to dress my girls in pink, & my boy in blue (until they were old enough & could choose their own clothes), watching programs w/them & calling attention to roles, social & status quo inequalities, etc…

    Thank you so much Gena Davis, for this important work, and may our kids have a brighter future. Boys suffer as much as girls from being disconnected from the flow of a healthy and meaningful life.

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