feminism

Why the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media rules

By, Allie Semperger
Published December 2013: About-Face

Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis (of Thelma and Louise and Beetlejuice fame) founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to advocate for diverse
portrayals and equal representation of female characters in the media
.

The Institute and its program, See Jane, promote gender equality in media representation through research, education, and advocacy. The focus is on children’s entertainment and
media with a demographic of children ages 11 and younger.

 

 

Geena was inspired to take action after recognizing the noticeable shortage of female characters in family entertainment that she watched with her daughter. Narrow-minded, sexist portrayals of women and girls (which are especially conspicuous when there are so few female characters to begin with), can affect everything from body image and self-esteem to occupational goals.

In other words, fantasy has a tendency to become reality as children absorb the
damaging message that girls aren’t as valuable as boys
.

The Institute regularly reports their findings and research studies on these topics and,
according to their website, have assembled “the largest body of research on gender prevalence in entertainment,” covering more than 20 years. For instance, the following research facts were provided from research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism:

Males outnumber females three to one in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.

• Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally
unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males
.

• 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.

• From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world
statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

Geena’s organization also works with the entertainment industry, educational institutions, and other influential organizations Geena Davis speaking at the Second Symposium on Gender in the Media.(like the United Nations) to create programs and
educational tools that raise awareness about gender-related issues in the media
.

For example, See Jane partnered with USA Today Education to create Gender Equality Lessons for Schools. Some of the featured lessons include “Do TV Shows and Movies Influence Careers Held by Women and Men?” and “Do TV Shows and Movies Make Sexual Harassment a ‘Normal’ Part of the School
Experience?”

To me, it’s always inspiring to see celebrities recognize their power of influence and take responsibility for promoting important issues, specifically those that pertain to gender stereotyping and representation.

Geena Davis is admirable for committing the time and resources necessary for providing
statistics and other evidence that point to the need for change in sexist media representation.

When you were a child, how were female characters portrayed in your favorite TV shows and movies? What are other ways you would like to see celebrities use their influence to
discourage sexism in the media?

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Disclaimer for Airbrushed Models: An Effective Solution?

By, Allie Semperger
Published November 2013: About-Face

Airbrushed images of women and girls are bad for our overall health: mental, emotional, and sometimes physical. Before and after shots of airbrushed model.

We can reasonably assume that the vast
majority of media images are altered,
even those of famous figures who are
celebrated as examples of these “attainable” beauty standards.

So, why not draw attention to this issue through an actual disclaimer that calls out the use of airbrushing?

The idea for a disclaimer was raised by Global Democracy, a site that uses social media to identify solutions to world problems. Their description of the proposal is as follows:

“We all now know that seeing thousands of ‘perfect’ body types in the mass media is having negative [e]ffects on young girls and more. Airbrushing as a practice should be discouraged when it transforms otherwise permanent features on models. A ‘mandatory disclaimer’ to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.”

The proposal was accompanied by a video that’s been making its rounds on the Internet as of late. It shows the evolution of a model, before and after airbrushing. Hair and makeup transformations for the naturally pretty model are only the beginning:

Once her photo is taken, dozens of other manipulations take place through airbrushing technology: her eyes enlarge, her stomach shrinks, legs lengthen — blonde hair is made even blonder, white skin turns whiter. The woman is virtually unrecognizable (pun intended).

While the idea of a disclaimer initially appealed to me, I wonder how effective it would be in practice. Based on the wording in the description above, it would be very easy for companies to avoid the disclaimer requirement when “permanent” is a more fluid concept than ever.

People’s weight can fluctuate, so one of the most problematic airbrushing issues is invalidated. And what about the popularity of plastic surgery? Are facial features even considered permanent anymore?

And even if images featured this disclaimer, consumers wouldn’t know exactly how the images were manipulated, so people still wouldn’t have a true understanding of how much airbrushing occurred.

Keira Knightley before and after Photoshop.

Videos like the “Body Evolution” video above and Before/After images are more striking and effective in showcasing how significant these airbrushing changes really are.

Big picture-speaking, unique ideas like this disclaimer proposal should be encouraged in bringing attention to issues with harmful consequences, like excessive airbrushing.

The challenge will be making sure that our demands are as specific and objective as possible to really hold companies accountable.

Do you think a disclaimer would be helpful in discouraging airbrushing practices and fostering healthier body images for women and girls? If a disclaimer was implemented, what should be included in the warning?