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Geena Davis: Women 'underrepresented' in film

'Girls are not there or hyper-sexualized,' she says

NEW YORK -- Gender equality in TV shows and movies for young audiences is still a ways off, actress Geena Davis said here Monday.

"Boys do all the fun stuff, and girls are not there or hyper-sexualized," she said about typical gender patterns. She made the comments in an appearance at the Social Good Summit, organized by the 92nd Street Y and Mashable with the United Nations Foundation. The session was webcast.

Female characters have been underrepresented 3:1 in G-rated content for decades, she said in speaking about research that her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has collected. The actress expressed hope to move the needle "even a little bit" in the next five years though. "I don't know if we could get to 2:1," she said when asked about her target for the next five years. "Maybe 2.5:1."

She said a study showed that only 7% of kids movies were gender-balanced.
Especially movies, particularly animated ones, can take a long time to make, so any progress will take a while to materialize there, she highlighted. Her institute's See Jane program uses research and advocacy to work with content creators and encourage them to enable changes to the depiction.

And industry folks are often surprised or even shocked to hear some of the data her team has collected and are willing to rebalance projects, the actress said. Especially given her focus on kids media, "people eem to be very open to it," she said.

Asked by interviewer Soledad O'Brien of CNN if society needs to make more progress first, Davis said content is key, too, as young women feel they have fewer options the more TV they watch, according to research.

Importantly, the more women work behind the scenes of entertainment productions, the more females are featured on screen, Davis explained. "So part of it is getting more [women] behind the scenes," she said about her team's mission.

Davis' advice to consumers: discuss gender representation and use mitigating language when watching TV or films with your kids. "With my daughter, I always say why do you think there was only one female character in that movie?" she explained.

Soon after Davis, MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath made an appearance at the summit.
And according to her interviewer, Davis submitted a question for the MTV head on how the MTV networks can help address the male-female disparaty.

MTV's employee base is relatively young and diverse, McGrath offered, although she acknowledged "it's an ongoing struggle."

McGrath also mentioned that MTV is working on a girls-focused program to encourage young women in the U.S. to give $5 to girls elsewhere who don't have the same rights and opportunities.

Pop culture and social issues are more intertwined these days than in the past, and young audiences are open to making a social impact, McGrath argued in explaining her firm's social initiatives. "I do believe there is a goodness and [there are] deeper levels to young adults," she told the audience.

Interest is higher than ever, but activating people is still tough. MTV tends to listen to its users' interests before deciding on initiatives. Issues of sexual health and orientation are of particular interest to the MTV crowd, McGrath said.

Later in the day, Hollywood star Edward Norton talked about his social fundraising Web site Crowdrise, which has been up since the spring. "We wanted it to be fun" and have "the same appeal as social networking or gaming," he explained. But he said his team also wanted it to be "a toolbox" that enables people to start fundraising for a good cause.