The invisible woman

The invisible woman

Geena Davis is on a mission. 

“If we can change what the future looks like on screen,” she says, “we can change what it looks like in real life.” The future she has in mind is one where the media treats women equally to men. At present, we’re still a long way from achieving that goal. 

Studies have shown that less than thirty percent of the speaking roles in top US box office films are female. Imagine if that happened in real life: women allocated a small portion of the day in which to talk, remaining mute and invisible for the other seventy percent. 

I can think of some places in the world where that probably does happen but our house isn’t one of them. Just ask my husband who is muttering that he’d pay top dollar to get a word in every now and then. 

He thinks the research findings are wrong (I must admit even I find the statistics hard to believe) and that there are plenty of films with strong female leads. I ask him for examples. He comes up with Snow WhiteCinderella …


… Xena: Warrior Princess

Ok, now he’s gone too far! 

He was, of course, joking. Nevertheless, it did make me question what is going on in Hollywood. Why don’t women share equal screen time with men? And when women are on screen, why can’t their roles be more aspirational? These are issues that Geena Davis, the respected Hollywood actress (Thelma in Thelma and Louise; Dottie in A League of Their Own), has been tackling for more than a decade. 

In 2004, watching children’s television with her daughter and twin sons, she was shocked to see that there were more male characters than female. Moreover, the female characters were often there to serve as ‘eye candy’. Determined to do something about it, she founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. 

Over the years the institute has conducted research highlighting gender inequality and campaigning for change. Some of the findings are truly shocking. Did you know that, in family films, for every one female character there are three male characters? I didn’t. Or that in crowd scenes, only 17 percent of the characters are female? That’s crazy!

Recently, Davis has also set up her own film festival, aimed at getting more women on screen. The Bentonville Film Festival showcases films written by women, made by women or featuring a female lead. In order to ensure that the films actually get seen, Davis teamed up with Walmart, the biggest seller of DVDs in the US. Not only does Walmart sponsor the event, it also guarantees to release the winning entries. 

The current spate of female-centric films such as The Hunger GamesBridesmaids and Pitch Perfect would appear to signal a shift in Hollywood thinking. The popularity of these films, however, may serve only to mask the truth: that women and girls are still vastly under-represented.  

If life was a fantasy adventure film we could call upon the mighty Xena to right this wrong. But it isn’t. All is not lost though.

We don’t have Xena but we do have Geena!

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