Skip to main content

Actress Geena Davis talks media, empowerment of women at U.N.

By Liz Yaslik, Brooke Elliott and Richard Roth, CNN
Click to play
Geena Davis promotes gender equality
  • Geena Davis speaks at U.N. to promote empowerment of women in children's media
  • Davis: We should "work towards improving the status of women"
  • Davis says stereotyping and hyper-sexualization of female characters "disturbing"

United Nations (CNN) -- As an actress, Geena Davis played the first female president on TV and a baseball player in a popular movie, but as a media consumer she concluded long ago that there was something wrong in the way women were portrayed.

Davis, a best-actress Oscar winner who is trying to change the portrayal of women in media, appeared at the United Nations Monday promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women in children's media.

After watching cartoons with her then-2-year-old daughter, Davis said she was bothered by the "disturbing" stereotyping and hyper-sexualization of female characters on television.

"I was stunned to notice what seemed to be a very significant gender disparity in these entertainments that were made for young children. And it occurred to me that this wasn't a healthy message that we were sending to kids," Davis, who attended a U.N. meeting on gender equality, told reporters.

She said the media is an important tool for empowering women and achieving the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, designed to improve global living standards. "As we work towards improving the status of women and the respect that women deserve, we should also think about the messages that the media that we consume is sending about women and girls," she said.

In 2004, Davis launched the largest content analysis ever done on G-rated movies and children's television. In the hundreds of films analyzed, the results showed there is only one female character to every three male characters -- one to five in large group scenes, she said. Female characters that were portrayed tended to be over-sexualized with a narrow scope of character traits, Davis said.

Davis said that needs to be changed. She gave examples of female characters in G-rated media dressed in as sexually revealing clothing as they are in R-rated films.

"If we have such devaluing and disempowering images from the first media that children consume, it sets the table and enculturates another generation of children into seeing women and children of a lesser status than boys and men," Davis said.

Davis went to the Writers Guild and to entertainment content creators and said the two groups were largely "unaware of this gender discrepancy." Davis said she advised creators to include more female characters that represent a larger spectrum of women.

She said characters don't need to have the hourglass figure that tends to be shown on TV. "If there was a wealth of female characters of all different stripes, then you could make them whatever you want. You don't have to limit yourself to this crazy ideal," she added.

Davis is known for starring in films "A League of Their Own," and "Thelma & Louise," as well as the television show "Commander in Chief."