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Geena Davis challenges 'unconscious bias' in on-screen representation of women

Published 08/10/2015

Geena Davis called on writers and directors to recognise the impact of gender representation on children
Geena Davis called on writers and directors to recognise the impact of gender representation on children

The film industry's continued failure to challenge the representation of women and girls on screen is damaging generations of children, Hollywood star and activist Geena Davis has warned.

The actor, propelled to fame in Thelma And Louise, said an "unconscious bias" within the industry had prevented it from moving forward over the past few decades, as she called on writers and directors to recognise the impact of gender representation on children.

Where female characters are seen on screen, they are often stereotyped, hyper-sexualised and sidelined, teaching both boys and girls from a young age that women are unequal, she said.

She made her appeal while speaking at the London Film Festival, which launched on Wednesday with a screening of Suffragette, the story of the women's struggle for the vote.

Actresses have increasingly spoken out about discrimination in Hollywood recently, including Suffragette stars Meryl Streep, who revealed she has been paid less than her male co-stars throughout her career, and Carey Mulligan, who said it was typical to be surrounded by male cast and crew on film sets - alongside many others who have highlighted the scarce number of leading parts for women.

The actor, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said on average women made up just 30% of named characters and 23% of lead characters in films.

The research body also claimed that the more hours of television a girl watched, the less options she thought she had in life, while the more hours a boy watched, the more sexist his views became.

In a speech to media industry leaders, Davis said: "No matter how limited the number of women CEOs, law partners and presidents there are in the real world, there are far less on screen.

"If the female characters are one-dimensional, sidelined, hyper-sexualised or simply not there at all, w e're saying women and girls are less important than men and boys.

"We're teaching kids that women do not take up half the space in the world.

"And the message is sinking in.

"It's a powerful negative message that we are showing to kids.

"Lets not embed a harmful and dis-empowering message in something that is supposed to be entertainment.

"We are unwittingly training generation after generation that women are unequal."

Using her institute's own research, she said it would take the industry 700 years to reach equality if it continued at the current rate of progress.

However, she said her research has helped directors, writers and producers to acknowledge the glaring inequalities.

She said: "The change must be more dramatic and immediate. The media industry itself must be the cure for the problem it's created.

"I predict with the reaction we've seen in our meetings and to our research that we will be able to knock both zeros off (700 years) and move the needle very soon."

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