Geena Davis on the dearth of girls in children’s shows: ‘even mothers don’t know’

Oscar winner Geena Davis recently starred on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Nicole Herman, whose story arc ended this spring. Geena is familiar with playing strong female characters, having risen to fame in the incredible female-centric movies Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own. Now Geena is working behind the scenes to ensure that female characters are represented in the media, especially in children’s programming. She has a nonprofit organization, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which works with networks and studios to educate them about the underrepresentation of women and girls in the media. In a recent research study analyzing films around the globe, Geena’s organization found that there was one visible female for every 2.24 males and that women had just 31% of speaking roles. Only 24% of films featured a female protagonist. Women of course make up 51.9% of the world population.

Geena spoke with Entertainment Tonight about the work she does with her nonprofit organization. I was so impressed by her commitment to this cause, and the details were somewhat sobering. This is a cause that’s close to Geena, 59, as she has 11 year-old twin boys and a 13 year-old daughter.

On the underrepresentation of girls in children’s media
Truly, they should be showing boys and girls sharing the sandbox equally, with girls doing half of the interesting stuff too.

Even mothers are not aware of how vastly more male characters there are than female characters.

On girls being sexualized in the media from a young age
It’s really disturbing… girls as young as six years old have started to self sexualize. In other words started to view themselves through the male gaze and that’s through exposure.

Girls’ self esteem goes down the more hours of TV they watch and boys’ self esteem goes up so clearly there’s a negative message coming through that we have to think about it.

If we can change what they see from the beginning it will impact how they feel about women and girls later on [and] how girls feel about themselves.

Good news about women on television
In our research of the occupations of fictional characters there are so many female forensic scientists on tv that we don’t have to work to get women interested in becoming forensic scientists. In fact that field has skyrocketed now because of seeing it on TV and our motto is ‘if you see you you can be it.’

[From video on ET Online]

ET also had an interview with the creator of a documentary on the sexualization of youth called America The Beautiful 3. Director Darryl Roberts pointed out that young girls look up to pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande who are highly sexualized. He also said that “you start to feel like your worth is based on your sexiness and that’s all you have to offer. Kids aren’t stupid. When they see people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian do a sex tape and get famous that breeds a culture where ‘I could use my body. I could make money. I could get famous.‘” As dumb as it sounds to admit this, I haven’t thought of it this way. We’re adults following these celebrities and sometimes it’s hard to realize the.effect they can have on impressionable kids.

You can learn more about Geena Davis’s work promoting equal media representation for women and girls on the website for her organization. She also has a film festival coming up this may, The Bentonville Film Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas, which aims to increase the visibility of women and minorities in film.

BFI London Film Festival - "Suffragette" - Opening Night Gala

BFI Luminous Fundraising Gala

Geena Davis Catches A Flight At LAX

Geena Davis is shown at events in October, 2015. Credit: FameFlynet and Getty

 

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82 Responses to “Geena Davis on the dearth of girls in children’s shows: ‘even mothers don’t know’”

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  1. Lindy79 says:

    She’s right.
    I was driving through town a few weeks ago and passed a well known rugby club where there was an underage disco going on. All the girls were barely dressed and teetering about in sky high heels while the boys were in hoodies, jeans and runners.
    I’m all for empowering women to enjoy their sexuality but it’s when they think it’s all they have to offer, I take issue.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      It is sad, and I am so puzzled at these mothers who allow their pre and early teenage girls to dress so maturely.

      • LAK says:

        GNAT: sometimes it’s not the parents. Outside influences and peer pressure.

        We all know someone from a conservative home who hid customised clothing in their school bag and once outside the home, changed into it and the reverse before they enter their home.

      • Sam says:

        LAK: I think ultimately is usually is the parents, only because they have to get the money from somewhere. It’s a different story for a teen who works and can buy the stuff themselves. However, pre-teens don’t work. By and large, they use their parents’ money to buy this stuff. Granted, some might have other relatives who enable them (or they borrow them from friends), but overall, most kids get money for clothes from their parents. But when you see a 12 year old dressed in an inappropriate way, I think it’s okay to point a finger at parents first. It doesn’t help that a goodly number of these girls are often seen out with their mothers, who often don’t dress much better (at least from the experience I have, but that might vary).

      • original kay says:

        Stephanie from Degrassi Jr High was the first girl I saw doing that LAK. Seemed like a lot of work. :)

      • Who ARE these people? says:

        It’s also hard sometimes to find better clothes. There was a period when everything for preteen girls was black and/or skimpy, and the only place to get attractive, appropriate clothing was mail order (now online) – Lands End, LL Bean etc. For many girls, it’s kind of an abrupt change for them growing up.

    • Lilacflowers says:

      Scary, isn’t it? And it isn’t just at party events either. I occasionally deliver my teen nephew to a Saturday art class he takes on comic book drawing. The class is predominantly boys, who show up on Saturday morning wearing jeans and hoodies. The few girls in the class arrive wearing make-up, low-cut tops, tight pants, high-heels, and makeup. At 10 AM on a Saturday morning! One of the girls can barely totter about in the heels she is wearing. There’s no need for this.

    • Solanacaea (Nighty) says:

      As a teacher I see this all the time. I already had to expell students from my class, because of the clothes they were wearing. Top looking like a bra and asked to button the shirt and cover the top. Answer: “What’s wrong with my clothes? I like what I’m wearing”. I tried explaining, that she was 13 years old and it was a school, so, there were lots of wrong things with the way they were dressed. Answered back at me and refused to cover herself. I said I wouldn’t admit students underdressed in my class. It’s sad because they actually think they look hot dressing like this.

      • mj says:

        I don’t think that punishing girls by denying them education is the answer to this.

      • Solanacaea (Nighty) says:

        It was the fact of how they answered back… The same way I will do the same to a boy who refuses to take off his cap or any student who plays with phones inside the classroom… They have to learn that there are rules to be followed…

      • mj says:

        It’s not the same. A boy is not taught that his worth is through his wearing a baseball cap. Girls are given confusing messages that are problematic. They are taught that boys/men want to see their bodies and that is their source of value and worth, and then they’re called shameful names for heeding that pressure. This is a separate issue from wanting to wear a cap or playing with your phone. Though, as a teacher, I don’t see how a cap really impacts one’s ability to learn. Phones, yeah, I understand those are major distractions, but again, that’s a whole other issue. Why do we have to bring up other things to distract from the conversation about girls’ and women’s bodies, how they’re policed, and the opportunities afforded to us? When we tell women to cover up, we’re effectively following that with an “or else”, which is highly problematic.

      • Minimi says:

        I don’t think it was your right in the first place to tell her to button up her shirt. If you had a problem with what she was wearing you could as well wait till the end of the class and talk with her about it. You just chose to use your power to expose and shame her in front of her class.I seriously doubt it brought anything good to anyone involved.you slut shamed a 13 year old and showed your students how that is acceptable, since even the teacher does it. Not so nice.

      • Solanacaea (Nighty) says:

        I asked her to button the shirt, explained everyone that there are clothes one should wear at school, and those one can wear at a party, told her it was a nice top to wear to go to the beach or to a party with friends, but not suitable to be at school or work. I also tell boys that they need to be careful with the trousers and not show off their underwear…

    • Naya says:

      Witness a four year old girl have an emotional melt down because an interviewer (dont get me started on this part) asked her if she is beautiful. The four year old takes this question to mean that she is not beautiful and since in her words she should “always be beautiful”, her whole world procedes to fall apart on camera. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=poNuBMOwR4w

  2. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I’m so impressed by this great cause and all she has done to further it. I was surprised to hear that the numbers are still so skewed. As a child, I always wanted a girl star of a tv show who wasn’t a background character and who had adventures. I thought it was much better now. Anyway, good for her.

    Just as a side note, I wouldn’t call her character in Thelma and Louise strong. Her weaknesses killed them both. She was certainly a central character, but a very flawed. She made the “fear” choice every time.

    • Flim says:

      I agree her character in TL wasn’t “strong,” but not that her weaknesses killed them. She was a victim of her husband, the major dirtbag, and a pro grifter. And they were on the run b/c Louise murdered the dirtbag. You could argue more easily that Louise’s over-reactions (murder + refusing to go through Texas) killed them.

    • Savannah says:

      Have you not seen Babysitters Club (relative adventure woman) or The Secret World of Alex Mack or Clarissa Explains it All? Those were some of my favorite shows growing up!

  3. Ann says:

    That’s why I go see movies starring women and avoid heavily male centered stuff.

  4. aang says:

    Laura Ingalls was my TV hero. Bold, smart, strong and a tomboy.

    • Birdix says:

      Oh me too! Especially the first few seasons. There’s a new biography of LIW out, looks interesting.
      I’m such a fan of the books that I did a driving tour of their northern locations (Wisconsin, Minnesota, S Dakota), while listening to the audiobooks read by Cherry Jones, with my daughters. It was a great trip.

  5. ab says:

    great work she’s doing! I have never paid much attention to these issues, even as a woman and a minority myself, but now that I have a 3 year old daughter these things are definitely on my radar. it is a little overwhelming and scary to think about how I’m going to navigate through the adolescent years with her. it’s such a different world than it was when I was growing up in the 80s/90s.

    • j. eyre says:

      It is great work she is doing, her website is a wonderful resource.

      Like you, much of this flew under my radar until I started looking at the world in which my daughter is being raised. I am so glad, too, because I have an older son and I wouldn’t have changed a thing until my eyes were opened by having a daughter.

      • Pinetree13 says:

        Wow really so having a son didn’t open your eyes?!? Because it didn’t affect you personally?!?

        Having a son made me buy children’s books and watch children’s shows. The majority have male leads with a token female. Even worse in my opinion…an all male cartoon cast with one token female is meant for both boys and girls to watch…but if the lead is female then “it’s a girl show” and they go overboard on the pink and bows. Male is the norm. Even little einstein whose cast is two girls and two boys…who does all the talking leading? The white boy.

  6. Betsy says:

    Wrong, Geena! I AM aware of this because of your work on this. It’s not that people haven’t been saying it, but I think her foundation was featured in Ms. ten-fifteen years ago. It has bugged me ever since. It further bugs me that when you point this out to people they poo-poo it, or roll their eyes at me as if I am a militant feminist or mentally ill (which is, to some people, the same thing). She’s right – so little media has women in any sort of speaking, capable roll. Check out the Pixar history until Brave.

    I am a feminist mother of two boys who has avoided as much of this type of media as possible, but already my four year old says things like, “girls can’t do much.” The frak?!

    • LAK says:

      I’m still pissed that the Merida doll was sexualised which was completely contrary to Merida’s self presentation and her strong objections of being sexualised/objectified in the film.

    • LizLemonGotMarried says:

      My four-year-old boy has been trying to divide things by gender for about a year. “Mom, do you like Minnie best because she has on pink?” “Nope, I like Goofy best because he makes me laugh.” It’s like fighting a tidal wave…Girls must, girls won’t, girls can’t, girls only… NOT in my house.
      ETA: My husband is a staunch feminist. Our son gets this from the outside world, because we KNOW he’s not getting it from home. It’s messed up.

      • Margaritachum says:

        Lizlemongotmarried don’t get me started on the boy/girl thing. My son is turning two next month and he has a little pink motorcycle and hello kitty basket and a minnie doll. My father in law goes crazy when he sees him play with those things, because those are girl toys. I always have a hard time explaining that those are toys. Just toys. And my boy loves them and I encourage him to play with whatever he wants because to him it iexactly what it is, toys.

      • Pinetree13 says:

        We did that with my son and sadly you can only make it work for a few years before they start picking up on all the gendering from friends, TV, etc. I was shocked one day when my son said I couldn’t dance to a male singer “because it was a boy song”. I have always said toys are for everyone but somehow “girl toy” “boy toy” became a thing in his world :(

  7. Wren33 says:

    We obviously still have a long way to go, but I am often shocked when I read old picture books to my daughter or see old cartoons, when there are literally zero female characters. How was that ever considered normal?

    • Betsy says:

      I was watching a Neil Armstrong documentary, which naturally featured lots of NASA footage, and it is astonishing how white and male certain spheres were. No women, no one who isn’t white. We have not yet achieved true parity and equality (that doesn’t stop many from complaining about how tough white men have it these days), but it’s shocking just how uniform and discriminatory things were just a few decades ago.

    • Pinetree13 says:

      Honestly it’s really no better…now there is a token female but in shows that are for all children the cast is 99% male and the lead is always male. If a female is lead it’s a show catered ONLY to girls.

  8. Lucy2 says:

    I really admire the work she has been doing on this. I don’t follow any children’s shows, but I am surprised to hear that it is still male dominated, as it seems like most Disney and Nick shows had/have female leads?

    • megs283 says:

      Ugh, don’t get me started on Disney. My 6-year-old nieces were watching a show…one of the female teen leads wanted to go to a science museum. I was inwardly cheering…later it came out that she only wanted to go to the museum because her crush would be there. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. I resisted lecturing my nieces – they didn’t need to hear a feminist rant from aunty.

      • lucy2 says:

        That’s interesting – so some do have female leads but they aren’t helping by the way they are portrayed. That sucks, to be blunt. It could be a great way to be a positive influence on young girls and boys, but I guess not…

      • Alarmjaguar says:

        I’d say rant away! I know my kids have heard it from me (boy/girl twins, so the contrast is stark!) and now they often point out disparities — both ways, sometimes my son asks why there is only 1 boy in the Lego friends collection, for example. I like the idea that they know they can question things and that it isn’t natural for the world to be divided that way.

    • wrinkled says:

      The shows aimed at tweens on Disney Channel have female leads.

  9. Tanya says:

    It starts earlier than kids shows — Thomas the train has not a single female character!

    • Fancypants says:

      Yes he does. Off the top of my head There are Rosie, Emily, Belle and Annie and Clarabel. If my three year old daughter was here she might be able to name more. But I have a feeling the female trains might be a recent addition. I don’t remember them when my oldest son was watching Thomas 14 yrs ago.

    • Lara K says:

      Yup. And how many female monsters live on sesame street?

    • SloaneY says:

      They’re actually doing a lot better with kid’s cartoons now, especially on Disney. Doc Mcstuffins, Sophia the First, Sheriff Callie’s Wild West all have strong, smart female leads. And luckily my son loves those shows, and with a lot of help from both his parents reinforcing that females can do things males can do and vice versa, so far, he’s a pretty balanced kid. He will say the occasional “pink is for girls” trope, but he definitely gets that from school and we just have to reiterate that any kid can like any color.

      • Pinetree13 says:

        See I disagree because those shows are exclusively marketed to girls and throw pink and purple all over everything and sadly when boys reach a certain age they tend to reject anything “pink” as for girls only. The Disney shows marketed as for both genders only have token females. Jake and the Netherlands pirates – male lead. Little einsteins? Male lead. Mickey Mouse clubhouse ? Male lead. Octonauts? Male lead. Henry Hugglemnster? Male lead. Jungle junction? Male lead. Imagination movers? Male! And on and on and on! I have yet to see a Disney cartoon that airs often that is marketed to boys as well as girls that has a neutral female lead. To me they still strongly send the message “normal=male”

      • SloaneY says:

        I guess I look at it as progress. Compared to when I grew up. There really weren’t any girls in cartoons at all. And yes, they’re pink and purple, but if you actually watch the shows they’re on a pretty even keel as far as message. My son is 7 and he still watches them.
        And actually the Sheriff Callie one is not pink/purple, has a female lead and is fairly neutral as far as marketing. It doesn’t come across as a girl show.
        They certainly have a long way to go, but the fact that there are shows that don’t show girls as weak and silly is a step in the right direction.

  10. vauvert says:

    I have to watch America the Beautiful! This is exactly my main reason for detesting the K klan. Being celebs for nothing except using their bodies and spending all. their. time. focused solely on their looks and relationships teaches some really wrong lessons to the young (and not so young) fans. This is why I wish every media would stop covering them. Why increase their exposure with daily articles about their hair, the size of their butts or the trashy clothes they are wearing?

    You go Geena! I only have a son, but I try very hard to teach him that women are equal in every way. Unfortunately it is an uphill battle against a lot of what he sees in the media…

  11. JenniferJustice says:

    I have a question/confusion and I want legitimate answers – not jumping all over me and trying to put me down – if that’s possible – How is it that so many articles regarding a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants, act whatever way she wants, and flaunt her sexuality under the premise of female empowerment – are highly supported on this site, but then an article about a cause that addresses the rise in young girls’/teens’ perception that their sexuality is what makes them worthy is supported wholeheartedly? These two issues seem unilaterally integrated to me. Sure, in an ideal world we would hope girls didn’t discover their sexuality too soon or rely on it for confidence and value, but this isn’t an ideal world and kids are going to mock what they see, especially when they see something that works for others (KK, Miley, Ariana). How in the heck are kids supposed to differentiate that it’s okay for an adult but not okay for them? There are things I do as an adult that my son is simply not old enough to do and I enforce that, ie, drinking alcohol, cussing, etc. but my alcohol consumption is minimal so it’s not in his face and it’s illegal for him to drink so it’s a non-issue, and I don’t swear much. But what if I had a little girl and I’m dressing like a hooch because according to many, I should be able to wear whatever I want and be provocative and promiscuous without repercussion or even judgement and then telling her in the next breath that she can’t because she’s not old enough and she shouldn’t base her self-worth on how hot she is? That’s a confusing dichotomy and ineffective. Aren’t we suppose to influence by role model? I have debated ad nauseum this topic on this site with regular posters who try to convince me and others that I am “hurting” people, continuing a patriarchal attitude and shaming my fellow women who just like to feel good being a hot mess. Please explain to me how it is not hypocritical to tell a child, it’s okay for me, but you can’t do it, and it’s okay for me to be promiscuous and let it all hang out because it makes me feel good, but don’t base your self-worth on your sexuality? Okay, let the attack on me begin, but seriously, please be objective and non-belligerent. It’s early.

    • snowflake says:

      No I totally agree with you. Well said.

    • meme says:

      I totally agree with you. Some girls WANT to sexualize themselves. They see people like the kardashians and rhianna who are constantly sexualizing themselves and getting praised for it and rich and famous.

    • original kay says:

      I agree with you. Practice what you preach is a huge thing for me, something I try to do every day. It’s not always easy but being a hypocrite would be way worse.

      Hilary Duff posed on some “health” magazine cover, and it was truly highly sexualized and had nothing to do with health- hers or anyone’s health.
      People here tried to justify it by saying she was showing her abs, it was her right, etc etc. But young kids see this, and it’s not ok to promote a woman saying she is back from her divorce stronger than ever all the whole posing basically in her bra, low cut shorts with her hand practically masturbating on the cover- and it was. No woman stands or poses like that without it being on purpose. I was told I was living in the 50′s and I must love Michelle Duggar. I laugh at it, because it reflects on them, not me, their reactions to my post.

      It’s not ok. It’s not ok to let the media teach girls that to be successful is to show your body.
      As a parent I am constantly teaching both my girl and boy that neither gender is there for the consumption of others.

    • Sam says:

      You’ll get no flames from me. Here’s how I view it, since I have a little girl myself (I come at this more from a Christian-based view, so if that’s not your thing, that’s cool):

      I believe sexuality is an intricately designed, powerful thing. I think there is nothing shameful about it since we were designed to have it. However, because it is so powerful, it can be dangerous when misapplied. Adults, presumably, have the maturity and cognitive faculties to use sexuality responsibly and in a way that makes them happy. Children do not. A pre-teen might be able to put on the “sexy” clothes and use the words and go through the motions, but I don’t think the vast majority of them understand the actual gravity of those things and the possible adverse consequences of misusing sexuality – both physical and emotional/mental. I know many adults will disagree with me here, but I don’t believe sexuality to be a casual thing.

      Years ago, I was doing a research piece on sexuality from a Christian perspective and ran across a quote of Pope John Paul II, who in context was discussing what he saw as the problem with pr0n – basically, he said, “The problem isn’t that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.” And at the time I didn’t really sit on it, but looking back, I get it more. The problem with the type of female sexuality we often see today is that it doesn’t encourage or even ask the consumer (usually male) to see beyond the first image to anything deeper about this woman. I tend to think that genuine sexuality is not just physical attraction, but something that encourages people to bond to each other on multiple levels and actually form genuine attachments. And what we see today is not that way. We’re being sold a version of sexuality that is solely physical with little regard for the holistic human. And yeah, it bugs me and I don’t want my daughter (or son) to believe that is the best way.

      And I feel like everybody is to blame. I blame conservative forms of religion and morality that teach that sexuality is bad or gross or something to be fought with or overcome (which I feel misses the whole point, since I tend to not believe in a God that would do such a thing and then set the rules in opposition). I also blame some forms of feminism, which have become so concerned with “empowerment” that they refuse to criticize anything a woman does, even when it might deserve criticism. I blame the media, I blame the pundits, I have a lot of blame to go around here.

      • original kay says:

        yes, I get that it shows too little.

        “I wouldn’t have done those things with you if I had known that someday you’d walk by me without even acknowledging I exist”. Paraphrased from a teen novel my daughter has (I read it too, it was pretty good).
        But that sums it up quite well. she and I both use that quote to remind her not to sell herself short, because she gets pressured from other girls for not having a boyfriend. Crazy, at 14. She handles it well.
        But it’s truth, no one at 14, 15, 16, etc can handle the emotional side to sex. It’s not possible, and then these girls are left not understanding why they feel so horrible inside. :(

      • Sam says:

        Kay – I hate the pressure to have a boyfriend/girlfriend. I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 18 and I felt so weird for that! One of my sisters is 23 and just got her first boyfriend, and people treat it like its weird. Never mind that she graduated college when she was 20 and is in a PhD program for mathematics – she never got a date before! We live in a culture where “adult virgins” are treated like circus freakshows – people who somehow made it to their 20s without sex are treated like they are bizarre. I remember when Tina Fey admitted that she was a virgin until she was in her mid 20s and that her only partner has been her husband, and she admitted this like it was a point of embarrassment or weirdness. And that’s a problem with our culture. We’re so extreme – you have the Duggars and their repressive ideas at one end, and the other end that promotes purely physical, hedonistic pursuit of selfish pleasure. And I don’t want to associate with either of them.

      • original kay says:

        They all make out and everything! They talk about it, the heavy petting, etc, I say to her- if you are doing that at 14, what’s next? full sex at 16? and then what?
        She is more interested in university, grades, than a boyfriend. And even then people say “wait til her hormones kick in!”
        UGH

        like people tell me to just wait, she will rebel and go through all the teenage “I hate my parents” stuff. I reply “teenage doesn’t equal personality transplant”.

        We’ve told her, flat out, that dating in high school is tough, way harder than dating ever need be. It might be hard but waiting until uni means you know yourself better, know what you want and understand what having a “boyfriend” is- not just a person to make out with. :P

      • jules74 says:

        As a Mom of an 8 year old girl I am really appreciating the conversation here. She is in 3rd grade, and most of her friends are wearing bras. Not because of physical necessity but as a fashion choice. I have told her no, and we have had some very good conversations about why. But I can’t believe this is an issue at this age. Well, I guess I can when I see what is out there for her to identify with on tv/internet.
        When I come here and read the intelligent, logical posts from many different perspectives that don’t always agree but can articulate why they believe a particular thing, I am encouraged that I will make it through her teenage years in one piece. Lol. Thanks celebitches!

    • noway says:

      I think the idea is more simple. We need more images of women in media in productive and leadership roles, and then young women and girls wouldn’t just see themselves as only a sexualized being. Then being scientists, doctors, financial leaders, etc. would seem the most successful path and not what it is now the overly sexualized reality star success. I am not sure you have to get into the problem of confusing messages you are describing. In a free society there is always a bit of the above. Yes everyone should be free to express themselves anyway they wish in dress, attitude and actions as long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s rights, but the problem is the over sexualized promiscuous women is the main image they see to success and it shouldn’t be. If it isn’t the girls image of what they want to be would change too.

      I think a lot of women have been embracing their sexuality strongly, because for too long women’s natural sexual urges have been suppressed to men. Just look at Michelle Duggar’s comment about how a women should always be there for her man sexually, aside from the many fallacies in her statement, she is denying that women would ever have that feeling either. Even today some women are trained to feel that way, and not just crazy Duggars. She just says it.

      Also, as far as the confusing message for kids that adults can do it and not them. Although, there are many things in life that you are allowed to do only as an adult, but just telling them it is wrong and they can’t do it generally with something this socially ingrained probably won’t work for long. It didn’t work for my generation, it certainly isn’t going to work for this far more savvy socially connected generation. You have to bombard them with positive images. Again the problem is this generation is more social media connected than us, and it makes it hard to change the idea.

      • JenniferJustice says:

        Good converstion here and I appreciate the thoughtful responses.

        I love what the Pope said re porn. It’s so true.

        I still think it’s more than the media influencing girls. It’s also the men’s/boys reaction the promiscuous women they’re seeing. Girls are going to want to emulate what they see working for acceptance, attention, praise, etc. We definitely need more women in studious, educated, intelligent roles to be role models for girls, but I tend to wonder if they want to bother because the other route is quick and easy. Attention and praise is more than just attainable, it’s instantaneous when it comes to showing your body. And for girls who dont’ have parents consciously guiding them away from that, I doubt interesting female characters on TV or in the media are going to have much of an impact.

        It’s nice to see I’m not the only one who still feels that there is something to be said for decency and modesty which I tend to intermingle with self-respect v. desperacy.

      • Sam says:

        Jennifer: I agree. I think the pendulum is swinging between extremes. For example, I used to teach a sex ed program at my church. When it came time to talk about STDs, I received my only ever complaint from a girl’s mother who claimed I was teaching “slut shaming.” I had pointed out that, statistically speaking, your risk on contracting an STD through your lifetime goes up with each new partner you have. That’s science, that’s not me. I just repeated it. She said I should have just noted that condoms prevent STDs and not shamed students who might have had a larger number of partners. But that’s not totally accurate. Condoms REDUCE the risk of STDs – they don’t eliminate the risk. They can break. They don’t cover all infected areas (such as the case of herpes). And you don’t always need to have sex to get infected (they can spread via other acts as well). Wearing a condom is not a fail-proof policy. The risk is still there, albeit reduced. The only documented, 100% effective method against STDs is abstinence. There it is. And, scientifically speaking, limiting the number of partners you have throughout your life is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk. But she kept insisting that telling students that limiting your number of partners reduced your risk is shaming them. And all I could think was “I am giving them fact-based information, from research done by scientists, and she will not accept it because her ideology does not allow it.”

        I find that crazy. That is as crazy as abstinence-only sex ed, which ignores reality and facts. Well, this does too. There is something to be said for sexual restraint and being smart. I’m not going to decline to present facts because of an ideology that doesn’t like them. If I have students who want to be promiscuous, that is their right. I will not try to suggest they are bad people. But I’m not going to withhold factual information because one of them might feel bad about it. That’s not a teacher’s chief concern.

        We’ve gone too far to both sides. One side says that sexuality is sick and sinful and evil and wrong, and the other side says that sexuality has no morality or ethics or right and wrong and do what you want, damn the consequences. And both of them are full of it, in my mind. That’s why reasonable conversations are getting lost in the mess.

    • Natalie says:

      But are you basing your sense of self worth on being a “hooch?” Do you have goals, ambitions -have you accomplished anything? Teenage girls are still creating their sense of who they are as people and need to focus on becoming a person in their own right. That’s why it’s okay for adults and not kids. The same way you wouldn’t allow a kid to do a lot of things -like get married, sign a contract, join the military etc. They don’t have the perspective to make an informed decision that isn’t based on peer pressure. Don’t demonize showing skin, rather raise kids to have a strong sense of who they are, and high expectations of themselves and the people around them.

      • JenniferJustice says:

        I don’t consider being somewhat modest to be demonizing the showing of skin. Rather I see being promiscuous as garnering attention whether it’s wanted or warranted, that is what happens and that is why women who show alot do show alot. They are doing it for attention but they only want a certain kind of attention – like admiration, but not disrespect. We don’t get to choose who is going to react and how, so yes, I see it as a form of protection and avoidance – not because I’m ashamed or think I don’t look good or that sex is a dirty secret.

        I know why it’s okay for adults and not kids, but kids don’t know why it’s not okay for them yet and to be doing it, but telling them they cannot or shouldn’t is hypocritical and in effect saying, “do as I say, not as I do” and that does not work. I continue to view being promiscuous as counter-intuitive to teaching girls to have strong sense of who they are and high expectations of themselves. If they have high expectations of themselves and a strong sense of who they are, they wouldn’t be wanting sexual attention in the first place – not that way, from random strangers and in a disrespectful way.

      • Natalie says:

        I think a main part of where we differ is that I don’t see being promiscuous as bad or attention-seeking. Some people have higher sex drives and telling them to repress themselves in order to garner respect is, in my opinion, emotionally damaging. And we do get to choose how people react by pushing back against entrenched attitudes. Showing ankle used to be immodest.

        If I wear something revealing, it’s because *I* enjoy what I see in the mirror, not because I’m looking for attention or validation. I don’t and I think most people don’t dress for other people and for attention.

        I have young children and as they get older, there will be plenty of times I tell them they can’t do what I can because they’re still kids. On the hand, when they are adults, as long as they are safe and responsible, I wouldn’t have a problem with their sexual choices.

      • Natalie says:

        I just wanted to add I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise a girl thinking she shows respect for herself or that she keeps herself safe from unwanted attention by covering her body.

        I think nearly every woman has a story of unwanted and inappropriate sexualized attention from an older person when they were still essentially children -age 11, 12, 13 etc, and it’s not because of anything they did or how they were dressed.

        I think it’s a bad path to play respectability politics in terms of girls and women getting unwanted attention. Always keep the focus on the person being inappropriate.

    • Mel M says:

      @jenniferjustice, I’ve had the same thoughts for a while now. Thanks you for asking/expressing them in a much better way than I could ever do.

    • Betsy says:

      Because all of the women featured on here are pretty much adults (Courtenay Stoddard and a few others were or are not). Because when we’re high-fiving sexual autonomy, we’re high-fiving the autonomy, not the scanty dress. Because we don’t all uniformly support the uniform sexualization of women in the media, which gets to all girls and women who consume the media. I don’t see that these things are at odds at all.

  12. Crumpet says:

    I’ve always found it particularly interesting how children’s fairy-tales are all about the father and the daughter. Mother is either absent or a wicked step.

    • original kay says:

      It’s a running joke in our family.
      “Where’s the mom?”
      “oh, she’s dead, of course”.

      Then we laugh because it’s almost every.single.movie.

      • Amy Tennant says:

        My kids and I talk about this all the time. I tell them the mother HAS to be dead or the adventures wouldn’t happen, because the mom would keep her kids safe and out of trouble! (That’s only half a joke).

        I wholeheartedly support what Geena is doing, by the way. I have always admired her: actress, activist, feminist, MENSA member and Olympic level archer. She’s a real-life superhero to me.

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      I think they developed out of what might be a young child’s worst fear, losing the mother. The stories go on to show that the child can survive, even thrive, with that forced separation and terrible loss. Bruno Bettelheim, the psychologist, wrote about the value of fairy tales in teaching children about the cold, cruel, random world.

      Also what happened to Bambi’s mother — still shocks.

    • mimi says:

      I read a piece on the burgois tragedy which explained this phenomenon very well (for anyone who speaks german: the work is by Koschorke “Die heilige Familie”)

      Basically there are many reasons in westernized literature that account for the loss of the mother figure: plot advancement (of course), but also secularization of family and marriage (loss of mariolatry, father serving as an extended arm of both god AND state, thereby gaining more power, also advancing the nuclear family with father in power); a “sentimental” relationship of love and protection, with the daughter serving as the love-object to be protected that is in the foreground instead of the lust-object mother, which in turn leads to the mother figure either having only a procreative function or being completely eliminated (killed, mute, etc.). Mothers are too dangerous to be portrayed, basically (as is any woman not fitting into very clear tropes) – by eliminating them you also completely eliminate the procreative, bodily aspect of family, which might take away from its sacral nature.

  13. thaisajs says:

    I’m actually going to disagree with her on this one (partly). I unfortunately watch plenty of children’s TV shows since my daughter is a toddler and its the only way to get a little peace. Seems to me like most TV shows today make great efforts to include boys and girls in the show. Take Disney Jr. On the surface, it seems like all the little girls are supposed to watch Sofia the First and all the little boys watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates. My daughter watches both and she particularly likes Izzy, the female pirate on Jake’s crew. Her new favorite show, PJ Masks, has three characters, one of whom is female and solves just as many crimes/issues as the other characters. Sesame Street is particularly good about mixing kids of different races and male/female in their skits etc.

    I do find that older shows and picture books aren’t this inclusive and I do get where Geena is coming from. I read one library picture book to my daughter the other night about a little boy and it was awful. The little boy goes to a toy store which had some dolls for girls but LOTS of toys for boys. It was actually in the text. Gah.

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      I find myself doing a lot of on-the-fly editing when I’m reading. Sometimes (though this worked better before my kids started to read themselves) I’d change the sex of characters to put girls/women into the story. Take that sexism!

      • katie99 says:

        I do this too! Although now that she’s almost 3, I think she starting to get confused why sometimes the Cat in the Hat is a girl, and sometimes its a boy. I hear age 3 is when gendering starts to become a big deal to kids. I guess we’ll have to start using white out to permanently give her a few more female characters.

        Also, what Davis points out isn’t that there are no female characters, but that there are FEW female characters. Daniel Tiger = 3 boys & 2 girls. Sesame Street = all boys except Zoe and Abby. Of course all shows will have a couple token girls.

  14. taxi says:

    The appearance-based judgments start terrifyingly early, imo. Friends, relatives, & strangers comment on girl’s appearances when the kids are infants & toddlers. “Oh, your little girl is beautiful!” is pretty common. A lot of kids know the word “pretty” before they’re a year old, as in “Look at the pretty flowers.” Cognitive vocabulary is far greater than speech vocabulary in small children, so the praise/comparison/value ideas start early & the kids take it all in. Mothers chatting across the room from snacking toddlers should be aware that they’re being overheard. Grocery stores display magazines by checkout counters.

    Not all “beautiful” children remain so through later childhood & adolescence. If a girl no longer overhears flattering remarks about herself, but scantily or suggestively clad women get media attention, she may try to copy that to restore herself to formerly noteworthy attention.

    Even on this this site, using an example all will recognize, the Jolie-Pitt girls get comparative & very different appearance-based comments. Zahara is praised for being beautiful & a “fashionista” but Shiloh is dissed for her haircut or wearing “boys” clothes. There was hoopla here because Z wore a dress to her parents wedding & Shiloh dressed like her brothers.

    • JenniferJustice says:

      Most of the posters on this site are very liberal and I thought most were supportive of Shiloh’s continued preference to dress how shall we say “non-gender specific”. She has been styling herslef this way since she was a toddler and most feel, for whatever reason, she seems to relate more to Brad than AJ. But you’re right in that people do make comments about kids physical attractiveness without even realizing that by complimenting one and not the other, they’re basically putting the other down or at least negating her.

      It’s not just girls either. My husband and I are a “good-looking couple”. We have a son. We all knew I was giong to have a boy. I think everybody assumed when I was pregnant that our son would come out looking like some kind of Greek God. He’s cute, but he’s such a mix of the both of us that he isn’t necessarily their idea of fantastically gorgeous baby or child and people pretty much have said as much. To the point, I got pissed off and started telling people to STFU about physical traits and who he looks more like and how. Niether my husband nor myself were particularly beautiful kids. We were both late bloomers and didn’t come into our own until way after school. It doesn’t occur to alot of people that some faces and bodies change alot and more importantly, that what they say is heard by my son. I don’t think it’s affected him – I certainly hope not, but WTH – I have to actually tell people to not diss my kids looks even in a round-about or subtle way? I’m shaking my head right now.

    • Mikeyangel says:

      I have 2 daughter 5 and 3, as well as an infant son. All three are told incessantly how beautiful they are, and let me say, not rooting my own horn but they are remarkably beautiful, the lot. But, I also tell my kids that pretty is as pretty does and when they are not kind I tell them they are acting ugly. I tell my oldest that she is pretty but God gave her that, she did nothing to earn it and that how kind she treats people is most important. I also tell her how smart she is. Although smart only goes as far as the user takes it. My 16 year old brother is very smart too, but is a manipulative addict that consistently causes confusion, hence his smarts don’t really matter. I also am careful about praising how well behaved they are. It is great when they listen but…sometimes it is healthy and great to challenge authority. Yesterday I insisted my 5 year old wear a clip in her hair to keep it out of her eyes. She looked right at me and said she didn’t want it in her hair and, “it isn’t your body!!!!!!” And damn it, she was right.

      • Alarmjaguar says:

        That’s awesome. I love it when you realize that they’ve listened and are smart and self-confident, but it makes them a bit of a pia at the particular moment. Proud, but conflicted because you just want her to put in the damn clip ;)

      • Linda says:

        Not to be rude or mean, but how does God give the gift of beauty? Beauty is a social and societal construct. You either fit the current standard or you don’t. During Chaucer’s England, the standard of beauty was a woman with her hair pulled all the way back, eyes that were far apart, a big forehead, and buck teeth. In some cultures, having long hair, symmetrical features, big breasts, etc. is beautiful. In others, being very thin or very large is beautiful. God can’t give you something that doesn’t exist. Beauty is something that human beings construct. Some people might think nature is truly beautiful while others think its ugly. Having white teeth is a current sign of health and beauty, but in ancient Japan, having black teeth was a sign of health and beauty. I’m sure your children our beautiful, but it is important to emphasize that beauty is not a gift, but a social construct. It’s not a simple case of having it or not. It is a societal construct that is constantly in flux.

  15. Mikeyangel says:

    And this is why my kids get limited exposure to TV and mobile devices. PBS kids and Disney jr. No news. I strongly believe between murders/death get talked about and shown to kids in sooooooooo many venues, it desensitizes them. How could it not? If you watch Tom and jerry and see that violence, follow it with power rangers or something of that nature where there is violence, then turn on the news and the kids casually hear about 3 deaths/murders, how are they supposed to take each instance as a significant event, they would be in constant mourning of the human race. As I have 2 daughters and one son, 5, 3, and 7 months respectively, I am very mindful of a lot of things I do and expose their very impressionable minds to. Even as a mother who would love to lose 20-30 pounds, I never talk about diet or weight with THAT connotation. I give them lots of fruits and veggies and give them ample outside time. And by no means do I think I am perfect or doing everything right, as my mom says I will give them plenty I am sure for the therapists chair. My oldest only recently started VPK so we are just starting out in the education spectrum. I hope the little bit of TV we do watch, project Runway, grey’s Anatomy and very little else (especially while they are awake…we save Ray Donovan and shameless for child free time😉) they see diversity and women being doctors and men being fashion designers. We don’t watch any sports either, so they aren’t exposed to that male dominated venue either. Ugh sorry for going on at length. My kids are my all right now, and I am trying to make sure they are productive valuable members of society that make or help facilitate good in the future. I spend a lot of time stressing about this stuff.

  16. trillian says:

    The lack of girls is by far not the only problem. Having been a tomboy myself and being mother to a 12 yr old boy, I am currently pregnant with a girl. It’s nearly impossible to find clothing! EVERYTHING is effing pink, glittery, sporting stupid slogans like “cutie” or “princess”. Even in the tiny sizes the clothes are cut differently, girls’ pants being more like leggings while boys’ pants are baggy and comfortable. The stories my son liked to read (Bob the Builder and such) are about friendship and accomplishments. The girls’ stuff I see is all about pink princesses, who wears what and how pretty everything is. I swear it wasn’t like that when I was a kid (born in 1975)…

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      1973 here and I totally agree! But, somethings have gotten better –I still have my Richard Scary book on professions from the 1970s and my kids got the more recent version — it is definitely an improvement! But, I am so with you on the clothing issue!

  17. I Choose Me says:

    Geena Davis! I miss her in movies. I love her. Okay, now to read the article in full.

  18. Juluho says:

    Have you seen the girls section at Target lately? It use to be my go to for my daughter, jeans, shirts, party dresses. Now it looks like all the clothes we designed by a drug dealer’s girlfriend. In the space of only a few years. Children’s place is no better, it’s like Punky Brewster’s slutty older sister.