She started The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media mostly to increase the visibility of women and girls and give them meatier things to do. It started with a "huh" moment watching TV with her then 4 year old daughter and noticing just how many more BOYS were on the screen than girls. She started talking to people in Hollywood about it... directors, producers and they looked puzzled and said, "Oh, I'm not so sure that's true any more, is it?"
Not one to just go by her gut, she started the research and was shocked by the findings.
I can't remember the exact percentages but it was close to 4 to 1... for every 4 male characters there was one female character.
She also talked about how research showed that the amount of revealing dress or overly sexualized behavior was pretty much exactly the same for female characters in a PG movie...and an R one...and how profoundly that affects young girls. By the time they are 11 or 12, all that has been absorbed. Girls are not as important as boys...your value is as a sex object and your role is to be subordinate.
She related the story of when she was working on Stuart Little and there was a scene taking place in Central Park. One of the set coordinators was picking the extras...boys and girls and giving the boys a remote control to a boat in the water...and picking a girl to stand behind him.
Geena looked at this and went over and said, "Hey...how about you give some of the GIRLS a remote." She said the guy looked startled...it hadn't occured to him, but of course he should do that! She had a few stories like that...talking with casting directors and showing them the data
More than anything she said that with directors and casting directors it's just...nudging them a little... to include more girls and they've all been completely open to it. It's not a "we hate girls" thing... they just don't think about it...men and women alike. Why not ask if a boy character could just as easily be a girl (most famous gender swap in film is probably Alien...where Riply was written to be a MAN and they changed it to be a woman...turning it from what would have probably been a pretty good generic space thriller to one of the best sci fi movies EVER.) or have more female extras in the background or give the girl something to do rather than prop up the boy or be some story device.
Near the end, during the panel a lady in the audience raised her hand.
"Well, you know how there is affirmative action in everything from education to construction... why couldn't we have that for film... have penalties if, you know, there aren't enough women involved in the film or on screen for particular movies... Why CAN'T we MAKE them do that?"
I was so terribly, terribly afraid...and maybe it's because I've been in San Francisco so long and I'm used to the knee jerk reaction of most people with pet causesto immediatly rally around Nanny Government as the solution for all their ailes. I was terrified that the panel would start talking about legislation or proposals or tax credits/penalties/incentives for the movie/tv industry to force them to include more women.
I muttered to myself loud enough those around me could hear, "It's called the FIRST AMENDMENT!"
I was pleasantly shocked and delighted when the panel seemed to politely recoil at the woman's suggestion. "Well, I don't think...anybody in the industry really wants...others to start dictating...the stories they want to tell or how they want to tell them. We should work on this ourselves but ... those in the movie industry would be very resistant to the government telling them how they should run their business."
I giggled a little to myself over that since Hollywood seems to love telling everybody else how they should run their businesses and lives...and they WILL get behind Nanny Gov't to push things but I took the panels reaction as a win ... there IS still some sanity left in the world and it's possible to be an activist...to see a genuine problem... and try to solve it with nuding and education and persuasion without running to Washington crying big tears with your hand grasping out to the taxpayer teat.
I also met and had a great conversation with Brenda Chapman but that's another story to tell.