Six years ago, Geena Davis starting watching children's TV and videos with her then two-year-old daughter. Davis thought she'd find cute, educational fare; instead she found a disturbing gender imbalance.
"It jumped out at me," Davis tells the Sydney Morning Herald:
There was this huge gender gap. It's partly because I had been in some movies that had resonated with women, so I'd had this heightened awareness of the paucity of parts for female actors. The stuff that we make for us. But I really didn't know that it was like this for kids.
You just expect Sesame Street took care of everything and now it's all educational. So I thought, 'You know what? I would like to know the facts.'
Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and commissioned studies concerning children's programming. (Today, she'll give a closing keynote address at a United Nations event about gender equality and women's empowerment.) The statistics in the SMH piece are startling: Three male characters for every one female character; 87% of narrators are male. And thinking back to the characters I spent my childhood with — Bert and Ernie, Mr. Rogers, Scooby-Doo — it does seem like Mary Poppins, Alice from Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz were the exceptions, not the rule (The first celebrity on Sesame Street? James Earl Jones). Some might say, oh, they're kids, what does it matter if Toy Story has male main characters, or if, in addition to Dora, Nick Jr. also has boy-toons like Franklin, Diego and Oswald. But you know, I used to baby-sit for a girl named Caroline, and I vividly recall that when I told her I liked her purple cowboy boots, she informed me that they were cowgirl boots. She was five. It's never too early.