You may have heard this week that ABC pulled Commander in Chief, the first-ever prime-time drama about a female U.S. president, played by Geena Davis. The show started out gangbusters, then slid in the ratings. It was put on hiatus, then came back briefly, only to have the last several episodes pulled during the May ratings sweeps.
What you probably don't know is Geena Davis is a founder of www.SeeJane.org, a group that advocates for more positive images of women in the media. I sat down with Ms. Davis this week in New York. She was at the United Nations to accept an award from the White House Project, a bipartisan group promoting women's leadership:
Bonnie Erbé: Why did you found SeeJane.org?
"The idea for Seejane.org came from watching preschool programs with my 2-year-old daughter and seeing that just like when we were kids, there was a huge gender gap. The stories were heavily weighted toward male characters, male adventures, and male stories. And the girls were sidelined and very stereotyped. As of now, we've finished the largest-ever study of content analysis of G-rated movies, aimed at kids, and found there are three male characters for every female character. In crowd scenes, only 17 percent of characters are female; 87 percent of narrators are male. All the statistics are pretty startlingthat this is what we are making and designing purposely for the youngest, youngest viewers. So what they see, reflected from the beginning, is, 'Oh, girls are sidelined, girls are less important,' and boys and girls get that message."
Bonnie Erbé: Is it getting better in Hollywood for women?
Geena Davis: "No, it's not. I always wished I could say yes, but they do the numbers every year, and itpretty much for decadeshas not gotten better, and, in fact, the percentages for behind the camera, it was already pathetic, but it's slightly worse."
Bonnie Erbé: Why? Women are making progress in other areas.
Geena Davis: "It's not a rocket ship, women's progress. I recently saw some statistics: If women in Congress increase their participation at the percentages they've been adding, we'd achieve parity in 500 years. So, yeah, making advances, it's slow and it's particularly slow in Hollywood, and we can't seem to get momentum."
Bonnie Erbé: Will Commander in Chief help a woman get to the White House?
Geena Davis: "I can't help but think one reason we haven't had a female president is that it's been hard to picture. . . . But Americans have had a hard time picturing a woman commanding our troops, and seeing a woman behind that desk every week, I think it could possibly have an effect."
So, Hillary, Condi, were you watching?