“It’s urgent that we no longer create stories that teach children to view women and girls as second-class citizens – not when we’ve seen the level of sexism in our culture so egregiously put on display.”  

These are the words of Geena Davis: founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) and star of films like Thelma and Louise and A League of their Own (two films which pass the Bechdel test with flying colours). 

As part of today’s #Girlstakeover, on 11th October, the International Day of the Girl, women and girls are demanding radical change in their portrayal in films, entertainment, textbooks, advertising, video games and other communications media. Indeed, this year’s international day theme is Girlpower: Unscripted and Unstoppable! 

Media’s influence on our thoughts, beliefs, and actions is subtle yet powerful. Because stereotypes are like air – invisible but omnipresent – they are often overlooked, making them especially insidious. Unfortunately, much of what girls see in the media reinforces gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes. This affects how others view girls and how girls view themselves. 

The #RewriteHerStory takeover is inspired by recent research published by the GDIGM, Plan International, and the Girls Get Equal campaign. It analyses the 56 top-grossing films in 20 countries to assess their impact on girls – and discovered the films send a message that leadership is mostly for men, particularly older white men. Women leaders (regardless of whether they are presidents, CEOs or business owners) are far more likely to be sexualised or objectified, shown in revealing outfits or completely nude.  

The report calls for an end to harmful stereotypes and encourages making stories about female leadership normal and visible. A central message is “if girls can’t see it, they can’t be it”. This is particularly the case for women of colour who are even less likely to see characters who look like them in the media. 

Media can be a force for good, but not if it perpetuates stereotypes or –even worse – ignores women entirely. Indeed, previous research by the GDIGM showed that female characters make up only 17% of crowd scenes in films! Davis says this sends a subtle signal that 17% women’s representation is a “natural state of affairs”

I remember my mother phoning Kelloggs when I was a young girl to complain that all the cartoon characters – Cornelius Rooster, Coco Monkey, Tony the Tiger and so on – on my breakfast cereal boxes were male. The person she spoke with vainly tried to convince her that one of the Snap, Crackle and Pop trio was a girl but my mother wasn’t buying it! At the time, I didn’t realise she was setting a great example by teaching me to query women’s presence and absence in the media and other spaces.  

So, the next time you are watching Netflix or consuming other media, start paying attention to how women are portrayed and consider the ratio between female and male characters. You might be surprised what you notice once you start looking.

Please follow today’s #RewriteHerStory takeover!


Image courtesy of Plan International.


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