C.J. Cregg from The West Wing is the (fictional) person I credit most with inspiring me with passion and drive to get into the field of communications (after my mother, of course, who taught me that you could balance a career and family at the same time. Hi, Mom!). When I was 11 and watching the show with my parents, her grace under pressure and command of a press briefing room made me think, “I WANT TO DO THAT”.
As I got older and learned more about feminism, I thought about how important it was that I had that female role model to inspire me to go into a field that I knew so little about when I was younger, and today I’m starting out my career advocating for causes I so passionately believe in. So when I heard that the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media received a $1.2 million grant from Google to help analyze female portrayals in children’s media, my initial instinct was to let out a cheer.
The Geena Davis Institute’s research touches not only on women in entertainment, but also cuts across all fields to force us to think about how women are portrayed in the media affects all aspects of women’s rights and progress towards equality.
Their most recent study analyzed children’s shows airing last year across three networks and top-grossing family films released between September 2006 – September 2011; and their research showed that 18% of females in children’s shows and 28.3% in family films are shown wearing sexy attire, compared to only 19.1% and 8% of males, respectively. Family films are more likely to portray females in traditional “parent” gender roles, and women are far more likely across the board to be depicted with exposed skin or referenced as attractive.
This gender divide in the media extends to how we depict women in the workplace. Males are more likely than females to be shown working in family films, and few females occupy clout positions in family films. No women in children’s films are shown as investors, chief justices/district attorneys, or editors-in-chief of publications; and only 3.4% of women are shown in the top executive offices of corporations, 4.5% as high-level politicians, and 22% as doctors or healthcare managers. In fact, out of the eight characters featured with STEM jobs in children’s shows, only one of them is female.
Little girls are sitting down with their families and basing their ideas about what fields they want to get into at least in part on what they see on television and in movies. And with few women populating STEM fields both in real life and on television, it’s more important than ever to give young girls access to role models, fictional or non, in STEM.
However, knowledge is power, and the grant from Google to help the Institute develop technology to analyze the portrayal of women in children’s media and scan content even more thoroughly and in-depth than before will hopefully help turn this pattern around and create more C.J. Creggs both in the media and in real life – with any luck in the world of STEM! – for little girls to dream about becoming.