I believe it was the late, great Audrey Hepburn who said, “Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.” After re-calibrating to factor in hyperbole, and given our cultural obsession with the movies, Ms. Hepburn’s remark isn’t too far off the mark. For better and for worse, the entertainment mediums of film and television have educated America’s youth over the past century.
Don’t believe me? Actress Geena Davis has the stats to prove it!
In an Open Letter to the “powers that be” in Hollywood, Ms. Davis makes her case for gender quotas in TV and movie casting—quotas that she claims will level playing fields and shatter glass ceilings for women worldwide.
The outcome of the recent presidential election has left many of us shocked and scared. We wonder how this could have happened. What do we tell our kids? How can we explain the depth of misogyny and bigotry in our culture, both the overt and the passively tolerated? Most importantly, what can we do to counteract it?
Movies and TV are artistic expressions, meant to entertain; I am not talking about adding a message. I’m asking you to take out the message in so much of children’s media, even for the youngest kids: that women and girls are less important than men and boys because they do less and there are far less of them. It’s creating unconscious gender bias from the beginning that’s nearly impossible to reverse because we don’t even know we have it.
My message always has been that gender inequality in entertainment can be fixed overnight. It doesn’t have to be done in stages or phases. The next movie or TV show you make can be gender-balanced with diverse females as leads, supporting characters and extras. We can easily create worlds where women are half of the characters and do half of the interesting things.
So, according to Ms. Davis, the best way to avoid “adding a message” is to coerce producers, networks, and studios to arbitrarily add female characters to their shows, in effect telling them to compromise their artistic vision for the sake of ideology?
During the 2005-2006 television season, Davis portrayed a female president in the ABC drama, Commander in Chief. Since that time, she has taken up the public mantle of gender equality in Hollywood. But with Donald Trump’s presidency looming on the horizon, the outspoken progressive Davis wants to turn her cause into a politically correct crusade.
(Note: I wouldn’t hold your breath while waiting for a similar piece from Geena Davis decrying the way women are treated in, say, the Arab/Muslim world abroad. We’ve got bigger First World problems to solve in Hollywood!)
I agree with Davis when she points out that the words and images children consume on screen have an impact on their worldview. How could they not? It’s why religious parents encourage their children to read and memorize the Bible. It’s why athletes watch countless hours of game film. It’s how many a young person has started her first band after learning to play guitar by listening to the same album for hours on end. We are what we eat, watch, read, and listen to. There is profound wisdom in the statement, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
But while Ms. Davis and I are correct in pointing out the undeniable influence that pop culture can have, where we part ways is in the lopsided, authoritative weight she ascribes to media. After posing the question, “What do we tell our kids?” Davis goes on to spend the rest of her piece making the case that we need total strangers who run networks or studios to tell us what we should say to our kids, and, in effect, to do our parenting for us.
Even if Trump and his supporters (whom Davis apparently believes run Hollywood as well as Big Oil, Pharma, and Beef) are misogynist, women-hating jerks, as Davis claims, the notion of making it your life’s work to institute gender quotas in entertainment doesn’t seem like the best response to this supposed crisis.
Never before has there been more opportunity and freedom for artists to create and distribute their work; and as the recent election revealed, never before have so many celebrities come out so enthusiastically (yet unsuccessfully) to endorse one presidential candidate over another. What Geena Davis and others of her ilk in Hollywood don’t understand is this: Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because there aren’t enough fake female presidents on television. She lost because she was a weak candidate who ran a bad campaign.
Every celebrity is entitled to champion his or her personal cause. But American parents will do their kids a disservice if they listen to people like Geena Davis.
Talk to your kids and raise them with good values. Teach them to approach problems with an open mind and a willingness to understand—rather than demonize—their opponents. And encourage them to spend more time in the real world, not just staring at screens. After all, they shouldn’t be watching so much TV anyway.