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Gender Watch: Geena Davis and PTC on Sexualization of Women and Girls On Screen

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood December 16, 2010 at 6:29AM

- Blue Valentine had to fight to get a fair R rating from the MPAA because the films shows female oral sex - female pleasure - while mainstream film and television continues to promote women and girls as objects of and targets for male desire without any examples of how to articulate or assert themselves against cultural stereotypes. The attention given to Blue Valentine's rating signifies our culture's imbalance in male vs. female sexual perspective and power. We are so used to seeing women as objects of desire, that when they are recipients of pleasure we don't know how to deal. It's not enough to show girls or women rolling their eyes in annoyance or acceptance of "the way things are" - we need to see them changing the paradigm. Below, two forces trying to do just that:
3

- Blue Valentine had to fight to get a fair R rating from the MPAA because the films shows female oral sex - female pleasure - while mainstream film and television continues to promote women and girls as objects of and targets for male desire without any examples of how to articulate or assert themselves against cultural stereotypes. The attention given to Blue Valentine's rating signifies our culture's imbalance in male vs. female sexual perspective and power. We are so used to seeing women as objects of desire, that when they are recipients of pleasure we don't know how to deal. It's not enough to show girls or women rolling their eyes in annoyance or acceptance of "the way things are" - we need to see them changing the paradigm. Below, two forces trying to do just that:

Thompson on Hollywood

- Hand it to Geena Davis for taking the issue on herself. After having a daughter in 2004, the Thelma & Louise star became more aware of how women - no, girls, who haven't even hit puberty yet - were being represented on screen. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which led two studies (one of films released 1990-2004, another for 2004-2009), both concluding: "Of the 5,554 speaking characters studied, 71 percent were male and 29 percent were female. That’s a 2.42 to 1 ratio," quotes the NYT. Davis says “I was absolutely floored to see that the same kind of imbalance and unfairness that exists in movies made for the general populace was also in these movies made for the very youngest kids.”

The studies also revealed that girls on screen are more likely to be "hypersexualized…25 percent were wearing tight , provocative, revealing clothing, compared with four percent of males — and physically attractive (14 percent versus. 3.6 percent). The female characters were younger than their male counterparts, and the sole goal of the females was usually to find romance. Not one of the animated female characters had a shape that was possible in real life." Another survey will be conducted in 2015. Davis, in the meantime, is using her voice and any clout she has to get the industry to pay attention to the issue.

Thompson on Hollywood


- Parents Television Council has conducted a study entitled "Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinseltown’s New Target." The study's finding (which included a look at Pretty Little Liars, pictured - the title alone has issues), are below. The PTC has model-turned-documentary filmmaker Nicole Clark (Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation) on their side. She says, "Our girls are being sexually objectified as young as 6…How did things get so crazy? Why can’t the media be on our side?” PTC president Tim Winter says "Storylines on the most popular shows among teens are sending the message to our daughters that being sexualized isn’t just acceptable, it should be sought after. It is outrageous that TV executives have made it their business to profit off of programs that depict teen girls blissfully being sexualized by casual partners and only showing disapproval for being sexualized five percent of the time."

Major Findings:
• Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults (47% and 29% respectively).
• Only 5% of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized (excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality).
• Out of all the sexualized female characters depicted in the underage and young adult category for the entire database, 86% were presented as only being of high school age.
• Seventy-five percent of shows that included sexualized underage female characters were shows that did not have an “S” descriptor to warn parents about the sexual content.

• Based upon a definition established by the American Psychological Association of “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” sexuality, the study findings show that 93% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred within a context that qualified as “unhealthy.”
• The data revealed that 98% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of a committed relationship.
• The data show that 73% of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke.

This article is related to: Genres, Hollywood, Daily Read, TV, Media, Marketing


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.