Ithaca, N.Y. — Geena Davis, Oscar-winning actress and gender equality advocate, spoke on Tuesday to a packed Ford Hall in Ithaca College about gender equality in the media and recent findings about the portrayal women in film and TV.
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Davis made her mark in part through her portrayal of the first female U.S. President in ABC’s hit show Commander in Chief.
She has also acted in Thelma and Louise, Stuart Little and Tootsie. She currently plays Dr. Nicole Herman on TV series Grey’s Anatomy.
Here are a eight gems from her lecture, which is part of the Park School’s Distinguished Visitor series:
1 — “I consider myself a former waiter who became an actor.”
Davis noted that she does not use the word “actress,” because an actor is defined as a person who acts, not a man who acts. She said the word “actress” will soon be as dated as “doctoresse” and “poetesse” are today.
2 — “I was a tall baby…my fondest dream was to take up less space in the world.”
Davis recalled feeling odd about her height, so much so that she was reluctant to play basketball despite the team virtually begging her to.
When she finally took up the game, she trained hard and remembers being told that she had untapped athletic ability. “Playing sports dramatically improved my body image. It made me feel like it was okay to take up space in the world.”
3 — “Then I just made shit up about why I had to be Thelma.”
Davis remembered that she went into a discussion with director Ridley Scott ready to audition as Louise for the hit 1991 film “Thelma and Louise.” She credits the film with having a huge impact on her life by inspiring her interest in women’s issues. She eventually played Thelma.
4 — “If someday you read that I have signed up to play Sean Connery’s kidnapped wife, you will know I am broke.”
Davis said being able to choose roles in Hollywood that empower women is a luxury that a lot of people cannot afford.
5 — “Shoes off, [it becomes] fifty-fifty.”
Davis described a study that showed blind auditions for an orchestra make it fairer to women.
Before the blind auditions and before the stages were carpeted (thereby eliminating the sound of women’s heels), men were more likely to be chosen. “This proves that we can achieve parity: you just have to not hear us or see us.”
6 — “What percentage of crowd scenes in movies do you think are women? 17 percent.”
Davis quoted numbers from her Gender Equality Institute that showed this number is similar to real-life statistics, wherein women make up roughly 17 percent of people in professions like doctors and congressional leaders. “What if we are enculturating generation after generation to see 17 percent of women as the norm?”
7 – “Six year old girls have already learned to see themselves through the male gaze.”
Davis spoke about the portrayal and sexualization of young girls in the media.
8 – “Don’t create a problem that you need to fix later on.”
Davis stressed the importance of showing young children pictures of gender equality in the media and demonstrating that women make up more than half of the population. If not, “we are unwittingly training another generation to see women and girls as less important.”