See Jane

Four of our local YMCA staff recently attended the General Assembly of YMCA’s. This preeminent conference happens every three years and brings together thousands of YMCA professionals from across the movement. It is a family reunion of sorts with four days full of information, education and networking.

One of the keynote speakers was Geena Davis, the renowned actress. She told her story of getting her first role in the movie “Tootsie” in 1982 and over the next 37 years appearing in movies, such as “Beetlejuice,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Stuart Little,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and many more. She also performed in the TV series “Commander in Chief” as the first female president and in hospital based “Grey’s Anatomy.” An impressive career but what was remarkable to me is her life outside of the characters she plays. She is a member of the Mensa Society. At the age of 41 she took up archery and in two short years placed 24th in Olympic qualifying for the U.S. team. It was very clear she has a very high drive to succeed in what she chooses.

Her passion over the last 15 years started as she watched children’s television programs with her young daughter and noticed an imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters. This spurred her to sponsor research on children’s entertainment, which showed that there was nearly 3 males to every female character in the 400 movies analyzed. In 2007, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media which can be found at SEEJANE.ORG. Their mission is to engage, educate, and influence content creators, marketers and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under.

Geena’s passion was very evident as she told her story in an engaging and humorous manner that provided short stories from her career mixed with data to demonstrate the effects of the unconscious bias. A story that really resonated and shows the power of the movie industry is that for decades U.S. interest in archery was aligned with men, women, boys and then girls in this order. In 2008, this interest was flipped as the No. 1 archery demographic become young girls. Why she asked. What could drive such a major shift? She then reminded us that “The Hunger Games” came out in 2008 with the main character, Katniss Everdeen being an archer. As their tagline goes “If she can see it, she can be it.”

As we seek acceptance and opportunity for our children I invite you to check out SEEJANE.ORG to learn more about these efforts and how the foundation is impacting your child’s media today.