Group: Media not showing enough positive female characters, relationships

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by Michelle Castillo

CBS News

Posted on December 7, 2012 at 11:22 AM

(CBS News) -- Studies have shown it's hard for young girls and boys to accept women in leadership positions if they don't see positive female role models in their lives. With kids spending almost 24/7 connected to some kind of media, these channels could provide an ideal way to show positive messages about women to children.

"There's a huge imbalance right now in pretty much all entertainment media, including what is made for little kids," Academy Award winning actress and advocate Geena Davis told CBSNews.com. "There's about three male characters for every one female character, and even less female characters in crowd scenes. Just having more of a female presence in movies and television -- especially what in what kids see -- can make a difference because we do take up half the space in the world."

Davis is part of the Healthy MEdia Commission, which is advocating for positive media messages about women. The group was formed after concerned individuals like Davis and groups including The Girl Scouts of the USA, The Creative Coalition, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association held a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in October 2010 to discuss these issues. The commission is made up of more than 50 members of the media industry, who recently made recommendations on things that could be changed to help with the physical and emotional development of girls.

"Healthy MEdia starts with me," Deborah Taylor Tate, a former FCC commissioner, explained to CBSNews.com. "The 'me' part of that is about empowering all of us: girls, boys, our youth and adults as well."

The Commission believes that more needs to be done to promote healthy body images, active and diverse female characters, equal and healthy relationships and roles for women and girls both on television, on movie screens and online.

"The Commission intends this report not as a final solution to the Healthy Media issue, but rather to further the conversation about how individuals in media, academia, advocacy, and non-profit groups can better work together to further the cause of healthy media images," Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, told CBSNews.com. "As children's media use continues to increase, all youth would benefit from seeing healthy and positive messages about girls and women. We have a collective responsibility to empower young people through positive and healthy media that values women and their accomplishments."

Numerous studies were considered before the recommendations were made, including one funded by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media that discovered that female characters in programming for children and teen audiences are less likely to have jobs than males, and five times more likely to be in revealing clothing than their male counterparts.

"Media images are incredibly powerful... Research shows the more hours of television a girl watched, the fewer options she thinks she has in life," Davis said.

Another study published July 2012 in the journal Sex Roles found that girls as young as six begin to think of themselves as sexual objects. The researchers showed girls between the ages of 6 and 9 two dolls -- one wearing sexy, revealing clothing and the other showing trendy, yet more conservative garb. Sixty eight percent of the girls said the sexy doll was how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said the sexy doll would be more popular than the more conservative one.

More research conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute showed that almost 90 percent of girls feel pressure by the media to feel thin, Chavez told CBSNews.com. Fifty-five percent of the girls in the study admitted they dieted to lose weight, and 31 percent said they starved themselves or refused to eat in order to shed pounds. Almost half admitted they knew someone who had thrown up to keep from gaining weight, and more than one-third said they knew someone with an eating disorder. The survey included 1,000 girls between the ages of 13 and 17.

"It is important for girls to know that there is more to life than looking like a model, and we hope media companies will take to heart these recommendations on how to improve and enhance the ways in which images of women and girls are featured in media, to make them more healthy, life-like and reflective of women and girls today," Chavez said.

In order to implement their recommendations, the Commission says more women need to be included in positive roles in television. Davis said more needs to be done to show female character's interests, what their occupations are and what their aspirations are -- besides the stereotypical desire for romance. In addition, Tate pointed out that there should be more relationship dynamics explored between women, including mother-daughter dynamics and friendships between girls.

"(These women) are not just one dimensional characters, but multi-dimensional characters," Davis said.

In addition, children need to be taught that media images aren't necessarily reality.

"This is a lot about teaching kids how to be savvy media users they are in a ubiquitous 24/7 media environment across every platform," Tate said. "Now it's just not about television. It's about the multi-platforms our kids are involved with every day."

 

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