By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz
Oscar-winning actor Geena Davis was recently elected chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. Best known for her roles in “Thelma and Louise,” “A League of Their Own,” and “The Accidental Tourist, for which she won an Academy Award, Davis also was honored with a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the first woman president in the television series “Commander in Chief.”
A long time advocate for women and girls, six years ago she founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, which works with the entertainment industry to increase the presence and reduce the stereotyping of female characters in media aimed at children. She was appointed to the commission two years ago by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and elected chair last month. Governor Jerry Brown in his budget proposal has recommended eliminating the commission, so we asked Calbuzzer Susan Rose to interview Davis about the controversy and her work on behalf of women.
Q: What difference has the state Commission on the Status of Women made in the lives of women?
A: The Commission has served as an important link between many communities and the government throughout its 47 year history, focusing on those who most need a voice—the working poor, those with limited English language ability, incarcerated women, and those with least access to state government and services. The Commission has partnered with numerous groups throughout California and held public hearings around the state, thus making state government both more accessible to these groups and benefiting state government by bringing these voices to Sacramento.
Q: What arguments can you make to try to convince Governor Brown to retain the Commission?
A: I realize the difficulties and challenges of the California state budget and financial crisis. However, Governor Brown has been a long time supporter of women and girls, so I’m looking forward to working with him and collaboratively developing a plan to save the commission.
The Commission gives a voice to the voiceless…It’s the only women’s organization that is an official branch of state government, sponsored by the state as a symbol of its commitment to women and girls. We have an obligation to continue our commitment to the 18.5 million women and girls in California.
Q: You’re in a position to work on any number of issues. Why women’s concerns over others?
A: I’ve been a lifelong advocate for women and girls, in part because I’ve been fortunate enough to play some roles that have resonated with women and girls. I became a Trustee of the Women’s Sports Foundation as a result of “A League of Their Own,” and joined the Board of the White House Project after playing the first female President on “Commander In Chief.” But when I first started watching children’s entertainments with my young daughter, as a mother, I became concerned at the lack of female characters in what our youngest children are seeing. By having female characters take up less than 50% of the space in fiction, we’re in effect, saying to kids that women and girls are less important than men and boys.
Q: What has The Geena Davis Institute done to improve the image of girls and women in the media?
A: I decided to use research to demonstrate the facts and use it as a tool to work directly with the leading content creators of children’s media to dramatically increase the number of female characters and reduce gender stereotyping in what children 11 and under are seeing. We have now sponsored the largest body of research on gender in media spanning over 20 years.
Susan Rose is a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor and served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve elected and appointive office.