There is no better time in history to be a girl. All around the world, countries are realizing that investing in girls has the potential to change the world. In the United States, girls outpace boys in test scores, college enrollment and graduation rates, and high school leadership positions.
But alarming statistics show that girls still face enormous challenges. As they approach adolescence, self-esteem in girls plummets—and that’s true across ethnic, racial, and socio-economic lines. According to Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Girls Leadership Institute, this is the time in girls’ lives when they become aware of pressure to be conventionally feminine: to be liked at all costs, to be pleasing, to be passive, to be modest, and to become conventionally beautiful women.
In adolescence, girls become obsessed about their appearance. According to Confidence Coalition, 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. When we look at the messages the media sends girls, it’s no wonder their self-esteem is in shambles. Fifty seven percent of rock music videos portray women as a sex object, a victim, as unintelligent, or in a condescending way. On the movie screen, female characters are scantily clad, even in G-rated movies—which surprisingly show the same amount of skin as R-rated movies.
As adults, women enter professions that pay less and offer less prestige. In 2011, only 15 percent of board positions and corporate leadership positions were occupied by women. By no coincidence, in family-rated movies, 81 percent of employed characters are men. For every 15 movie characters holding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, And Mathematics) titles, one is female.
On the whole, women are underrepresented in the media. In family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17 percent of the characters are female. The media is literally sending the message: women and girls aren’t as important as boys and men. Our culture revolves around media, and women don’t take up even half the space.
How to Make a Difference
Change the Media Message
According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, TV and movies have an incredible impact on women’s choices and perceptions. The one science-based profession that “employs” an equal number of women and men on television programs is forensic science. As a result, colleges now can’t keep up with the number of women applying to become forensic scientists. Similarly, people who were familiar with the show Commander in Chief, which featured a female president, were 68 percent more likely to vote for a female for president than those who were not familiar with the show.
The Geena Davis Insitute concluded, “if she can see it, she can be it.” With that belief, the institute focuses on changing media messages to feature more women and girls. If you’d like to get involved to help make this change, consider donating:
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media researches how gender is portrayed in the media and its impact on women and girls, then directly educates content creators. Sixty eight percent of creators who heard the Institute’s presentation said it impacted two or more of their projects. Forty one percent said it had affected four or more of their projects. The goal: 50 percent female representation in all TV shows.
You can also get involved directly! Check out The Representation Project’s #Notbuyingit campaign. By getting vocal on Twitter, people just like you changed Superbowl ads to be less sexist. For example, GoDaddy.com has a history of hyper-sexualized Superbowl ads, but in 2014 after being railed against by the #notbuyingit campaign, they chose to tone it down.
Help Girls Discover New Choices
In addition to changing media messages, you can help educate girls about all their options by supporting these amazing girl-oriented nonprofits:
Girls Leadership Institute offers camps and workshops designed to teach girls, educators and parents about emotional intelligence, healthy relationships, and assertive self-expression.
Girl Up is a unique opportunity for American girls to become global leaders, channeling their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds. They focus on United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.
Girls Inc. equips girls to achieve academically, lead healthy and physically active lives, manage money, navigate media messages, and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
And for free girl power and inspiration, follow organizations like A Mighty Girl and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls on Facebook. A Mighty Girl is a resource for girl-friendly media, toys, and clothing. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls is a resource to help girls and women find their authentic selves.
While the statistics show we still have a long way to go, we have made incredible progress. Together, we can move toward gender equity in both the media and in business leadership.
—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager