This is an excerpt of an NPR interview with Geena Davis interviewed by Jacki Lyden.

LYDEN: Maybe you’ve noticed something missing at the movies – like women. I’d like to say hooray for Hollywood, but women make up a minority of movie creators: 7 percent of the directors, 13 percent of the writers, 20 percent of the producers. That’s nearly five men for every woman working behind the scenes. Our cover story today: film’s forgotten females.

Out of last year’s biggest movies, 28 percent of the speaking characters were female. That’s down from a third, five years ago. Those numbers are from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California.

Every time there’s a movie starring women, the media is very excited to say well, this changes everything, and that certainly happened with “Thelma & Louise.” Now there’s going to be so many female buddy pictures. And nothing changed. And more recently, “Bridesmaids” and “The Hunger Games” – well, now everything has changed. And it’s not going to.

Lately, Davis has been busy trying to figure out why women aren’t better represented in film, and how to turn things around. She founded a think tank in 2004, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

DAVIS: When my daughter was about 2 years old, and I started watching G-rated videos and little kids’ TV shows and things, I was floored to see a huge death of female characters. I had assumed that surely, we are showing boys and girls sharing the sandbox equally, by now. I knew that there were fewer female characters in general, in Hollywood. I – you know, I’m in the industry, and I’ve experienced that; but I didn’t know that it applied to what we show to kids.

LYDEN: You commissioned a dozen studies on women in media, from the Annenberg School at USC. Some of the figures just really boggle the imagination when you think that women are half of all moviegoers. If we didn’t go to the movies, maybe this would make more sense. But we turn out in droves.

DAVIS: I know. It really does boggle the mind. In family films and kids’ television shows, for every one female character, there are three male characters. But lest people think that it’s all bad news, we were able to see an increase in the percentage of female characters in family films such that, if we add female characters at the rate we have been for the past 20 years, we will achieve parity in 700 years.

 My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance – that the movies that they’ve watched are about, let’s say, 5 to 1, as far as female presence is concerned – that’s what starts to look normal.

And let’s think about – in different segments of society, 17 percent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 percent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn’t that strange that that’s also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we’re actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you’re an adult, you don’t notice?

We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.

LYDEN: Oh, my goodness.

DAVIS: So is it possible that 17 percent women has become so comfortable, and so normal, that that’s just sort of unconsciously expected?

Read the full interview at NPR 

Founder of Words of Women

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