By Phillip Jordan
During the fall of 2013, a class of undergraduate research students at Mount St. Mary’s studied, in real time, how female characters were portrayed in new primetime programming on television.
The research revealed several sobering discoveries, such as how few competent, female role models appear in nightly shows. The lack of role models becomes even more pronounced for girls and women of color, considering that 86 percent of new, primary female characters are white. And during the only time of day when most families are together, just 23 percent of new, primetime TV shows in the fall were rated appropriate for children 12 years of age or under.
These findings are among the first fruits of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount St. Mary’s College. The Mount officially announced its partnership with the Institute last fall, with the goal of creating new research, educational and advocacy programs at the College.
Founded by Academy Award©-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, the Institute’s mission is to dramatically alter how girls and women are reflected in the media — using research like what Mount St. Mary’s captured last fall.
"This alliance mutually strengthens both organizations and enables us to have a greater influence on issues that impact women's livelihoods and wellbeing," says Mount St. Mary’s College President Ann McElaney-Johnson. "It also provides our students with incredible learning opportunities that directly affect their own lives."
The Institute on Gender in Media at Mount St. Mary's College grew organically out of an existing relationship between the two organizations. Since 2012, Davis has spoken about gender inequalities in the media as part of the College's annual release of its Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California®.
"In working with Mount St. Mary's, it become clear to me that our missions are thoroughly aligned where it comes to seeking equal opportunity for women in all fields," Davis says. "I'm excited to see what additional insights and progress this partnership will generate."
Mount St. Mary's has already added a gender and media minor to its offerings. This spring, students from the first "Gender and Media" course are assisting in a new research project: "Gender and Media: The Influence of Film and Television on Girls' Occupational Aspirations."
"This is an important study because we're a women's college and we have women who aspire to a wide variety of careers," says Pam Haldeman, chair of the Mount's film, media & communication department, and the study's principal investigator. "Yet media is influencing what careers they choose. Not too many film programs look at media and filmmaking through a gender lens. It's very empowering for our students to be part of something like this with the Institute."
Celine Gomez '15 signed up for the "Gender and Media" class as part of what she calls her own women’s studies semester. In addition to Haldeman's class, Gomez is also taking courses on "Women in Politics" and "Sexual Ethics."
"I think it's a great perspective to receive, especially going to a women’s college,” Gomez says. "I'm interested in learning how deeply the media can affect life decisions that young women like me might make."
Cindy Wlasowich '16 isn't in Haldeman's current course this spring, but she volunteered on the fall report, and will again assist in this spring's research. Wlasowich is a working adult and an applied/ research psychology major in the Mount’s Weekend College program. She’s worked administrative jobs in the entertainment industry with companies such as Warner Brothers, Dreamworks and NBC Universal. She also has a more personal motivation to participate in such research.
"I look at some of the shows on TV and it’s hard for me to believe that women are still being portrayed in these ways in 2014," Wlasowich says. "I can't imagine what perspective this gives my 17-year-old daughter, much less a girl who's 9 or 10."
"We need to make sure that what's out there gives an accurate representation of all women," she says. "Women with brains. Women who are comfortable in their own skin. Individuals who are strong and powerful, who just happen to be women."