"Is this not the 21st century? Really?"
The quote comes from renowned Thelma and Louise actress and women's rights activist Geena Davis when she started to notice how little female characters existed in Hollywood, but it is surely one that many women have said to themselves when confronted with the glaring evidence of the gender gap and inequality.
Davis recently sat down with feminism's poster child Emma Watson for a feature in Interview Magazine, where the two discussed the gender disparity they experienced in Hollywood and throughout their lives.
Citing the research from Davis' organization, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Watson said that while filming the Harry Potter movies, she noticed that there was only one woman to every two men. "But when I looked at your research and see things like 21 percent of filmmakers are women, only 31 percent of speaking roles in popular films are female — you start seeing it everywhere. It's so much bigger," Watson told Davis.
Interestingly, Davis pointed out that among all the segments in society where the gender gap is painfully obvious, the one place that can improve overnight is the film industry.
"You think about getting half of Congress, or the presidency... It's going to take a while no matter how hard we work on it," Davis said. "But half of the board members and half of the CEOs can be women in the next movie somebody makes; it can be absolutely half. The whole point of why I'm doing this is to show all kids, boys and girls, that women take up half the space and do half of the interesting things in the world and have half of the dreams and ambitions. Our slogan is, 'If they see it, they can be it.' So if we show fictional characters doing cool stuff, then girls will want to be it in real life."
Lack of diversity in the film industry — both in gender and race — drew national scrutiny earlier this year during the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco. Straight white men dominate Hollywood, both onscreen and offscreen. But increasingly, female and non-white members of the industry, from actors to directors, are pushing hard to make their voices heard.
In their discussion, Watson and Davis touched on how important it is for young girls to see strong, ambitious female characters in different fields. Watson drew from personal experience:
Hindsight is obviously a very great thing, but I'm always convinced that the reason that I didn't take as many politics or history classes is because I just didn't see any women. I didn't think when I was 13, 14 that that had anything to do with me. I just didn't see women in my textbooks. I didn't see many female politicians on TV. I didn't see women in history textbooks, so I did geography, and art and English literature. But I know I must have been affected by not seeing women represented.