What’s Happening at the Institute

Here's the latest on on our work.

July 31, 2020

Gary Barker, Ph.D.

Gary Barker spent his early years in Texas, where his father was a social worker who focused on how children are cared for. As a teenager, he witnessed a shooting in his suburban Houston high school cafeteria. A young man killed another student using his father’s gun in a version of that glorified guns and bullying went unquestioned.

“My father was a role model for me, but there were so many other harmful ideas of manhood around.” We didn’t yet use words like masculinity or toxic masculinity, but it was so clear to me that something wasn’t working about the way boys were being raised,” says Barker, the founder and director of Promundo, an international organizations focused on how we bring men and boys into the issue of gender equality and promoting healthy masculinity.

In the early 90s he moved to Brazil to coordinate a study with UNICEF on girls who were being sexually exploited. After three of four nights of interviewing the girls it became obvious what pathways led them to these places. Barker kept asking why they weren’t talking to the men – the men coming into bars, the sailors docking in Recife. It seemed necessary to ask why the ship’s captain or the bar owners were allowing men to exploit 15-year-old girls. Why men stood by while other men exploited girls and women.
Promundo was born from that question that he asked very insistently for a long time. The organization was launched in Brazil with fellow health workers, psychologists, and activists. Now 23 years old, Promundo is a global leader in advancing gender equality and creating a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women, girls, and individuals of all gender identities.

Gary Barker was interviewed in July 2020 by the Institute’s VP of Development and Operations, Elizabeth Kilpatrick.

Elizabeth: Tell us about how you became involved with the Institute?

Gary: I was introduced to Institute CEO Madeline Di Nonno by developmental psychologist Deb Tolman. Madeline invited me to speak at a Global Symposium on Gender in Media in New York about seven years ago.  I had followed the research, which was fascinating. When I heard the slogan, “If she can see it, she can be it,” I thought how much we also needed this for boys and men. We invited Madeline to join Promundo’s board and our dialogue started.

Elizabeth: Promundo recently partnered with the Institute on a research study, If He Can See It, He Can Be It, which looked at representations of masculinity in television most watched by boys. Why is that research important?

Gary: For decades we’ve been questioning the real-life scripts that women live, but manhood has gone unquestioned for a long time. These stereotypes are often so toxic, and holding up the same lens that the Institute uses to look at women and girls is incredibly important in identifying what is going into the scripts that boys see – boys and men who don’t stop and ask for help, who go it alone, and using violence.  This study is important because we have to talk about manhood – never instead of talking about what’s happening to women and girls but as a part of it. Let us be brave enough to actually look at how we raise our sons – and not just in pot shots or generalizations but take a deep look.

Elizabeth: We are also collaborating on a new study about video games.

Gary: Yes, and it’s the same logic there. Our sons spend a huge amount of time with video games and we are going to look at what they are seeing there. What do they see about manhood in video games? We can’t just go in and say let’s take games away from boys. We also have to look at what they are doing there what they feel good about in gaming. What kinds of reinforcement do that get? What kind of camaraderie and friendship do they find? Particularly in terms of models of manhood, we can’t just unplug and drag our sons away. That’s not going to work.

We can start a dialogue with game makers where we a say that we think they care about boys who are watching and playing their games and ask them to walk with us together on a journey to promote healthy manhood. And to show them that the world won’t fall apart and sales won’t decline!

Elizabeth: Promundo has just launched the Global Boyhood Initiative. Can you tell our readers about that?

Gary: We did a soft launch in July and there will be more to come in October. In this initiative we are taking the conversation even younger – to boys between 4 and 13. The initiative is in partnership with Kering Foundation and Plan International and supported by the Oak Foundation and Gucci’s Chime for Changes. These two studies we are doing with the Institute are part of it. It is for teachers, parents, coaches, media content makers and others who shape how boys are raised. This is about making a space for boys that says ‘you are not about being a bully or dominating others’. A space for equality and empathy. For connection and fairness. Nothing short of trying to reshape boyhood building on all the good that boys bring into the world.

Elizabeth: We always ask if you would like to share some “see it, be it” moments from your childhood. Were their stories or characters that particularly resonated with you?

Gary: I do some writing on the side as a novelist, so I can name writers who inspired by thinking. Growing up in the South, there were two artists in particular. One was an African American woman, Toni Morrison. I loved her laser sharp analysis of race and her discussions of men and male/female relationships and how those were shaped by violence, racism and the major events of the US over the past decades. And the other is an often-over-looked Southern writer who I love – Walker Percy. He is someone who acknowledged his white, male privilege, who wrote about feeling alienated from the version of the genteel South that was corrupting his soul. So as a white boy, growing up in a suburban Houston high school it was the experience of an African American Woman and a white man grappling with the unjust world around him and his quest for morality of who he was in that world.

July 27, 2020

“If He Can See It, Will He Be It?” Salon: Highlights and Insider Insights

By Mary Ellen Holden

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary University hosts See Jane Salons, exclusive members-only events, regularly to share the latest intersectional and gender-based research. On June 23rd, we unveiled a new report on the representation of masculinity in boys’ television. Our invitation-only event featured introductions and related insights from Institute Founder and Chair Geena Davis and Actor and Kering Foundation Board Director Salma Hayek Pinault along with President & CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker and three leading male advocates/feminists, Justin Baldoni, Wade Davis, and Joshua Rush.

Each of these inspirational thought leaders are working tirelessly to build a gender equitable world for boys and girls alike. They are committed to breaking the cycle of violence inherent in traditional white, male, heterosexual privilege that is often reinforced through television programming. At the event and in this article, they share their expertise with us and provide constructive rethinking on how we can create positive change for everyone.

The Institute has long recognized that media images make an important imprint on all children from a young age. Our goal is simple. Make it normal for our youngest children to see a wide range of inclusive and complex characters so that girls and boys will grow up to empathize with and care more about each other. As Institute Founder, Chair, and Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis says, “Onscreen media is one of the only sectors of society that can make systemic change absolutely overnight. So, for all of you creating your next show or messaging or content, take another pass. Challenge stereotypes and tropes of how you may be describing your characters, their activities, and how they treat one another. Boys can be nurses, and girls can be race car drivers.”

To date, most research on gender representation in children’s television has focused on girls and women, as female characters have been historically underrepresented and shown in negative, stereotypical ways. With progress in the women’s space (please reference the Institute’s See Jane 2020 TV Report), we realized that the critical social issue around toxic masculinity is also of great importance. Media representation can impact the beliefs and behaviors of boys and men off-screen as it relates to women and themselves. Let’s show men having a full range of emotions and not focusing on anger or violence or self-injurious behaviors. Healthy portrayals of masculinity can improve their mental and physical health and happiness.

During our See Jane Salon, Salma Hayek Pinault, Actor and Kering Foundation Board Director, commented that she and Geena were advocates for women’s empowerment before it was cool to talk about it. She observed that about two years ago, as women started to act and become more empowered, men became confused. She said, “Confusion is a beautiful opportunity. It is a fantastic door for change, re-education, and reinventing ourselves. We strive not to just mimic society but to use the entertainment industry to inspire the watchers to create a better society.”

To that end, the Institute collaborated with Promundo, and Kering Foundation on a groundbreaking research study entitled “If He Sees It, Will He Be It.” This report examines messages about masculinity in popular television programming among boys ages seven – 13, drawing from a dataset of 3,056 characters from 447 episodes.

The findings were eye-opening. For example, on a positive note, we found that there is surprisingly good representation when it comes to leads that are women or who are people of color. But, zero leads have disabilities or are shown as LGBTQ, which means that boys are only being exposed to certain stories, which sends the message that only certain lives matter. These findings fuel homophobia and push boys towards the stereotypical “Man Box.”

Our report also found that toxic masculinity is alive and well on television shows targeting this impressionable audience. For example, male characters are more likely to commit a violent act, model high-risk behaviors to prove their manhood, express no emotion other than anger, and are less likely to be depicted as a competent, satisfied “hands-on” parent. They are also less likely than female characters to express empathy or happiness.

“While television has proven to be part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution if we were to present healthy and connected stories of manhood,” said Gary Barker, President, and CEO of Promundo. He continued, “When I saw the Geena Davis Institute’s slogan “If She Can See It, She Can Be It,” I thought, what about ‘he,’ what about men? We know about the bullying, pressures to conform to the stoic, traditional definition of ‘real men,’ – but, if we want to create a gender-equal, nonviolent future, we need men to model vulnerability, connection, and respectful relationships on- and off-screen. We need a version of the Institute’s slogan to break the [Man] Box. There have been studies questioning the scripts women live on- and off-screen, but manhood has never been questioned in the same way. It’s all stereotyped and toxic – we need to unpack that in the way that we have done so well for girls.”

Our report provides tips for parents and content creators. Parents can bolster their children’s exposure to positive masculine norms by aiming to find media and television shows that challenge gender stereotypes and identify positive role models, call out harmful depictions of manhood, maintain an open dialogue, and actively reach out to boys with non-judgmental honesty. Parents can help to prepare boys to navigate the media landscape by facilitating a continuous conversation about the programming they like and consume.

Content creators can commit to more inclusive and diverse storytelling in the ways discussed above and below. The time is now to reshape masculinity, and we all have a role to play. Let’s create a gender-equal and connected future by modeling respectful relationships on-and off-screen.

Excerpts (below) from our panelists shine a light on the importance of this research and replacing toxic masculinity with a healthier foundation.

Justin Baldoni (Actor, Director, Producer, Entrepreneur, and Changemaker): “There is no manual or book on what it means to be a father, and this is what it means to be a man. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, men learn by modeling. The importance for me as a father is to try to model a behavior for my son, so he can emulate that as he grows. Which starts with being vulnerable, showing emotions, and being present. The work starts in the mirror. We live in a culture where we try to change our world before we try to change ourselves.

What are we creating content around? What are we putting into boys and men’s heads? That women are weak. I don’t think we can start to approach the conversation around masculinity until we can fix the issues of how we see the women in our lives. Not as doctors or lawyers or people in positions of power. Not as the strong independent women who raised us. We’re seeing them as weak and being taught that and it’s ingrained in us so unless we start to change that we can’t begin to address men being in touch ”

Joshua Rush (Actor/Political Activist)
“When people see themselves visibly in the media not as a punchline, as a means to an end, or a tokenized character they see themselves. And that is so incredibly important. If He Sees It, Will He Be It? If my generation sees becoming a leader, sees the problems that they’re facing and knows how to ask the right questions to change the world around them, then they’ll be it! Young people are coming to the realization that putting padding on chains only makes them more comfortable, when what is necessary is to break them. Kids are making change, demanding that chains are broken. And demanding that their leaders listen to them.”

Wade Davis (Former NFL Player and Vice President of Inclusion Strategy, Product for Netflix):
“There are too many young men and boys who don’t question what does it mean to be a man, what does it mean to be a woman, to be white, to be black? When kids learn to ask these types of questions you learn more about yourself. As a gay man I used to say I came out, but one day I realized I never came out I was always present. What I did was invite the world in.

Questioning allows kids to live in a world where they have become who they want to be, instead of who they think they should be. When you do the work to undo any system of oppression, you benefit too. The first role of anyone who wants to be an ally, is to interrogate how.”

For more information about this report, please go to seejane.org. Please become a member of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media so you can be at the forefront of societal change through exclusive access to our research, salons, symposiums, screenings, training initiatives, and other networking opportunities.

June 28, 2020

The Baby-Sitters Club, Coming to Netflix

Fresh, inspiring, and inclusive storytelling and casting – proving once again that representation matters

Images: © Netflix

By Mary Ellen Holden

As temperatures rise, so does the anticipation for the launch of the contemporary adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s beloved young adult book series The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix. The 10-episode series releases at a time when demand for babysitting is high, and it will be a welcome addition to families across the country who hunger for normalized lives. The show follows the relationships and experiences of a group of girlfriends as they navigate middle school, and the challenges inherent in starting their babysitting business.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the series showrunner and executive producer Rachel Shukert and the actors portraying members of The Baby-Sitters Club to get an inside look at how the programming stays true to its original messaging, including female empowerment and entrepreneurialism while concurrently highlighting societal realities including, single-parent households, living with impairments, bullying, and belonging. At the heart of The Baby-Sitters Club, we find middle school girls leading the way to a better world.

Introducing Rachel Shukert

Mary Ellen Holden: Please tell us how your experience as an author and onset producer for GLOW prepared you for this role?

Rachel Shukert: GLOW is about women trying to do something important together. This is like The Baby-Sitters Club, where girls, who appear to be quite different from each other on the surface, share important goals as they build the Club. In both cases, I was working with complicated characters who are good people at heart. GLOW was a gift as there is no substitute for three years of hands-on experience learning how to solve a puzzle. It was also incredible to work with Geena Davis. I feel lucky as it’s so rare to have powerful people listening to you as a woman. This was a very natural progression from being an author digging into characters. I am in awe of Ann M. Martin and wanted her to be happy with the adaptation and spirit of the series.

Mary Ellen Holden: What was it about The Baby-Sitters Club that excited you?

Rachel: I was obsessed as a kid. I binged the books when I was about eight years old which was the precursor to binge-watching. I wanted to become one. It is an exciting project at this time as I come at it from a parents’ perspective. It feels hopeful. When Ann came to the set, we were all awestruck, I burst into tears when she gave me a signed copy of the book with a very personal inscription.

Mary Ellen Holden: How did diversity and inclusion inform this series?

Rachel: The books were inclusive for the time. We expanded the inclusion that Ann started as we wanted the series to be reflective of the world that kids live in today. In the books, Claudia was Asian American, and Jessi Ramsey was an important Black character who appeared later in the series. On Netflix, Mary Anne is biracial; her white father is a bit tentative as he tries to figure out the best way to raise a daughter of color. Dawn is written as a quintessential California girl (typically white and blond), yet she is portrayed by a Latina who is outspoken [onset] about social justice. I view this as a mindful organic shift two decades forward as opposed to reimagining the series.

Diversity and inclusivity extend beyond the five core girls. For example, the parents aren’t all heterosexual and white. We used storytelling as a device to deepen understanding. Perhaps one of my favorite episodes was when Claudia’s grandmother Mimi had a stroke. She took Claudia and the audience on a Japanese American journey, which was a story I wanted to tell as she relived her experience in internment camps. It reminded me of stories my grandfather told when he was suffering from dementia; he referenced a time when he was a refugee from Poland. It was very frightening.

Mary Ellen Holden: Who is the target audience for this series?

Rachel: It appeals to a broad swath of people and is great family viewing. I wanted it to be fun for younger people to watch in the way that we are connected to the books; but I also wanted it to appeal to their parents who might have read the books

Mary Ellen Holden: What do you see as the future of young adult programming?

Rachel: More Baby-Sitters Club! The thing I really like about this show is that it honors and recognizes that kids aren’t just kids; but also, human beings who are going to become grown-ups. I would like to see more emotional seriousness. What I like about these books and the series is that it operates on this very human scale. When I graduated college, my professor said, I urge you to do things with great love because that’s how you change the world. I believe he is right.

The Baby-Sitters Club – Cast Close-Up

The main cast includes Sophie Grace (Kristy Thomas), Malia Baker (Mary Anne Spier), Momona Tamada (Claudia Kishi), Shay Rudolph (Stacey McGill), and Xochitl Gomez (Dawn Schafer) all voracious fans of Martin’s books and with personal connections to the series.

Mary Ellen Holden: Are you similar to or different from the character that you portray?

Momona: I relate to Claudia; I love, love, love candy, and art; I’m also super creative. While playing Claudia, I’ve grown and connected to my character more.

Shay: I related to Stacey as a person and her fashion sense. I’ve started becoming more interested in clothes and wearing funny outfits. I care about my friends more than anything else in the world and put my friendships first before boys and fashion.

Sophie: We have a remarkably similar personality – we’re both natural leaders, very driven, and I like to think that I’m intelligent! We both come from large families. It was cool to see while I mainly identified with Kristy, I found bits and pieces of each of the other characters to relate to.

Malia: Like Mary Anne, I am very shy. I feel like I have grown out of my shell just like she has. She’s also genuinely kind, warm-hearted, and funny. I also see myself in other characters like Kristy because she can be pretty bossy.

Xochitl: I have the same personality, strong will and empathy that Dawn has for others. I think the difference is that Dawn is way more into politics than I am and has a much larger vocabulary. I underline words and look them up.

Mary Ellen Holden: Did you ever think that you’d become a role model?

Momona: Reading the books, I looked up to Claudia as a role model, so the pressure is there to be the role model for younger generations. I never expected this to happen so soon.

Shay: Being the youngest sibling I never really thought of myself as a role model. Then I realized how iconic and powerful my female character was onscreen and that kids look up to her. This portrayal made me into a role model.

Sophie: Kristy was my role model for a portion of my life, and it is so humbling and honoring to be considered anything like her for other kids. I’m so excited to get that opportunity.

Malia: I do feel that I am a role model and that the show gave me the platform to fully voice my opinions. When I was younger, I always had this gut feeling that I was going to do something amazing. And, I am.

Xochitl: I always hoped it could happen, but historically there aren’t great role models for Latina girls, so I didn’t imagine. But I’m so glad that it is happening and that I’ll be the one performing the groundbreaking person that girls will look up to in the future and maybe hope.

Mary Ellen Holden: What does representation matters mean to you?

Momona: It’s super important to see all types of representations and the impact of diversity onscreen. I’m already super grateful to be part of that, and I also love how the series celebrates all types of backgrounds.

Shay: To be comfortable in your skin and in all forms of representation. It means that you don’t need to feel ashamed of who you are (especially with my character and diabetes). Just because you have an illness doesn’t make you any less of a person. I’m so glad that there are characters that will make kids feel seen and celebrated.

Sophie: Every little kid watching can see someone that looks like them; just thinking someone looks like you can make you feel less alone. I’m excited to be a part of a show that has so much representation; its crucially important. I can see how the Geena Davis Institute motto “If she can see it, she can be it” plays into that whole concept that representation does matter.

Malia: Representation does matter; we don’t even realize how much we pay attention to the screen. Being a girl of color can go far by using the platform for good.

Xochitl: I feel like I have seen your motto (If she can see it, she can be it) and wrote it down on my school notebook. It’s so important how a Latina character is represented on the show, not just bikini girls but, interesting people with interesting lives.

Mary Ellen Holden: What advice do you have for females/culturally diverse females entering this industry?

Momona: Go with your gut; just be you.

Shay: Stay you authentically. You’re perfect just the way you are, and that’s great.

Sophie: Believe in yourself. Work hard, stay driven, and never lose sight of your goal.

Malia: Don’t listen to anyone. Look for a role that fits your race. Stay grounded and listen to your inner voice because that is the only voice that you’ve got to trust and agree with.

Xochitl: Develop your own story and put it out there because there might not be opportunities if you don’t.

Mary Ellen Holden: What was your most surprising learning about yourself onset?

Momona: My character influenced my fashion sense and made me more open minded. I also learned the importance of family history.

Shay: I learned how much I love the process of being on set with these amazing girls. I also realized how much I like fashion – it got me out of the habit of wearing jeans and a tee-shirt every day.

Sophie: I realized how much I loved acting. I was surprised by how much I related to Kristy – it was a Hannah Montana moment. It’s kind of weird stepping into someone else’s life.

Malia: I can be patient, but I also have strong opinions that I can voice. Other girls aren’t ready to voice their opinions, which makes me think that I should try to take advantage of that.

Xochitl: The series gave me the opportunity to express my voice and to be that bold.

June 24, 2020

Bias & Inclusion in Advertising: An Analysis of 2019 Cannes Lions Work

Today at LIONS Live, Cannes Lions and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, have released the results of a major study that examines representations of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+, disability, age, and body size in Cannes Lions ads from 2006 – 2019. The Bias and Inclusion in Advertising Study shows that progress for women in ads seems to have stalled, and although the representation of characters of colour has declined overall, there has been a marked improvement in screen time in the past decade.

June 23, 2020

New Institute Study Shows Top-Rated TV Content Reinforces Male Stereotypes: Aggressive, Uncaring, Hands-Off Parenting

A groundbreaking research study, “If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representations of Masculinity in Boys’ Television,” finds that male characters on the most popular TV shows for boys (7-13 years old) are portrayed as aggressive, uncaring, and as hands-off parents. The report launched today by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, in collaboration with Promundo and the Kering Foundation, is part of a series of new research and resources from the Global Boyhood Initiative. See Executive Summary. Read Full Study. Download Toolkit for parents and content creators.

June 18, 2020

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media Holds Social Justice Teach In

The Institute held a virtual 5-day Social Justice Teach In for our members that covered Social Justice Movements, Hollywood’s Hidden History of Race and Gender Codes, Why Media Representation Matters, How to Be an Effective Ally and Developing a Personal Action Plan. Access the Resource Toolkit from these sessions.

June 02, 2020

For Our Members: 6/23 Virtual See Jane Salon: “If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representation of Masculinity in Boys’ Television”

Join the Institute in partnership with Promundo and the Kering Foundation for the launch of new research on how masculinity is portrayed in the most popular television shows among boys age 7-13, and hear from panelists Justin Baldoni, Wade Davis and Joshua Rush on media makers can have a positive impact by creating diverse and healthy representations of boys and men onscreen. Learn more about the benefits of becoming a member.

May 13, 2020

Institute Receives Two Gracie Awards

Two projects executive produced by Geena Davis and Institute CEO Madeline Di Nonno were recognized with the Alliance for Women in Media Foundations Gracie Awards. The Gracies recognize individual achievement and exemplary programming created by, for and about women in all facets of media and entertainment. This Changes Everything, airing on Starz won the award for best documentary, is an investigative look and analysis of gender disparity in Hollywood, featuring accounts from well-known actors, executives, and artists in the Industry. Mission Unstoppable (Watch Preview) received the Gracie Award for best Family Series. Produced by Litton Entertainment in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN® Initiative, the show airs weekly on CBS and features women STEM role models in a fun and innovative way to educate and inspire the next generation of STEM pioneers.

May 11, 2020

Discover how Disney Juniors new series Mira Royal Detective celebrates a vibrant, diverse and magical culture!⁠

Check out our exclusive interview with the voice of Mira, Leela Ladnier where she talks about Mira as a role model for young boys and girls as well as her own experiences with diversity.⁠ “Stay true to yourself; and, let the appreciation you have of your culture shine through. Remember who you are and never forget where you came from because your background is only going to help you push forward.”⁠

March 03, 2020

​Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media Study Finds Gender Parity in Family Films

The newest study released from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media indicates that 2019 saw just as many female lead characters in family films as male lead characters. In 2007, just 24% of family films featured female characters in lead roles. Last year, 48% of the 100 top-grossing family movies featured lead female characters. See the complete findings.