Where the Girls Aren't – Sexual Imbalance in Film Roles

Geena DavisFavourite family films are so dominated by male characters, they leave children with an impression that girls are not as important as boys, Hollywood star Geena Davis has claimed.

Girls in the lead - Susan Sarandon as Louise, Geena Davis as ThelmaA US study of hit films of the last 15 years shows three out of every four characters are male, bringing calls for Hollywood to strike a better balance and up the number of female roles.

Davis, who starred in Thelma and Louise, unveiled details this weekend from a survey of 101 films, entitled Where the Girls Aren't. She maintained Hollywood was risking giving children a skewed view of the world through films that they see time and again on video and DVD.

"It's important for what kids watch that, as far as possible, they see ... men and women, boys and girls, sharing the space," said Davis.

Davis is the founder of See Jane, which campaigns for better balance in how girls are represented in the media and organised the study. It studied 4,249 characters in live-action and animated films rated G for General audiences in the US - the equivalent of Britain's U, or Universal, rating. The films included 101 Dalmatians, Babe, Fantasia, Princess Diaries and Piglet's Big Movie.

The report points the finger of blame at cartoons in particular, such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story and the more recent Madagascar. In Finding Nemo, for example, the forgetful fish Dory is one of the few females swimming in that particular sea.

The survey found three out of four characters were male. Even off-screen, more than four out of five narrators were males. "The gender imbalance seen on the silver screen can have a strong impact on children ages 0-11," the survey said. "For children, images and stories help influence the important developmental task of understanding what it means to be male or female."

See Jane is part of the Dads & Daughters charity, which campaigns for equal opportunities. The president of Dads & Daughters, Joe Kelly, said: "Just from having watched films with our children, we expected it to be lopsided, but we didn't expect it to be this lopsided. This is not good for girls or for boys."

Mr Kelly cited Toy Story, where the lead characters are Woody, with the voice of Tom Hanks, and Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen. It has only one female toy with a speaking part, Bo Peep. Even Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with a female lead, had seven males, he said.

The group was not advocating a "rigid formula", but parents ought to try and show their children a balanced mix, he said.

Cary Bazalgette, head of education with the UK Film Council, said it a common suggestion in the industry was that "you can get girls to a boys' film, but you can't get boys to a girls' film.” It was the job of British film-makers to try to wean people away from Hollywood stereotypes, she said.