Actor and women’s advocate Geena Davis — Thelma in the 1991 hit ‘neo-feminist’ movie Thelma & Louise — was in Seattle Monday evening calling for a renewed women’s movement worldwide.
“We’re due for a resurgence of the women’s movement,” Davis said to a packed room at Seattle Town Hall. Though the Seattle crowd was by far mostly women and girls, she spoke earlier in the day on the Microsoft campus in Redmond to a packed room of mostly men. The event was sponsored by Global Washington.
Davis, who was in town stumping for her philanthropy, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, spent a lot of time fielding questions and criticizing the way women are portrayed — and perceived — in Hollywood and throughout the media. But her concerns are much more global.
Davis repeatedly emphasized that many, if not all, of the international community’s goals (the Millennium Development Goals) for fighting poverty and improving the welfare of those living in the poorest parts of the world depend upon improving the circumstances of women and girls.
“We need to make people realize that these issues, of social justice and poverty, are women’s issues,” she said. “It’s a mistake to think there are ‘women’s issues’ over here and these other problems over there.”
The vast majority of people living in extreme poverty are women and yet many of the organizations and philanthropies who have made fighting poverty their primary mission neglect to prioritize women’s issues — as this article today in Inter Press describes.
“This is not about women versus men, one group over another,” emphasized Chris Grumm, a health educator and women’s advocate who most recently was CEO of the Women’s Funding Network. Grumm, along with moderator Andrea Taylor of Microsoft’s corporate giving program, joined Davis on the stage at Town Hall.
What Grumm and Davis were calling for was a women’s movement that, at its core, is about equity, social justice and opportunity for all. The rationale for focusing on women and girls, both said, is that if you don’t improve women’s rights — if we don’t empower girls — we’ll never succeed at these broader, loftier goals for all of humanity.
At the event, many noted that the word ‘feminist’ has become tainted. Davis got a laugh when she noted the reaction she got from critics and many in the public when she described one of her other movies about women baseball players, A League of Our Own, as a feminist movie.
“They reacted as if I said I have sex with animals,” Geena. It’s a symptom of the problem in our culture, she said, since all feminism is really about is trying to ensure equal rights for women. “It’s actually an incredibly simple concept.”
At the question and answer period, many asked about how the public can affect change — either through the movies they watch or at their local level. One well-spoken young girl (I didn’t get her name but there’s her photo at right) stood in the audience line and when it was her turn, pulled down the microphone to say:
“Honestly, I think the problem starts in middle school,” she said, describing the social pressure to be pretty, skinny and attractive. What can young girls do, she said, to combat peer pressure and to make being a feminist as cool as, say, Kim Kardashian?
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
That right there is sign of progress, they seemed to be saying.