Famous Faces Inspire Women This Week in the City

Wednesday, May 12, 2010  |  Updated 9:15 AM PDT
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Famous Faces Inspire Women This Week in the City

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 When Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis was young, she and a female  friend pretended to be male characters from the 1958 TV series "The  Rifleman," she told a group of women and girls in San Francisco today.

      The problem, she explained, was that there weren't any women on TV  or in movies who she wanted to emulate.
     
And although it feels as though women have made great strides,  whether in media representation or politics, the truth is women are still  underrepresented in both sectors, she said.
     
Davis was speaking at the 21st annual Professional Business Women  of California conference, which Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco,  founded 21 years ago as an opportunity for women to "tune up, network and be  inspired."
     
The conference hosted workshops for women and girls ranging from  high school students to female executives, according to Ann Barlow, president  of the Professional Business Women of California. About 3,500 women attended  this year's event.
     
Several keynote speakers, including Speier, reiterated or expanded  upon Davis's message: there's no conspiracy against women, but there are  disparities that go unnoticed. These disparities have been accepted as the  status quo, and women are often undervalued or treated as second-class  citizens as a result, the presenters said.
     
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently completed a  study in conjunction with the University of Southern California in Los  Angeles that found male characters outnumber female characters 3 to 1 in  programming aimed at children.
     
In group scenes, just 17 percent of the characters are female,  Davis said. The vast majority are highly stereotyped or dressed in  provocative clothing, she said.
     
"We judge our value by seeing ourselves reflected in culture,"  Davis said. "So we're acculturating the next generation to feel women are  lesser."
     
Davis said studies show that the more TV girls watch, the more  limited they feel. Boys also become increasingly sexist as their viewing  hours increase.
     
Another keynote speaker, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, said women hold  just 15 percent of Congressional seats and fill even fewer leadership  positions in other fields.
     
She believes this is directly related to the lack of female role  models shown in the media and the way women, especially ones in power, are  mocked or trivialized.
     
"So many of these images are demeaning and hyper-sexualized," she  said before her speech. "We want to show (the girls here) what they can  become."
     
It's not just in media that women are complicity treated as  second-class citizens, other speakers said.
     
Until health care reform was passed in March, gender  discrimination in health care was not only rampant, but also legal, Speier  argued in her address.
   
It was legal to charge women more for their individual plans just  for being women, and the National Women's Law Center found women were charged  up to 140 percent more for their plans than men were, Speier said. A  40-year-old male smoker could pay less than the average 40-year-old woman for  coverage.
     
Some health insurance companies considered Cesarean sections and  domestic violence pre-existing conditions and denied women coverage based  upon them, she said.
     
"It is no longer going to be a pre-existing condition to be a  woman in America," she told the crowd.
Bay City News  

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