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Heroes and Babes: will Hollywood ever change? Add to ...

When my son was about six or seven years old, there's one grocery trip that still stands out to me. We were at the checkout, and he was looking at the magazine covers. How come, he asked me, the girls on these magazine are hardly wearing any clothes? Of course, I jumped on this question as an opportunity to discuss the portrayal of women in the media - though, by then, he'd moved on to the chocolate bars.

There's nothing like sitting through a movie with your kids to get you to see it differently. Case in point: those dancing, half naked showgirls in that latest Iron Man flick. Sure, you say, there was the character Pepper Potts - and she did get to the run the company - but in the end, she needed a dramatic rescue from our male hero all the same.

And as any parent of boys can attest, there's nothing like a little "gender equality chat" to get the eyes rolling, which does nothing to assuage the parental worry that beneath their focus on the flashy armour and gadgets, they might be absorbing another message.

Hollywood parents feel no differently, it seems - how many talk about choosing different films once their kids come along? But for actresses, it must be even trickier. Consider Geena Davis, who recently told the New York Times , that she tried to pick strong female roles (in Thelma and Louise) and only played "one housewife" (in Beetlejuice) - who also happened to be dead.

In the pitch meetings, she recalled, she'd often point out the presence of a solitary female character in the plot. "And they would say: 'No, I didn't notice, but I don't think it's really an industry problem anymore. I think it's been fixed.' Then they would mention a movie that had a strong female character, and I would point out that she was the ONLY female character in the whole movie."

Not that kids' movies do much better - how many of the biggest movies cast the girl (while plucky and smart) in the sidekick role? Think Percy Jackson & the Olympians. While perhaps it's heartening to see Disney reconsider the whole princess storyline, the movie industry still stereotypes even its youngest actress in certain roles.

Geena Davis decided to do something about it, by starting her own foundation, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Tomorrow, she's hosting a symposium in Los Angeles for researchers and Hollywood types. She paid for a study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California that analyzed movies from 2004 to 2008.

It confirmed what many women have long noticed about the movies - female actors are almost always paired with much older male stars, and are far more likely to be dressed in skimpy attire than men (in fact, six times more likely, the statistical analysis found).

So, let us know: What movies made you squirm when you watched with your kids? Did you have the gender equality chat with them? How did they respond?

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Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen


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