Meghan Markle teams up with Geena Davis to change our perception of TV moms

Before anyone knew her as the Duchess of Sussex, Suits the fans knew Meghan Markle for her role as Rachel Zane, the fan-favorite wry and intelligent paralegal on the USA Network show. Mirroring Meghan’s 2018 journey down the aisle and her pivot to philanthropy, Rachel’s seven-season story also ended with marriage and a big job in a new city. Now a mother of two, Meghan is setting her sights on the next phase of life as it appears on the small screen. The Duchess teams up with the actor Geena Davis and Moms First, a long-standing charitable partner of the Archewell Foundation, to raise awareness of how television portrays characters who are mothers, supported by data collected from programs throughout 2022.

On Thursday, Moms First and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media shared the results of a study that shows these portrayals do not always reflect reality and argues that change is necessary if we are to change attitudes and public policies. The study, funded by the Archewell Foundation, found that while TV moms have become slightly more diverse, they are still underrepresented as employees and are still largely young, white and thin. In 2022, when a couple with children under 18 had a clear breadwinner, they were men in 86.5% of cases. The study found that child care and the realities of running a home are largely erased.

In an interview with Vanity fair, Davis says she was surprised at how “dated” the various portrayals of moms on TV seemed. “The portrayal of motherhood seemed like a real throwback,” she says. “It didn’t reflect modern reality as accurately as I had hoped or imagined.”

In a statement, Meghan explained why she signed on to the project. “My past experience as an actress, and now as a producer and mother, have amplified my belief in the critical importance of supporting women and moms, behind and in front of the camera,” she said . “This report on the representation of mothers in entertainment highlights the gaps we need to address to achieve true representation in the content we create and consume, and I am honored to support this work through the Archewell Foundation .”

Davis has worked on issues of women’s representation since she founded the institute in 2004, based on the idea that presenting film producers and executives with numbers on gender disparity in media could lead to tangible change. “Images have a profound impact on people’s perceptions of themselves and others, and so they can be used to create good,” she says. “I saw that children’s films and television shows made specifically for children seemed to have a huge gender disparity…. What if we educated children from the beginning to have unconscious gender bias by showing boys as more important and taking up more space in the world?

In the past, the institute has looked at topics such as diversity in media, on-screen gender stereotypes and the industry’s approach to mental health, and findings from studies of the institute had an effect on industry opinions. But for their take on motherhood on TV, they’ve teamed up with Moms First to aim for an even broader impact. When the founder and CEO Reshma Saujani founded the charity under the name “Marshall Plan for Moms” in 2021, Archewell signed up as an early donor. Since then, the organization has pushed for paid leave policies and pushed for reform of the nation’s broken child care system.

“Building Moms First was born out of the pandemic and the fact that millions of women were excluded from the workforce because we live in a country that did not allow mothers to be both mothers and workers,” says Saujani . Her previous experience as the founder of Girls Who Code helped her realize that changing the role of women in any given field means providing opportunity while changing hearts and minds. “For me, it was about asking, ‘What is the impact on culture?’ If you don’t like something, you don’t respect it and you don’t invest in it. When I watched TV, it felt like we weren’t seeing images that truly reflected motherhood in pop culture.

The report notes that only 15% of TV parents are shown carrying out domestic tasks like cooking or cleaning. Yet less than 10% of TV parents had a messy home. Saujani says that only seeing images of perfect homes, without any of the work needed to keep a home running smoothly, can contribute to feelings of “mother’s guilt” and fuel a gender imbalance in household chores. Davis adds that these informal taboos can also limit the imagination of television creators. “We’re not at all saying, ‘Hey, portray mothers better by making them seem even more perfect.’ What we are saying is that they leave aside the realities of motherhood: the difficulties and the challenges,” she says.

Davis says her advocacy work grew out of her experience playing Thelma in 1991. Thelma and Louise and see the film become a cult classic. “I had really wanted to be in the film because I thought they were great characters, but I wasn’t prepared for the reaction he got,” she says. “Suddenly, people wanted to tell me what impact the film had on them. » The characters are complicated, but they were nevertheless important and meaningful to the audience. “It made me suddenly realize that we are not giving women (empowerment films). It’s very rare to give women the experience of being able to identify with female characters and live vicariously through a female character.

Davis mentioned that she didn’t get the chance to play the role of the Duchess in Suits, but she is grateful for the support of the Archewell Foundation. “We love having his support and Archwell’s support,” Davis says. “We can’t do it without such financial support, and it’s obviously a subject close to his heart.”

Saujani thanked Meghan for the work she has done since the pandemic to support the charity and make issues such as paid leave a central part of her platform. “She had a phrase she used to say, and I always steal it from her: The most important title I have is mother,” Saujani says. “The only request is to show our multidimensionality. Show us as both moms and workers, don’t just show one or the other. Show us as we are: both.

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