Gender isn’t just about the binary (women/men). Truly inclusive representation also features trans women and non-binary femme-presenting people. Built with input from community partners, these U.S.-focused insights to help inform and create work that positively and authentically reflects women, including trans women and femme-presenting people who identify as gender expansive.
Developed in partnership with the GEENA DAVIS INSTITUTE ON GENDER IN MEDIA
Think beyond the gender binary
Make a point to include men, women, and gender expansive individuals across the gender spectrum in your content. You have the power to shift societal acceptance of people who face severe marginalization simply by including gender expansive individuals in everyday settings and storylines.
Recognize that gender representations are relative
Gender bias does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, men are often portrayed as having more value and power in relation to others. While the depiction of an individual may not seem biased on its own, it could be in relation to others. For example, consider a car ad featuring a married heterosexual couple where the husband makes the final purchase decision. Be on the lookout for gender bias that shows up in how individuals are positioned in relation to others.
Challenge traditional gender roles
Society in the United States is trending toward less rigid gender roles – a positive trend since research links these rigid beliefs to limited career choices for women, less happiness in romantic relationships, and lower well-being. The vast majority (81%) of Generation Z believe that “gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to” (source). Actively challenge traditional gender roles through the individuals you cast and the authentic stories you tell. For example, show women in STEAM careers, performing manual labor, or as CEOs. Conversely, showing men as stay-at-home dads or the emergency contact for their kid’s school, for example, can also support the positive portrayal of women. The inclusion of same-sex parents can also challenge traditional gender roles.
Eliminate tired tropes and stereotypes
Avoid tropes and stereotypes that reduce women, men, and gender expansive people to gender caricatures or clichés. For example, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recommends stepping away from the "Battle of the Sexes" trope and stories in which women "beat" men. Avoid using the “Female Competition” trope that depicts women as “naturally” in competition with one another. Instead, portray individuals as they really are – complex and multi-dimensional with different backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets. Build richer, more authentic portrayals by telling real stories and showing each individual’s many dimensions.
Reflect women in the real world
Get real about beauty
Research shows that girls and women who internalize the idea that their bodies are the most important thing about themselves suffer from higher rates of depression, eating disorders, body hatred and shame, and lower self-esteem. Move away from depictions of women that perpetuate unattainable standards of beauty. Include women who do not physically fit traditional (and outdated) definitions of femininity. For example, show women with large, muscular body types, big facial features, small breasts, uneven skin, short hair, a lower voice, androgynous clothing, etc. Challenge the idea that girls and women should primarily be valued for the way they look.
Show women taking control of their destiny
Lean into ambitious, confident, assertive portrayals of women, showing grit in realistic, believable scenarios. Show women and femme-identifying characters as genuine, nuanced, flawed, taking risks, in charge, and doing cool things. Avoid stereotypical depictions of women as submissive and self-doubting. Reject overplayed “empowerment” storylines, like the “little girl with gusto” trope, that are no longer progressive because they are too emotionally manipulative.
Recognize that masculinity matters
When we say “gender,” we tend to think of a stereotypical definition of a woman, but rigid gender norms also harm men. Boys and men get the message from a young age that “real men” are expected to act tough, be in charge, be aggressive, bury their emotions, and not seek help when they are hurting. Research finds that there is considerable societal pressure for men to fit into the “man box,” and those who do have higher rates of depression, are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, and are less likely to seek help when needed (source). Depict healthier versions of masculinity that encourage boys and men to embrace their full humanity. Actively reject representations that reinforce limiting and harmful ideas of what it means to be a “real man.”