Doc McStuffins, Geena Davis (inset) Doc McStuffins, Geena Davis (inset)

Once upon a time, Oscar winner and feminist supreme Geena Davis was unhappy with the gender inequality in preschool programming — so unhappy that she established the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an organization that works within the entertainment industry to improve gender balance and reduce female stereotyping. So how come she's playing a Disney princess? Because this one kicks butt! On July 11, Davis will voice the role of Peri, an adventurous princess doll, on the Disney Channel hit Doc McStuffins (9:30 a.m./8:30c).

"Peri is a wonderful and nontraditional princess who is trapped in a tower but rescues herself," says Davis. "There is a knight doll trying to save her and they end up having a contest to see who can do knightly things better — and finally he has to concede that princesses can do anything knights can do."

Check out this exclusive TV Guide Magazine preview of Princess Peri in action:

Doc McStuffins, about a little African-American girl who wants to become a doctor, is a "game-changer," notes Davis, who has taken her equality message to all the networks and studios. "Disney," she says, "has been by far the most interested and responsive." The actress was especially impressed by a twist in the studio's recent blockbuster Maleficent. "True love's kiss does not come from a prince," Davis says. "And that's very cool."

So, then, things are a lot better? Not really. "People in the entertainment industry will frequently tell me that gender inequality has been fixed, pointing to films like The Hunger Games and Bridesmaids and Frozen but the actual number of female characters on screen is not improving, despite the perception that it is," Davis says. "In fact, the numbers haven't changed at all in the last 20 years."

Even more shocking, this inequality also extends to crowd scenes. "Only17 percent of the characters in crowds are women — and that's the case in both live action and animation," Davis says. "It's a real shame that we've made it all the way to the 21st century yet we still teach our children that this is a world of imbalance and unfairness. We absolutely must fix this."

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!