Media is perhaps the most pervasive force shaping our cultural norms and our self-concept. The collective message delivered by media about the value and power of girls, young women and women undeniably shapes and molds us all in varying degrees. But nothing is quite so obtrusive today as the media’s obsession with, and let’s face it, blatant attack on women and girls. In the media, women are objectified, “things” to be used to make sales and “things” to be sold to.
The discourse the media has with women and girls is detrimental, and it starts early. Consider this short video where little girl consumer, Riley shares her frustration about being sold princesses and pink stuff. Media effects how we are viewed as girls and women and how boys and men then go on to see and treat us. This cycle is only further entrenched in our culture, when we play into these negative, untrue caricatures we see of women. Consider for instance that despite the fact women have advanced leaps and bounds since the time of the repressed and depressed 1950’s housewife archetype, the media still advocates and preserves this out dated and very limited representation of womanhood. You’d think people would choose not to buy into these time bound myths, but we only have to look to the proliferation of blogs and websites, advocating the return of the 60’s housewife, to see that many of us do indeed, buy in, hook line and sinker.
The media doesn’t just dictate what we watch; its destructive force has been engrained into our collective psyches making it near impossible to view women as anything but less than men and often less than human. It is worth mentioning females in particular in relation to the media because men and boys are just not attacked or marginalized in the same way and this is why the media has the ability to wreck such havoc at the heart of the gender divide. Consider watching Misrepresentation, a recent documentary which makes a compelling case for how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in influential positions and challenges the media’s limiting and often disparaging portrayals of women.
The majority of mainstream news coverage employs men as their expert witnesses: in business, politics and economics. Women are most likely to cover weather, family/children topics, lifestyle and fashion and if they are lucky, stories featuring domestic violence, natural disasters and accidents. Female presence in film and television is even scarcer. Consider some of the statistics available through the Gina Davis Institute. On average for every one female on the big screen there are at least four males. We see men in leading roles, as endearing heroes and compelling villains, kings and saints, who have the ability to captivate audiences and enthral millions worldwide. The reality for women is very different; overwhelmingly we are cast as “supporting” leads, as struggling wives and mothers, whores and waitress-wannabe-actresses all of whom share the common character arch of wanting and/or needing the love, attention and protection of a man. Men have beaten out women for Academy Awards by a landslide and we don’t have to ponder too hard to realize this is due to the poor representation and shameless misrepresentation of women in the media.
It’s our job to critically analyse what the media is feeding us. We need to debunk these myths of beauty, womanhood and femininity not only for ourselves but for the young girls and boys we work with every day. We need to support and encourage girls and boys to think for themselves, to unpack these complex and loaded issues, to be socially and politically aware so they are then able to go out into the world as equals and be willing and prepared to advocate for equity. When we support gender equality, and encourage others to as well, we will see the gender divide bridged and detrimental gender stereotypes diminish. When girls are given an equal playing field there won’t be grounds for men to maintain a derogatory view, or for boys to learn it. It is impossible to stress just how damaging the media’s misrepresentation of women is to developing children and young people. The media we are exposed to as children is one of the first ways we learn to relate to the world. The implications of girls and boys not having the ability to evaluate what is being sold to them is we risk them accepting these false and highly unrealistic portrayals of women and further extending our inequality.
Ceilidh Craig – Student