Why Feminism Matters: The Media

This is the third and final piece of a 3-part series dealing with only a few of the reasons feminism matters. Feminism matters for many diverse reasons, but the three topics I chose reflect some things closer to my life today.

Do you ever get tired of walking down the street when a car driving by slows down–basically stops–and it’s a guy driving and he’s checking you out in the creepiest way possible, creepiness amplified because he’s stopped where there is no stop sign and is very obviously staring at you? (Wow, what a sentence!)

I definitely get tired of this. It’s not like this is a boyfriend looking at me saying, “Hey, you look stunning today.” It’s some stranger causing a traffic jam because he thinks it’s appropriate to stop and stare at me while I walk.

Can I just say upfront? I am not here for your pleasure!

Why does this happen? This and my first post in this series are inexplicably linked. While it is true there are always multiple causes to one event or trend, it is very clear that depictions of women in the media lead to this kind (and other kinds) of behavior.


Logo image very telling. Watch the film MissRepresentation

Logo image very telling. Watch the film MissRepresentation

One of the most obvious trends in media (film, TV, advertisements, social media) is the overt sexualization of women, even young girls. The saying goes, “Sex sells.” But what does it sell? A product? If you are trying to sell a product by sexualizing a woman’s body, aren’t you by default trying to sell her? More specifically, her body?

And that in a nutshell is exactly what sexualizing women in the media does: it changes women and girls from actual human beings with thoughts, dreams, and aspirations into objects and various “parts” to be bought, sold, stared at, assaulted, raped, degraded–do I need to go on?

And this isn’t just a problem because one can say it’s inappropriate. It affects the viewer, both male and female. Men and boys begin to see women in the media as objects, and that translates into seeing the women in their lives as objects. And when women and girls see objectified women in the media, they begin to internalize it and self-objectify, meaning they begin to see themselves as objects. Beauty Redefined, a non-profit organization, has done years of research on this subject and the effects thereof that I can’t even begin to briefly sum up on this post.

But what it really comes down to is, if you’ve got an entire population believing that half of said population is no more than an object, you’ve got some serious problems. And I don’t even know where to begin writing about them because there are so many! Maybe a list? Okay.

  • An increase in eating disorders

  • An increase in depression

  • A lack of ambition–studies show that when women and girls are taught that their value lies in their bodies they are less likely to pursue meaningful life paths and relationships, perform worse in school, and are less likely to adopt healthy habits

  • An inability to be sexually assertive (this includes saying NO when needed)

  • Feelings of shame and guilt

  • Low self-esteem

  • Relationships between women and men become warped (men see women as only there for pleasure, women see themselves as only worthwhile if given attention by men)

  • Rape culture is perpetuated

  • People begin to use their bodies for manipulation

I hope, dear reader, you can see from this list that the sexualization of women and girls is not without serious consequence.

Death & Violence

Violence in advertising

Violence in advertising

There is also this horrifying trend in which advertisers will photograph models in “dead” poses and makeup. I’m against posting any examples of this because they are highly disturbing. But basically, women are in positions suggesting death and violence, with makeup and faces also indicating death. In addition, these photos frequently include positions that combine death with sexuality. Creepy, right? Who are they trying to sell to? Necrophiliacs?

There are three major problems with this that should seem obvious but I’m going to break it down.

First is the depiction of death. Really? We’re trying to sell clothing, makeup, perfume, cars, shoes, whatever by making women look dead? What the…?

And this is really close to number two: violence. In fact, death and violence are almost never exclusive in these advertisements. The photos depict death by violence against a woman by a man. I hope you can guess what I’m going to say next: this kind of advertising perpetuates violence against women and makes it okay. Which is not okay.

Modern violence

Modern violence (comparatively mild)

Third, in addition to death and violence, these dead and beaten women are often in sexual positions. Add it all up and you’ve got a violent rape scene that ended in death. Really. That’s what many of these advertisements look like.

Can I just ask the obvious (and I’ll try not to swear)? Who decided it is okay to depict dead rape victims as high fashion advertisements? It is just so twisted I can’t formulate a logical sentence.

Women In TV and Movies

Thousands of years from now, when archaeologists or aliens stumble upon remaining media from our time, they will think the population of men far outreached the population of women. They will think women from our time didn’t do much… they just looked “sexy” and waited around for men to do everything. They will think women never associated with each other–and on the rare occasion they did socialize, it was only to talk about men.

Inequality in TV and Film

Inequality in TV and Film

What I just described is how women are depicted in mainstream media.

In movies, even if the protagonist is female (which is increasingly rare), she is very often the only female in the whole movie, and if there is another female, they likely don’t talk to each other or even see each other. And most of the time, the female character arc revolves around men. Men coming to the rescue, men saving women from spinsterhood, men making sure she moves forward with the plot. Now, there isn’t always something inherently wrong with plots like that. But when those recycled ideas become the only representation of women we see, that is a huge problem.

And we have a huge problem.

When women in film and TV are removed from socializing with other women (except to discuss men), and are depicted as sexy, solitary, damsels in distress (somehow even the smart, independent women end up filling this role!), it forces women to play the role of only having purpose when in front of the male gaze.

There are so many examples of this, but a really good one is “The Tourist” starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Angelina Jolie’s character is depicted as clever, independent, strong, smart. All good things. But can you name another female character? And even though the story began with her, what did the plot rely on? Johnny Depp.

The movie starts with Jolie walking down a Parisian sidewalk. She is being followed and watched by an ambiguous governmental entity (make of that what you will). As she walks, the men operating the van and cameras that follow her zoom in on her butt and pan up and down. The men in the van laugh. Obviously this is appropriate because the female body is only there to be gawked at in perverted ways. (I was being facetious just then, in case you didn’t catch that.) And did I mention that these same guys asked each other, “Underwear or no underwear today?” Because a woman’s undergarments are absolutely a man’s business! Bloody Hell!

After that enlightening introduction, the story progresses with Jolie being at the beck and call of various men, being rescued by various men, etc. No women.

This is just one example of many that depict women this way: their only purpose to entertain and follow men.

So what happens because of all this? Marian Wright Edelman said it quite clearly when she said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” What we see day to day directly affects what we think we can and cannot be.

I’m a big believer in books (they do exist!) and reading them. Books take me everywhere, give me ideas and insights, open worlds, teach me possibilities. But despite my love of books and seeing numerous possibilities, it wasn’t until I started watching Fox’s “Bones” that it occurred to me that I could major in Anthropology.

Sure, I was never opposed to science. I liked it, in fact. And I had taken an Anthropology class or two and loved them. But I had never seen a woman scientist–fictional or otherwise. And there is absolutely an argument that I shouldn’t rely on TV to give me ideas of what I can and can’t be. Believe me, it was a shock given I’m not that attached to TV (Doctor Who excepted, of course). But the reality is, whether we watch TV and movies a lot or infrequently, we are still impacted by the media. It is almost inescapable.

What would be really great is if TV and movies reflected men and women equally. Imagine that. Equal. Equal in numbers, equal in depth and character value, equal in representation of protagonists. Wouldn’t that just rock? (It really would.)

One of the many (lame) arguments for why there are very few female protagonists is that people just don’t go see those movies. Because, you know, only men go watch movies. (Am I laying on the sarcasm a little thick? If I am it is out of sheer frustration.)

This argument is ridiculous for two main reasons: First, it completely ignores half the population and second, it assumes that men (the supposed primary audience) only care about other men and therefore don’t want to watch movies or TV about women.

I know plenty of men. And I have never heard a single one say, “You know, I really only go for movies that only star men. I hate girls. Ew.” I submit a new way of thinking: we make movies for people starring all kinds of people. Because people are the ones watching the movies. (I also think we should do away with the notion of “chick flick” but that’s a slightly different topic.)

What this boils down to is: The media is doing horrible things to women. But, media is consumer driven. As a consumer you have the power to applaud companies and filmmakers that portray women as real people. You have the power to turn off the TV or not buy that product if what you see is disrespectful to humanity. And let me point out, degrading women–or ANYONE–is disrespectful to humanity as a whole.

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