Gender in the Media

Last week, senior Alyssa Jones focused on gender stereotypes in the media for her senior presentation. Her courage in tackling this topic, which stirred controversy on campus despite the well established ideas she put forward, was the epitome of an education in Truth and Courage, as is her message. At a time of year when we are inundated with messages about products and many of us feel compelled to buy products as gifts, her message is even more important. Here is the bulk of Alyssa's presentation, edited for length, and without the powerful images that accompanied her talk. I hope you will be inspired to think further about this important topic and perhaps even to take action, as Alyssa encourages us to do.

Media literacy is a repertoire of competencies that enable people to analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres, and formats. This essentially means that media literacy is the ability to interpret what we see everyday in advertisements, TV shows, movies, magazines, etc.  It is important because It allows us to understand how decisions about advertisements and media are made, to know that the goal is to make money, and to make decisions and form thoughts for ourselves rather than just being told what to do and think. It also teaches critical thinking and encourages creativity.

Media Literacy can be used in a variety of different ways, but today I am going to focus on Gender Roles in our Media. From a very young age distinct roles are place on boys and girls to look and act a certain way....These are images of toy aisles selling girl's and boy's toys. Again, the girl's section is pink while the boy's is blue. They are very separated and taught from early on that boys and girls have different interests, which isn't necessarily true. I think girls should be allowed to enjoy pink and boys should be allowed to enjoy blue, but it shouldn't be the only option for children.

A very common girls' toy is dolls. For the most part girls' toys have unrealistic, passive bodies, focus on beauty and fashion, romance, or home life, have little or no back story,  do not have parts to build or assemble, while in comparison boys' toys also have unrealistic bodies but usually ones that are strong and muscular, come with in depth back stories, promote action and violence, have parts to assemble or build.

This separation of genders in media and portrayals of strong and weak bodies continue into adulthood. Ads about women, even sports ones, often tend to be more geared towards being beautiful and finding a sex partner. Men's sports ads however promote health, action, strength, overcoming obstacles, and often violence. Now, there's this idea that women are portrayed the way they are in media because sex sells. But let's think about that for a minute. If sex sells, and 51% of our population is female, why do we rarely see scantily clad, sexualized men in advertisements for women?

People do not realize that not even models look like models. In almost every magazine and commercial women, as well as men, are photoshopped beyond belief. This gives people incredibly unrealistic views about the human body. It leads to high rates of depression, eating disorders, and anxiety in women. The thing that bothers me the most is how much they photoshop the skin, so that the model no longer has pores and looks like plastic.

So why is it an issue that media portrays gender these ways? Because it forces people to try and conform and fit in small, stereotyped boxes. when people do not fit in the boxes they are told they need to be in they become alienated from society and it can lead to a variety of mental and physical health problems, as well as cause other people to act violently towards them.

91% of women want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat, 50% of commercials aimed at girls discuss physical attractiveness. The average U.S. woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 lbs whereas the average U.S. model is 5’11” and weighs 117 lbs. 30% of women choose an ideal body shape that is 20% underweight and 44% chose an ideal body shape that is 10% underweight. Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression; about 12 million women in the U.S. suffer from depression each year.

In conclusion, our media needs to change. You may be wondering what you can do to change it, because you are just one person out of millions. I used to feel that way too, but I learned that the power is in the individual. If you keep on waiting for someone else to step up and fix the problem, it will never be fixed. The first step is education. Read up on media literacy and gender discrimination, and take note of it in your own life. If you see something offensive don't be afraid to contact advertisers, magazine companies, and CEO's to tell them how you feel. And no matter how grim the world looks, never give in. Always stand up for what you know is right, even if you are the only person.