Gender as Portrayed in Media

Posted August 20, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Cultural myths, Entertainment & Hollywood, Gender equality, The Stories We Tell

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I was so impressed when I heard about The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media last spring.  Geena Davis founded this organization out of her own experience watching children’s television shows with her daughter.  She was surprised to note pervasive stereotypes and a lack of female roles, even in 21st century children’s cartoons.  She began the Geena Davis Institute to research and document the effects our current media culture.  Here are some statistics:

  • The aspirations of female characters are limited almost exclusively to finding romance; male characters almost never have “finding romance” as their ultimate goal.
  • The number one occupation of girls and women is royalty (not a likely profession for most of us).
  • Female characters in G-rated movies, from 1990-2010, wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as female characters in R-rated movies.
  • The more hours of TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life; the more hours a boy watches the more sexist his views become.
  • If female characters are added to media programming at the current rate, gender balance won’t occur for 700 years.
(source: Ms. Magazine)

I have commonly heard it argued, in casual conversation, that television and media have little impact on human behavior.  Producers of tv shows, movies, and video games make this claim in the news media all the time!  However, all the research (and common sense!), point to the opposite truth.  An excellent film that played at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival highlights just how destructive our media culture has become.  Please watch the following trailer at your own discretion (disturbing images and language).

*Miss Representation*


Advertising Tells Us ______________

Posted May 9, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Advertising, Beauty, Cultural myths, Entertainment & Hollywood, Gender equality, Gender Violence, The Stories We Tell

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Today, while driving through Sunset Strip (a stretch of Sunset Blvd famous for it’s advertising), I noticed a 100% trend in the images displayed.  It was so obvious, I started looking for exceptions, and couldn’t find any!  This particular month, nearly all the billboards are displaying human figures. The ratio of women to men on the billboards was about 4:1, perhaps more, and the portrayal of these human beings differed dramatically.

Following the classic advertising mantra “sex sells”, the women, without fail, were portrayed either in bikinis, monokinis, bras, topless, or in the act of taking their clothes off (or having them removed by external forces). The unspoken messages in these pictures said that women are passive, readily available, disposable, pretty, and sexy.  The women’s bodies were used to advertise everything from watches to beer to vitamins.  In one advertisement for … beer?  Vegas?  I’m not even sure what it was promoting!…a woman in a barely-there monokini was draped seductively & unconsciously (is that even possible?) over ice, next to some beer.  You could grab a beer, or a woman.  Whatever. Just take whatever you want–you know, human being, beverage, what’s the difference?

On the other hand, the few billboards depicting men advertised upcoming television and film events in which men have the starring role.  Each man was depicted as strong, confident, bold.  This man would control his own destiny, using his wits, his weapons, (and sometimes comedy), as a pirate, a civil war soldier, a kung-fu fighter, a vampire, a prize-fighter.  The unspoken message–that men are active, strong, often violent, and adventure seeking–could not have been clearer.

We take this for granted, because we have been surrounded by advertising culture since infancy (think Mad Men), and longer.  It is such a natural part of our surroundings, we rarely question the way in which these images shape our understanding of self and gender.

When a young girl grows up being bombarded by these kinds of images (and many, many more), what part of herself do you think she’ll focus on?  Will she be encouraged to develop her sharp sense of humor, or increase her self-reliance and determination?  Will she see a world of adventure and possibility lying before her, waiting for her to take bold action?  Will she deepen her compassion by engaging in humanitarian service, or develop wisdom by extensive reading and thoughtful reflection?

There is so much more to being human than these trite gender stereotypes allow.  Since when was being a man all about being tough and violent?  Sure, it’s a persistent theme amongst adolescent boys, but eventually those boys grow up.  Why shouldn’t they grow into articulate, thoughtful men who have developed enough maturity to reason with each other, think before speaking, reflect before acting, and apply wisdom and compassion when problem-solving?

Okay, perhaps it’s an idealized world I’m describing.  The truth is, especially here in Los Angeles, there are plenty of shallow women who only care about appearances.  And likewise, there are plenty of men in this country who believe violence is the answer.  But is this the way it should be?  Is this the kind of world we want for ourselves?  Is this the legacy we leave to our children?

If we are going to change things, then we need to look hard at the cultural forces and attitudes that have brought us here, and decide how we can make things different in the future.  Advertising firms, in particular: I’m looking at you.

If you feel similarly, please don’t sit by and let the world do it’s thing.  Speak up whenever you have an opportunity.  You never know when an ad exec might be listening, or maybe just a young, impressionable mind who needs to hear your words of reason in a culture of insanity!

Also, in case you haven’t seen it, here is a link to a great one-minute film called Beauty Pressure / Onslaught that I mentioned in a previous post.

The truth about advertising:


Posted May 4, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Beauty, Cultural myths, Gender equality, Self Respect, Uncategorized

I’ve haven’t written lately, but there are many thoughts percolating in my mind which will be the subject of a future post.  If I could capture all those thoughts in a single word and put it to music…well, I couldn’t do better than Aretha Franklin’s classic hit! (see YouTube link below)  If anyone has the inclination to put together an entire slideshow of confident women with this as the soundtrack, that would be quite awesome!  Do send me a link, please!

Smart AND Beautiful

Posted March 2, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Beauty, Entertainment & Hollywood, Gender equality, Smart Women

I ran across a great story today about smart actresses who have made important discoveries in science.  Did you know Natalie Portman studied neuroscience at Harvard University?  Or that she made it to the semifinals of the rigorous Intel Science Talent Search as a high schooler?

Natalie Portman, Oscar Winner, Was Also a Precocious Scientist

Natalie Portman at the 2011 Oscars

Maybe if I followed celebrity news more, I would have known that, but what a great piece of news to discover today!  This good news was especially welcome, as it came on the heels of the newly released report by the White House showing that women have made great gains in education, but still lag behind men in earnings.  “At all levels of education, women earned 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009.”  While that is a sad fact, it is encouraging for me to learn that there have been women who have defied the statistics, and been highly successful.

Not only have women like Natalie Portman, Danica McKeller, and Mayim Bialik made a name for themselves in TV and film, they have also made significant contributions in science!  It is one thing to be successful in a cut-throat industry like film & television, but quite another to invest time doing research in a separate field.  I was surprised to learn that film star Hedy Lamarr was also a scientist!

Hedy Lamarr, the actress habitually regarded as “that most beautiful woman in Hollywood,” was a rocket scientist on the side, inventing and patenting a torpedo guidance technique she called “frequency hopping,” which thwarted efforts to jam the signals that kept the missiles on track.

Hedy Lamarr

I loved Lisa Heiserman Perkin’s answer to people who assume that a woman is just a pretty face:

Hedy Lamarr complained bitterly that people would look at her face and assume there was nothing behind it. Perhaps it was a case of projection. “When you see a very beautiful face, it’s stunning, and you yourself become stupefied,” said Lisa Heiserman Perkins, who has completed a documentary about Lamarr. “So you project your own stupidity onto the person you’re looking at.”

Well said.

Now go out there and invent, create, teach, write, discover…whatever it is that you love to do…and leave your own mark!

Breaking the Code of Silence

Posted February 24, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Gender equality, Gender Violence, The Stories We Tell

I happened upon this article today, which came from the Huffington Post, but was also published in the New York Times under the headline “Why We Need Women in War Zones”.  If you have a minute (and the stomach for it), I highly suggest you read it.

Female Foreign Correspondent’s Code of Silence: Finally Broken


artwork by Shannon Freshwater

In a widely-cited article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Judith Matloff writes that women are subjected to a range of sexually harassing behaviours in dangerous environments – from groping and lewd come-ons to rape – but rarely tell their superiors.

“Even when the abuse is rape, few correspondents tell anyone, even friends,” Ms Matloff writes.

“The shame runs so deep – and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong – that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom.”

-BBC News article by Katie Conn0lly

This “code of silence” doesn’t just occur amongst journalists–it is quite common for victims of assault to be silent about what has happened to them.  In my own experience, the more I talk with ordinary women (who are not female foreign press correspondents on dangerous missions!), the more I find that these kinds of stories are far too common.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage for any woman to talk about sexual assault, and I am so grateful for the bravery of Lara Logan in telling her story so openly.  Let us hope her courageous words helps prevent future victimization.  Also, let it stand as a stark reminder that women in all parts of the world need a social revolution…to be treated as human beings by all.

Italian women take a stand

Posted February 15, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Entertainment & Hollywood, Gender equality, Self Respect

I am a couple days late to this discussion, but I have been so inspired by the women in Italy who gathered in support of female dignity last weekend!  The protests were sparked by the behavior of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is on trial for paying an underage prostitute for sex.  The size of the protest took everyone–including the organizers–by surprise.  It drew an estimated million women and men in 230 cities of Italy–including over 100,00 in Rome alone!  The protest showed the depth of frustration over opportunities for Italian women and their one-dimensional portrayal in Italian media.

“It is bitter to admit that in 2011 Italian women have to take to the streets simply to remind us that they have a mind not just a body, while in more civilised countries women campaign for paternity leave, better childcare for working mothers and more progressive adoption laws. But the fact that on Sunday one million demonstrators said “basta!” is a positive and welcome sign to the whole world watching astonished from abroad.” -Guardian News & Media

The Italian Prime Minister, Berlusconi, had a reputation for surrounding himself with starlets, and promoting former showgirls to high government offices.  This, in a country where only one in two women has a paid job, though they graduate at higher rates than men; where women earn 16.8% less than their male counterparts for the same jobs; and where women make up 21% of government ministers.  Italian television, which is directly and indirectly controlled by Berlusconi, has been widely criticized in recent years for depicting women as sex objects.

One woman who came with her family to the Milan rally told CNN that she was “fed up with the way women are portrayed as objects in the Italian media. The way that young girls are glorified by their looks and youth and then what? I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that that is the only way to be … that the only thing that matters is to be pretty and show off their legs. … We are more than that.” -CNN

It doesn’t just happen in Hollywood.  This is a worldwide problem.  It affects girls and boys, women and men in every part of the globe.  And it’s damaging to us all.  That is why I’m so passionate about seeing things change.

I’m encouraged to see such large numbers of women and men taking a stand for equality.  I hope we can all continue to lend our voices and our actions to support human dignity everywhere!  And I am so glad to see this issue being talked about in the news.

What will you do this week to encourage the women in your life?

Best Photo of 2010 – Bibi Aisha

Posted February 12, 2011 by EqualityAdvocate
Categories: Gender Violence, The Stories We Tell

This photo made headlines last year when it was featured in Time Magazine, and it recently received “Best News Picture of 2010” from World Press Photo.  The award recipient was a South African photographer, Jodi Bieber.  The photo she captured–and the story it tells–is quite sobering:

ABC – Portrait of Mutilated Afghan Woman Ayesha Wins World Press Photo Award

CNN – Photo of Maimed Bibi Wins Top Prize

Sometimes it’s tough to read stories or see images like this.  Yet, I think it’s important for us to remember the reality of far too many women and girls. Rather than feeling helpless or hopeless, let’s allow that reality to motivate us to make a difference!  One excellent organization working to improve women’s health around the globe is Care International.  Each year they sponsor an event for International Women’s Day (coming up March 8th).  If you’re interested in learning more, click here.

At moments like this, I like to hold onto this piece of advice by Marian Wright Edelman: “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”  Whoever you are, and wherever you live, work, or play…in every little thing you do, you can influence change!