We Need to Rethink Messages from the Media


alg_homework_shirt2At age 7, equal numbers of men and women want to be president of the United States when they grow up (about 30% of the kids). Ask the same question when they are 15, and the proportion of women who want to be president drops off dramatically. This trend goes beyond politics; we live in a cultural system where people are socialized by gender to believe certain industries and positions are for men or women (as well as other types of minority statuses).

In 2009, American advertisers spent $235.6 billion on advertising. Not only does the media pervade every aspect of our culture, it only offers limited number of portrayals of girls and women. Women are told to measure their worth through their bodies’ adherence to an impossible cultural standard perpetuated by the media.  In today’s age of technology, that physical standard is easily manipulated and exaggerated through the use of photo-shopped enhancements. The results of this pressure on women alter every aspect of life: from career ambitions to emotional state.tumblr_mg6k9x1Amo1rio5dqo1_500

The more women self-objectify, the more likely they are to experience depression, eating disorders, lower ambition, lower self- confidence, lower cognitive functioning, and lower GPAs (Caroline Heldman, Professor of Political Science at Occidental College). This directly relates to a woman’s likelihood of become a leader, in turn, creating a deficit of female role models for subsequent generations. Women who break the mold of what is considered acceptably feminine are attacked. For example, Hilary Clinton is an incredible politician, but operates in a male sphere. Criticisms of Hilary Clinton by the media refer to her body, her non-adherence to traditional feminine characteristics, and her role in the family. images

Boys and men aren’t free from the pressures of the media. Boys are taught from a young age not to value their emotions or the emotions of others. Lack of verbal self expression and the media’s depictions of masculine aggression can lead men to respond in violent ways to conflict.

Teens lack intellectual and emotional maturity; therefore they are especially vulnerable to representations of women in the media. I believe that the creation of a media literacy course in middle school or high school would allow both men and women to process and criticize the messages distributed by various media sources. This class will give students the skills to process information, rather than simply knowing content, which can lead to the empowerment of students in other fields. The Center for Media Literacy poses five basic questions about messages from the media:TLC’s-Toddlers-Tiaras

  1. Who created the message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently?
  4. What lifestyles, values & points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Creating the habit of asking these questions creates greater consumer awareness, which will affect consumer purchasing habits. Therefore, on a larger scale, the implementation of media literacy courses all over the country has the potential to lead to widespread consumer-initiated advertising and media change.

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of Paley Center for Media, argues that change in advertising can be made through individual decisions, “We have enormous power- 86% of the purchasing power in this country is in the hands of women. Let’s use it.”

Side Note: here are some of my favorite applications of technology at affordable prices. Simple ways to change the world…

The Bottle Light Bulb: A 1.5 liter bottle of water and bleach lodged in a roof has the ability to provide light indoors during the day time.

3-D Printed Prosthetics: Publicly available blueprints and access to a 3-D printer allows simple prosthetics to be made for $5-$10 (the cost of the plastic).

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6 comments on “We Need to Rethink Messages from the Media

  1. I really like your 60 second idea and think our cultural system and media have a negative effect on our youth many times. The images of women in the media tend to be very troublesome. Young girls may be pressured to look like how they see women in the media, which is many times unrealistic. I find Dove’s campaign for real beauty to be very positive and a step in the right direction. This campaign is very empowering to women. Here is an example of a Dove advertisement… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk

    • Ah yes, I’ve talked about Dove’s campaigns with many people. Are they taking a step in the right direction? Yes. The main idea from the campaign (and the video) is still about physical beauty though, isn’t it? Thats still the metric by which women are told to judge themselves by in the campaign. The non-white folks in the video also only get about 10 seconds of time in the commercial- meaning we’re still focusing on a very normalized idea of beauty. The way I see it, Dove isn’t really challenging gendered social constructs, they’re identifying that the constructs exist.

  2. At what point is it “the media” versus “us.” I mean, if it is women who control 86% of the purchasing power, THEY are the ones being affected by the advertising, right? Or, what if the advertisers and such say “well, we have polled selling our Hamburgers with sexual innuendo. If we don’t, then someone else will.”

    Maybe your course idea is meant to change us and in that way, change “what sells.”

    But still, at times I find blaming “the media’ like the video does a little reductive. Don’t many women work for those media companies? Does the media make choices unto itself? Is it the witless pawn of a bunch of sexist patriarchs who smoke cigars, read Playboy, and airbrush models?

    • Increasing awareness and critical reception of advertising would likely result in increased pressure on the men and women who control advertising in respective organizations. Through sending a widespread message that consumers want advertising norms to change, companies should rise to the occasion.

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