A significant part of students’ ‘informal’ education today is that provided by the various forms of media they are exposed to. Students are influenced particularly by the popular media forms – magazines, movies and social on-line networks. Increasingly these media are having a dangerous influence as students adopt and act in accord with these presentations indiscriminately. Accordingly it is become increasingly important that students are educated to be observant, analytical even critical of the information being relayed to them through these mediums.
Last Thursday, October 11 was UN International Day of the Girl. To bring awareness to issues facing young women around the world a screening of the American film, Miss Representation was shown in Perth at the State theatre.
The documentary exposed how the mainstream media shapes gender norms and attitudes and reveals that this can have startling effects on how women think about themselves and where their position is in society.
The American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on the media’s sexualisation of girls and young women found that it is linked to mental health problems including depression, anxiety and eating disorders in women. There are dangerous consequences for this kind of representation of women in the media as according to one Doctor Jean Klibournes “turning a human being into a thing is almost the first step in justifying violence against that person.” Media portrayals of women, even those in movies who are the heroine of the film or the action hero are usually sexualised. These portrayals reinforce negative stereotypes of women within society.
In a study of top films across all ratings from 1990 to 2006, 73 per cent of the characters were men. The same study found that there was no representation of women working in medical science, executive business, law or politics.
These images can also have effects for men and their relationships with women as they come to expect an unrealistic body image of what a ‘real’ woman should look like.
The representation of women by the mass media adheres with the saying that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” There are virtually no role models portrayed for women by the media.
In Australia’s top ASX 200 companies:
Only 3 per cent of Chief Executive officers are women.
Only 8 per cent of Board Directors are women.
Nationally women’s average earnings are 18 per cent less than men’s. In WA the figure is 28 percent.
The film also depicts young girls and boys accounting what effects they believe the media has on their own self esteem. One girl said that because of the media’s portrayal of skinny busty girls, her sister is bullied for being fat and resorts to cutting herself.
The media and its portrayal of females should be questioned and it should start with young children in schools. Questions like the following should be asked.
– how many female characters are there compared to males?
– Is the focus on women’s bodies or on their characters, achievements or jobs?
– Are women portrayed as victims in need of saving by a male?
– Are there any female characters leaders – in positions of politics, business, authority?
Clearly the media needs to be scrutinized through education in schools. There is an important role for the teachers of our english and media programs in both high school and primary schools to ensure students consider how women are portrayed by society.
Department for Communities (2012) ‘Women and the Media: Who do they think you are?’, pp.1-4.
Siebel Newsom, J (2011) Miss Representation.