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How the Media Failed Women in 2013

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How the Media Failed Women in 2013
If you pick up a newspaper, magazine, or, if you’re feeling especially brave, turn on a TV then you will be blasted by millions of ads with heavily photo shopped and over sexualized women. The successes of women in 2013 were countless yet we don’t talk about or celebrate them. Instead we revert back to sexist advertising, over sexualizing women in popular culture, shaming women over their sex lives, underrepresenting female protagonists in film and television, and demeaning female politicians over their physical appearance rather than their views or policies.
Although the media wronged women in 2013, it is important to talk about the numerous successes of women this year. People should talk about how Malala Yousafzai made Time’s cover and list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” or how she was in running for the Nobel Peace prize. People should talk about how the movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock being the lead character throughout the whole film, soared at box offices. People should talk about how Catching Fire, a movie that depicts a strong female protagonist who leads a revolution, has broken records. People should talk about Kerry Washington, the first black leading actress nominee at the Emmys since 1995. People should talk about the record breaking amounts of women nominees for directing Emmys. People should talk about the first all-female anchor team on “Newshour” or how Katie Couric has been chosen as global news anchor by Yahoo. People should talk about how Sweden has implemented a new rating for films based on gender bias, the higher rating films having little to no gender bias. People should talk about how Go Daddy committed to change their sexist advertising. Why does the media not talk about this?
A popular video circulating the web at the moment depicts the harsh reality of the heavy Photoshop being used on women in popular magazines. In the video, an attractive blond can be seen posing for a photo, and then you watch as the editors slowly but surely change her whole appearance. It starts with lightening her skin tone, enlarging her eyes, fixing the bridge of her nose, making her lips pouty, making her jawline narrower. It becomes apparent that the face is not enough however when the editor moves down to her body; he digitally edits her back to be more smooth, elongates her thighs, slims her calves down, straightens out her shoulders, makes them more boney, elongates her neck, then swoops over the whole image, brightening her skin again. This sort of advertising is especially detrimental to America’s youth because it teaches young girls that the beauty standard is something that even the highest paid commercial models cannot achieve. We blame eating disorders and the disturbing news stories of younger and younger children getting plastic surgery (such as seven year old Samantha Shaw who got plastic surgery to pin back her ears to prevent bullying over her appearance) on low self-esteem issues, but has anyone addressed why these young girls have such low self-esteem? According to South Carolina Department of Health’s "Eating Disorder Statistics,” it is estimated that out of the eight million people with eating disorders that seven million of those people are female. According to The Miss Representation Project, 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign in 2004 reported that forty-two percent of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of ten-year-olds are afraid of getting fat. Media leads to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem leads to self-hatred. Self-hatred leads to seven million females having an eating disorder.
Turn on the Television and play a fun game called “how many sexist or over sexualized advertisements can I count in a thirty minute time frame?” Advertisers like Go Daddy, Carl’s Jr., Fiat, Ford, Equinox, American Apparel, Axe, and Radio Shack are guilty of using scantily clad females doing perverse acts to sell their products even when it has nothing to do with what they’re selling (See Go Daddy commercials depicting women in nearly pornographic scenes to advertise selling website domains). The American Psychological Association estimates that teens are exposed to 14,000 sexual references and innuendos per year on TV and girls alone from ages eleven to fourteen see, on average, 500 ads a day.
Advertisers aren’t the only guilty ones though, popular artists such as Robin Thicke, Flo Rida, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake have been notorious for using women’s bodies and nudity as props in their music videos and performances. Robin Thicke is an especially glorious example of misogyny as his new popular song “blurred lines” feature not only naked girls dancing around the fully clothed men in the music video but also inspiring words of wisdom such as “I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it,” “the way you grab me, you must want to get nasty” and continues on to talk about domesticating women as if they are wild animals. Despite popular belief, men cannot know if a woman “wants it” and there is no blurred lines between a consensual “yes” and a non-consensual “no.” Studies prove exposures to sexually explicit video games and music videos are linked to men’s acceptance of rape myths and sexual harassment. Robin Thicke’s music video has inspired many parodies, such as the feminist parody featuring three scantily clad male models dancing around finely dressed women and lyrics such as “If you want to get nasty, just don’t harass me, you can’t just grab me, that’s a sex crime,” yet this video has been flagged multiple times for the “over sexualization of males.” Ironic, huh?
Movies and television shows are not safe from the evils of over sexualizing and bigotry either though, which can be seen in Lifetime’s “The Client List,” Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club,” Fox’s “Dads,” Paramount’s “Pain and Gain,” Paramount’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Sony’s “Grown Ups Two,” and Warner Bros’ “We are the Millers,” all of which contain the female roles getting undressed but not their male counterparts. Besides being over sexualized in films, there is a flat out absent presence of variety in female characters. If one were to take a glance back a few years ago they would see that we have made progress. In 2011, only 11% of protagonists in films were female and between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated films, all of which except one had the aspiration of finding romance. But have we made enough progress? Less than a quarter of films feature a female protagonist and even less feature a woman of color. Only 29% of speaking roles in top Hollywood films are women. Actresses that do beat these statistics are four times as likely to be sexualized or wear revealing clothing in their scenes. Since statistics speak for themselves, here are some more from Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and The American Association of University Women (AAUW): Males outnumber females three to one in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more shocking is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. Women are about 37% of prime-time TV characters and women 45 and older are only 15% of prime-time TV characters. Male TV characters (41%) were more likely to be shown “on the job” than female characters (28%). Men were more likely to talk about work than women were (52% vs. 40%) and less likely to talk about romantic relationships (49% vs. 63%). What kind of message does this send to the young girls of America? Not only are they going to be underrepresented in the films that they love, but they will also be depicted as one of the following: a damsel in distress waiting on their prince charming or an over sexualized vamp.
Although it is socially accepted to depict women in little to nothing in media and to write songs about women doing sexual acts (in a study conducted at Brigham Young University, researchers analyzed lyrics from the top 100 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end most popular songs in 2009 and found that male artists were more likely to write song with sexual references in the past two decades and that there were more sexual references overall in 2009 than in 1959), it is not socially acceptable for a woman to talk about her own sex life or desires. If a woman disclosed her sexual history, desires, or sex life she would be deemed a slut, a whore, a sinner, or “loose.” Whereas a woman who chooses to keep her sex life and history more private or practice abstinence would be labeled a prude, too uptight, or more “pure” than her other female counterparts. Girls are told to be skinny but not too skinny and to wear makeup but not so much that guys can tell and to dress in revealing clothes but not too revealing or else they’re a slut. “Society says to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you are affecting the man. Never speak your mind, never. Because you are female, you are expected to aspire to marriage. You are expected to make your life choices knowing that marriage will be the upmost important milestone in your life.” But why does society teach girls to aspire to marriage and not boys? Society raises girls to see each other as competitors, not for sports or accomplishments, but for the attention of men. Society teaches girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Now if one were to dive into the wonderful world of politics, they would assume that politics, well are centered on the actual politics, correct? Not for female politicians, no. What did the media have to say about female politicians in 2013? Some of the better headlines this year included, “GOP Strategist Calls Alison Lundergan Grimes ‘An Empty Dress’,” “Fringe Factor: Wendy Davis Is Too Stupid to Be Governor,” “Fox News Commentator Calls Wendy Davis an ‘Abortion Barbie’,” “Somebody Spot Janet Yellen Some New Threads,” “Who’s Hotter: Janet Yellen or Miley Cyrus?,” and one special political slogan that was circulating the web, “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small breasts… Left Wing.” What do all of these quotes have in common? They are all negative criticism on a female politician’s appearance rather than on her actual political views. How many times has a male politician made national news over his physical appearance? Media’s Achilles’ heel will always be their refusal to recognize women for their brain rather than their new outfit.
What else does the media think about women? “I just do not think the American public is ready to elect an old woman to the oval office” (Bryan Fischer on Hillary Clinton), “She married a rich guy, she now understands that it’s worth it to bow down” (Rush Limbaugh on Beyoncé), “The women that we feature in the magazine are ornamental” (Esquire editor), “A lot of sports has lost its way and I’m going to tell you the part of the reason is because we’ve got women giving us directions” (Damon Bruce), “She is never going to be a looker” (BBC presenter on tennis champion Marion Bartoli), “Well you can’t do that, that’s the problem, women just haven’t done that much” (Fox news commentator on whether or not Jeopardy should split the answers between men and women), “I’m not saying that she deserved to be raped, but-“ (Fox news commentator on a rape accusation), “Know you’re role and shut your mouth!” (Fox commentator addressing a female coworker), and the last but not least, “If you are female…men who you defeat in arguments will still respond to you by calling you hysterical and telling you to calm down.” (Rachel Maddow)
Feminist (noun): A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. I am proud to be a feminist. I am proud to be a reason why generations of young girls to come will not have to feel as if the only things they can be in this world are damsels in distress with broken hearts or a sultry seductress stripping for her scandalous sixteen seconds of fame. Binary, we are not. In fact, we are the opposite of binary. I want the new generation of young girls to know that they have more than two options to choose from. By now, I’m sure to have exhausted my audience and my sources, but if only one person that reads this changes their point of view, I will be happy. One day our voices will be heard, one day women will have equal representation, one day you will not be able to find a sexist advertisement. Then, I will be happy.

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