Media MENtality – What It’s Done To Women
“The Media is the message and the messenger, and an increasingly a powerful one,” says former CEO of PBS, Pat Mitchell.
There is no escaping the incredibly strong hold the media has on its audience. It is the most powerful persuader of opinions. The media provides us with supposed social norms, expectations, and desires. It is also proven to shape perspectives in ways that can be dangerous to our society. With an increase of image editing in the media also come an increase of eating disorders, new diets, and farfetched perspectives of what a woman should look and act like. These added pressures are unnecessary and can drive one to destruction of one’s own body. The exploitation of women’s bodies for a worldwide audience to see has such a prominent effect on the majority of us. Almost no limit is put on what can get through to viewers.
With how much the media has expanded, it is impossible to escape its hold. People no longer bond over talk at the dinner table, or receive the latest news from the paper, or keep in touch with friends through letters and landlines. Bonding is now an event that usually includes a television set, news is brought to us through the internet, and managing friendships is done through social networking sites.
According to Jean Kilbourne’s documentary, Killing Us Softly, the media has grown from a twenty million dollar industry in 1979 to a $180 billion industry just in 2000. Average Americans see about 3000 advertisements in one day. Lives have been set around the media that surrounds our society. From billboards, to commercials, to songs, movies, and more, each sway our opinions about society. Social media will flaunt us with anything from the newest season’s clothing commercials to bribing us with “mouth watering” food.
The media secretly plants perspectives in our mind of what is socially acceptable and not, how to deal with situations, and what to expect from others. One topic the media really hits hard on is the appearance and expectations of women. The media attacks women in a sneaky way that slips by the attention of its audience. It has been known to be extremely derogatory towards women, having permanent consequences. This has become one of the most serious issues with the media as it manipulates women, planting extremely unrealistic expectations in the minds of millions of people.
The image a woman is given in this day and age relies solely on the media. In the land of possibility, Americans believe that anything we see can be possible. This includes the unrealistic, retouched photos that we in magazines and a variety of advertisements. The unrealistic breasts, the super thin waste line with a “six pack” of abdominals, the perfect lusty lips, the luscious hair, and the long infinite legs. This is the image plastered across billboards, half naked and promiscuous, or submissive and silenced. We are manipulated to be various things and are expected to fill the positions of too many contradicting roles.
What does the media portray as the most important thing about a woman? The answer is obvious: their looks.
It gives us an ideal image of beauty and makes apparent how critical it is to be that specific. The media shows that it is not possible without the right clothes or make up, much time and energy must be put in to reach “perfect.” The ideal that many women desire from the media includes no pores, no blemishes, no wrinkles, and no scares, “perfection,” absolute flawlessness, or really absolute unrealistic ness. If one doesn’t cut it then the surgeon will.
Today women are turning to plastic surgery more than ever before. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 13.8 million cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in 2011, up five percent since 2010. This is a five percent increase for the second consecutive year. And in America, the land of possibility, if woman aren’t rich enough, pretty enough skinny enough successful enough, it is put on the woman; it is her fault for not cutting it. Not only is this unfair, this goal is impossible to reach. Dr. Jean Kilbourne states that, “This ideal image presented to us by the media represents only three percent of woman.” Many look past the facts and don’t see the truth. They continue to strive for the “perfection” they see in the magazines. This has led to a huge problem in our society, eating disorders.
Researches from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders found that over one-half of teenage girls have some sort of eating disorder. Whether it is anorexia, bulimia, misusing laxatives, or binge eating, these pressures to be thin and pretty that are set on women early and are seriously affecting their health. So with constant failure, this bashes any of the confidence one has also affecting the way men look at the real woman they are with.
Not only are we expected to look a certain way, but the roles we must fulfill are conflicting.
Women are portrayed as very submissive to men in various ads. They dominate us in the workforce, home life, and even sexually. Many ads with women include them looking very innocent and frail with a strong, taller, dark man overpowering them. This view contradicts the role of strong women that the media also makes important. In these cases women dominate over men in various advertisements as a way to lure men in to a world they are unfamiliar with. A perfect example of this is the Fiat car commercials when they first hit televisions, portraying a dominatrix woman as the star. This lures men into an ad not because of the product but because of because the woman is posed in a strong, sexy, promiscuous fashion in far from modest clothing, that is what interests them more. These ads even lure women in; as they hope that one day they will be just like the photo shopped models sprawled out on the hood of the car advertising the alcohol of choice.
Surprisingly both of these approaches work! It is sickening that the use of women to convince consumers to buy the product is the most popular method used now. What is more surprising is how these conflicting roles of men and women in the media play an even bigger part in the socialism of sexuality.
The lack of censoring put on media, this leaves plenty of room for advertisers to use not only women’s bodies as a lure into their products, but sex more often that not. Advertisers see the power that sexual imagery and suggestiveness has on the consumer and uses it to their advantage, not realizing the detrimental effects this has on our society. Sexuality used to be kept as a special, intimate, and a personal subject to many and has been for an eternity. Now it has become the subject of many television shows and the spotlight of thousands of magazine ads.
In Killing Me Softly, Kilbourne says “The truth is that sex is both more important and less important than our culture makes it out to be. It is more important in that at its best it has meaning and emotional power, and it is less important in that it is by no means is the only important aspect of life or love. Yet if you looked at the world of advertising, one would have a sense that there is nothing else.” This devalues the meaning and specialness of sexuality.
It is no longer held as a sacred thing, but a casual occurrence or something that is considered popular and done regularly to be socially acceptable.
It is true, sex sells, and this is why this theme has become popular for most advertisement companies. This risqué material is being introduced with little to no public rebellion. Instead people will use this as a way to justify this new casual sex hookup culture that has become of this issue. Again we see the theme of women having to fit into multiple roles when it comes to sex due to mass media. A woman is expected to be a virgin for marriage, yet if one does not “put out” after a few dates, men now will move on to the next girl to find the sexual satisfaction they are looking for. The openness about sexuality has put so many pressures not only on women in general, but relationships. People look at the advertisements, articles, television shows and movies and believe that is the way sexuality is supposed to be and compare it to their current relationship and partner. With the media putting so much emphasis on sex, none is left to put on relationships or intimacy, making them seem irrelevant.
Our media is so hypersexualized, especially when it comes to teenagers. From a very young age they believe that is all that is important. They believe, “Since everyone else is doing it, why cant I?” According to the studies of Dr. Jean Kilbourne, this has a serious consequence for teenagers as she found that the United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. An ad Dr. Kilbourne used as an example featured a young couple and was captioned, “You can learn more about anatomy after school.” This message the media sends to adolescents is arguably more dangerous than the message it sends to anyone else. These young viewers grow up in a world where sex is trivialized. These false expectations can put so much strain on an individual and cause serious issues within relationships. The way women are presented in some of these erotic ads also cause issues in our society. Most women are made submissive or even turned into objects which creates a whole other whelm of problems.
There are various ways women are silenced in various forms of media. Many times you will see a woman with her hand or finger over her mouth, or even clothing covering. In Killing Me Softly, various ads were shown of women with their mouth sewn shut. Other ads had captions that would say, “Let your fingers do the talking,” or “Smile your bothers away.” All of these hidden messages are adding to the theme of silencing woman. If women are not silenced they are made vulnerable by there body language which is very passive. Men are posed very strong, taller than women, serious, and powerful. The media defines our sexuality and power in a limiting, shallow and cliché way. This has a surprising effect on the American culture.
An increase in violence in the media has a direct correlation to the violence against women in our society. The media again trivializes this creating a less serious attitude to such a painful topic. More ads are implying that violence is sexy, and women want to be bonded and forced to have sex. An ad in the documentary was used that showed a fragrance called Fetish. The caption said, “Apply generously to neck so he can smell the scent while you shake your head no.” Implying it that women don’t mean “No” when they say it. Women live in a world where they are more likely to be raped, harassed, or beaten, and women are the one being constantly objectified in advertisements. On the other side, masculinity is so closely linked with brutality, violence, and ruthlessness, just the way the media portrays them. Anything that is labeled feminine is devalued and not taken seriously.
What have we done to fight back prejudice against women in the media? The answer is not enough, but some companies have taken action. For example, Nike created a series called the “Strong Women” advertisements. They created saying to put on shirts, posters, ads that said things like, “strong is the new skinny” or “strong is the new beautiful.” This encouraged women to go out and be fit and strong, not frail, skinny, and weak like most of the media portrays them. Dove also featured billboard advertisements and various magazine advertisements of larger, more curvy models trying to redefine beauty. This received a lot of positive feedback from the community, but its effects only lasted so long and have worn off.
The media has a long way to go and the changes that need to be made must be major and international. According to the documentary, “Miss Representation,” Women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media. If what is put out for the world to see is dominated only by men, who are uneducated about the effects of their work, it seems as though this issue will only worsen. Just imagine, our daughters, and even our daughter’s daughters will grow up in this unsupportive, downward spiral of shame that we are trapped in.
Without a change our society will continue to suffer the serious consequences it does. This change not only involves the advertisers work but the public’s action. The first step to change is realization of a problem. The public needs to be more aware and educated about these issues. We need the public to think of themselves first as people and not consumers. Alice Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” We have power over what we view and what we choose not to view; we also have the power to change these things. Change the typical attitudes that the advertisers want us to believe. Without the will power of all of these unhappy consumers, no change will be profound enough and devastating issues will be added onto this already lengthy list.