In spite of outward claims to the contrary, sexism and gender bias are very present problems in 21st Century media.
This should trouble you, regardless of your gender, as it effects both women and men negatively.
Popular culture, advertising, the news media, and politics all send the message that the only value a woman has is her body – her appearance. This is clearly harmful to women, for obvious reason. However, as a male, I think it’s important to recognize that this is harmful to men as well. I would argue that by exposing ourselves to the way women are portrayed in the media; we, as men, are doing ourselves a disservice. We allow our image of women and femininity to define our own masculinity. Sometimes creating a false sort of hyper-masculinity.
For an example, let’s turn to popular culture. Remember Robin Thicke’s song and Youtube video Blurred Lines from early 2013? It caused quite a controversy. First of all, the video, by itself, either the censored version or the unrated version, has no real substance. It’s all Robin Thicke and his featured artists flirting with nude (or nearly nude) models, praise of Thicke’s masculinity, and a shameless grab for a trending hashtag on Twitter. As adults, we’ve come to accept this sort of behavior and imagery in a music video, however, to put things into perspective, watch some younger peoples’ reactions here. If the video wasn’t enough, the lyrics are deplorable, in spite of Thicke’s insistence that he had nothing but respect for women in mind when he created the song.
It’s rather telling, just how uncomfortable some of these young men are made by this video. Robin Thicke claims a respect for women, but his actions speak of a different mindset.
Of course, advertising is notorious for what it does to female body image. Airbrushing and photo-retouching have long covered up so-called imperfections, but today, with the power of digital photo-manipulation tools, models can be transformed into something completely alien! Once again, not only can this devastate the body image of a young woman, but it sets unrealistic expectations in men. Advertisements like send the message to men that this is the ideal woman, no matter how unrealistic the image may be.
There has been an interesting response: The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (H.R. 4341). Should this bill pass, it will require the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate the use of photographs that have been altered to change the appearance of a model in advertising, keeping in mind the risk of creating “unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” The ultimate goal would be to create a regulatory framework limiting the use of such imagery.
However, there are some potential problems. I’m sure advertisers will claim protection from this sort of regulation, citing the First Amendment. Even if that doesn’t happen, The politics of this country has a history of dragging its feet when it comes to laws that promote equal rights. Take for instance, the Equal Rights Amendment. It was a proposed amendment to the Constitution with a very simple aim: To guarantee equal rights for women. Even though it passed through Congress, the states have yet to ratify this amendment. What message does that send? Our representatives want to appear that they support equal rights, while we as a nations cannot bring ourselves to do so.
Finally, the news media has become one of the worst offenders. Cable news has transitioned to a “24-hour news cycle.” There are many news stations that are responsible for delivering content all day, every day. This has led to the rise of the pundit. Pundits are often intentionally polarizing figures, designed to drive up a network’s ratings. But they are an interesting example. A figure like Bill O’Reilly is certainly polarizing, but he gets ratings because, even though many people hate him and what he stands for, many people agree and sympathize with him. Even on a network that features many female news anchors, he clearly has no respect for the ability of a woman in a place of power and leadership. He represents a not-insignificant portion of this country.
If we continue to say one thing and do another, if we continue to blur the lines between respect and objectification, it’s only going to serve to hurt everyone.