Women and media
Women and media
For many years, the images of women in the media have been a burning issue and a tropical subject to study. Women have been given a distorted presentation in both advertisements and television serials; either they are shown as a sexual object or as ignorant mothers and housewives.
Such description enforces the stereotypical views men have about women and thus keep them always in a subjugated position. According to the report of the Committee of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, women image in media is negative indeed since they are rarely shown in appropriate position. The report states aThey are shown at work in only 8
One of the controversial issues that are nowadays debated especially among feminists and womenas right advocates is the portrayal of women in media, how they are represented and what to be done about such a negative representation.
The relation between media and women has never been good, generally speaking, as it is going to be shown later, and this has made of people the cultural schizophrenics they are today (Ware, 1996). Feministsa goal then is to fight patriarchy and gender inequality and they have found it all in the mass media.
Despite the efforts of feminists all around the world regarding the portrayal of women in media, still media is sexist and gender biased. This does not mean that no change has happened, there has been change but it is very slow, and there is still a lot to be done in this field.
The proof is that aln the 1970s, feminists in Europe and United states held annual Take Back the night marches in major cities to demand an end to depictions of rape, battering, and sadistic portraits of women in films and other mediaa ( Byerly Ross, 2006, p.37). However, we are still, after more than thirty years of the marches, bombarded with the same images in television.
This has been the concern of many feminist media scholars over the past thirty years among whom Gay Tuchman, Arlan Kaplan Daniels and others, for they were among the first to make womenas negative representation in media a public issue.
Most of women description in media whether in Africa, Asia or America perpetuate the traditional view of women as passive, weak, regulated to the private sphere which feminists have dwelt on as oppression and underestimation; they have been committed to combating such images. Before tackling Arab womenas image in media, it would be helpful to have a general view about the image of women elsewhere.
Women are shown mostly in media production as sexualised, bodies not brains, commodities not humans for just one purpose, to attract more viewers or consumers. The images that were, and still, given to women in media need to be challenged by women themselves, which is not easy at all since it is a cultivation of many years of stereotypes about them done by men. The concept of femininity has been destroyed, replaced by an erotic image and likewise the concept of gender.
Mulvey has been cited by Thornham (2007) saying that women have been used as a result of their exclusion aln proportion to womenas exclusion from cultural participation, their image as been exploiteda. (p.23). Mulvey seems to ignore that women are still used in media though they are no more excluded as before and though they have denounced such portrayal as well.
A 1979 UNESCO report had tackled the issue of womenas negative representation in media and showed how women were used and exploited. In fact, the images that are given to women in media have very negative implications; they damage their self perception first and most importantly limit their contribution in social life.
This was exactly what the report was all about aEntertainment programmes in all types of format emphasize the dual image of women as decorative object and as the home and marriage- oriented passive person, secondary to and dependent on men for financial emotional and physical supporta (Thornhman, 2007, p.24). Hence, the mass media have not helped women, but rather perpetuated the same old stereotypes.
Women are still associated with the domestic and private life despite the fact that they have proved to be educated, modern and able to hold very high positions which can be explained by the fact that the way they are portrayed in the media is based on a pure male biased culture.
Thanks to this alarming situation, women are now fighting to refute such a discourse and to eradicate these clichA(c)s and stereotypical views which is not an easy task, they have been, and they are still, fighting and there is a long way to go.
One of the areas where the images of women are very negative is the field of advertising. It is a place where gender stereotypes are very much present which contributes to the perpetuating of the negative perception of women. It shapes womenas bodies by making them vulgarized to the point that they become no more important, just trivial things to be commercialized and to be enjoyed by every male viewer, and this is going to be well illustrated in the fourth chapter.
Let us analyse the two following ads. The aim behind this analysis is to make a comparative study between the two advertisements, pointing at the similarities and the differences between them first and then to make clear that when menas and womenas images in media are compared, women are portrayed in a less respected way.
They are taken from Femmes du Maroc, (NA° 144- December 2007) a French language Moroccan magazine which is believed to be one of those magazines that advocate the cause of women, as it is stated clearly in the following citation:
The public sphere in Femmes du Maroc and Citadine is thus previliged as the sphere of political power, education, career success, and culture, the one that will contribute to female emancipation and fulfilement and hence to the future progress and prosperity of Morocco. (Kozeniowska, 2005, p.17)
This image is a discourse promoting a perfume, namely Allure from Channel fashion House. If one takes a close look at the image he or she will notice that the woman is looking in a very seductive way as if she is to allure the male as the productas name suggests. She is ready for a moment of love and intimacy with the male viewer. Se is gazing at the photographer or the viewer with very seductive features.
The model is young, white, slim, and blonde which is associated with fragility, as to meet the myth of the model of beauty. The dress she is wearing is very seducing, exposing her breasts as if she is inviting the male viewer to enjoy that specific part of her body. The model is taking a large space almost equivalent to the one the model is taking and this can be explained by the fact that the importance is given to the product but the focus is on the woman to attract more consumers.
This image is a discourse rather than a mere picture. It shows the model, who is the representative of all women, as no more than a sex object. She uses her body in order to attract more buyers and meet their demands. Here the concept of femininity is destroyed, loaded with stereotypes for the sake of commercial gains. The question to be raised here is, if a womenas magazine like Femmes du Maroc that calls itself a feminist magazine is taking a part in such portrayal, where is the solution?
This is an advertisement of the same previous perfume Allure, but this time it is a manas perfume not womanas for which a male model has been hired to promote. The model seems to be confident and strong. He is white, middle aged man, looking in a somehow authoritative way. His goal is not to allure the female viewer but rather to give a positive impression. He looks at the viewer smiling and he seems to be very powerful, respectful and masculine.
Unlike the woman, the man here is taking more space than the perfume which can be explained by the fact that he is the power, the subject and not the object, the one to be admired even more than the product itself which is being promoted. The model here applies respect and power in the way he looks.
As Fenton (2001) explains aRoles of males in the mass media have been shown to be dominant, active and authoritative, while females have been shown to be submissive, passive and completely contented to subjugate their wills to the wills of the media malesa (p. 107). The woman then is used in the field of media as no more than an object to please the consumers as it is the case here.
If these two photos to be compared, one would notice very significant differences rather than similarities. Even though it is the same product, the female model is shown as sexualized, no more than an exposed body for everyone to see, whereas the male model is the symbol of strength and respect.
The only common point between the two is that perhaps they belong to the same race whose features are whiteness, beauty and richness. This tells that media is gender biased as it prioritize men over women in their portrayal through it.
According to Tuchman in her article aWomen Description by the Mass Mediaa, women have been depicted negatively due to different factors. Firstly only few women held respectable positions in media industry that is why media content distorts their status in real life and this, according to her, prevents women from accomplishments as they are represented as such. Secondly it encourages defining women as inferior in comparison to men, and no more than a sex object (Tuchman, 1979). In this respect media is very much sexist, and this can be explained by the socioeconomic organization of media which prioritize men over women.
Natalie Fenton agrees with Tuchman on this point, for she believes that in general womenas negative portrayal in the mass media is a result of their invisibility in the media organization; hence, what is going to be transformed by media will be transformed from a male perspective which is misogynist to women. She admits that if women had good positions in the media industry, their portrayal would have been absolutely better. She explained such a fact saying:
Since the presence of women in creative and decision- making roles in the media industries continues to be far less than that of men, it is assumed that the image of women disseminated by the mass media reflect and express male concerns. Similarly, if women were to gain positions of power on a larger scale, the implication is that images will change for the better. (Fenton, 2001, p.105)
Another kind of discrimination she revealed is the fact that women workers are evaluated less than men and when it comes to their salaries, for they get less money in comparison to men in the held. This is shown in the following lines aln terms of overall numbers and distribution across and within specific occupations, as well as in terms of salary, women media workers are at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their male counterpartsa (Fenton, 2001, p.105).
Women, then, suffer from sexism not only in the way they are portrayed in media, but also in their salaries. This shows that womenas knowledge is used in media and yet they it is not rewarded or acknowledged.
Feminism and feministsa efforts have been ignored by the mass media since the traditional view about women still exists. Women in most cases are shown as mothers and housewives; likewise marriage is still being the centre importance to them because they are mostly concerned with the social interaction such as the family and children unlike men.
This was said by Gauntlett in his book Media, Gender and Identity a womenas interactions were very often concerned with romance and family (in 74 percent of cases) whereas menas interactions were not frequently concerned with these matters (only 18 percent of cases)a (Gauntlet, 2002, p.43). This makes women seem trivial, good-for- nothing but family and this contributes directly to perpetuating the idea of womenas limitation to the private sphere.
Despite womenas progress in different areas and numerous walks of life, still media is stuck in some traditional and stereotypical grooves when it comes to them. According to Lemish in her article aExclusion and Marginality: Portrayals of women in Israeli mediaa women are portrayed in media either as a nurturing and scarifying mother (Madonna) or else as sexualized (whore).
In her words: a Women are seen as absolutely, and naturally, different to men, being less logical, ambitious, active, independent, heroic, and dominant and most commonly depicted either as aMadonnaa or as a awhoreaa(Ross Byerelly, 2004, p. 10). One can say, thus, that no real positive image of women is shown through the mass media, she is restricted to the house and shores or to her sexuality.
It was this kind of work on womenas images or as it is sometimes called sex role stereotyping that has taken a hold of feministsa hearts as they have taken it seriously. Such representation of women by media produces them as commodity object and a reflection of a culture that has always put them in subordinate places. These images are nothing but a distortion of reality regarding women.
Likewise, one of the most important themes of feminism in general and second wave feminism in particular was the misrepresentation of women through media. Thornham states in Women, Feminism and Media, alf one of the central concerns of early second-wave feminism was with the misrepresentation of women in the fantasy images circulated by the mediaa (Thornham, 2007, p.21); she continuous aa second concern was with the way in which real women were actually represented or more accurately not representeda (Thornham, 2007, p.21).
This means that the situation of women in media is the same regardless of whether they are independent, strong women or ordinary ones. They remain always underestimated and misrepresented.
Hollywood has contributed in stereotyping women through its movies. The directors have produced demeaning images as it is said by Barbara Creed (1993) when she named a list of movies that has to do with such images. The danger of these titles is the fact that they play on the popular conception of women as negative and even dangerous. Barbara has been paraphrased by Byerly and Ross in their book Women and Media: A critical introduction:
On the first page of her eponymous book, she lists the various faces of female monster, including the amoral primeval mother (Aliens, 1986), the vampire (The Hunger, 1983), the witch (Carrie, 1976), women as bleeding wound (Dressed to kill, 1980) and women as possessed (The Exorcist, 1973). (Byerly and Ross, 2006, p.22)
To show the likelihood of womenas images in media from all over the world, the focus here will be on the book Routledge International Encyclopaedia of Women (2000). The situation of Afro-American women is the same; they are invisible as newsmakers and decision makers as well as in the field of American media and their representation is a question of race and sexuality.
Their images evoke power and gender relation and this is absolutely negative. Kramarae and Spender have paraphrased Collins saying aPatricia Collins (1990) argues that stereotypes of African American women in books, magazines, entertainment television and film have removed around the intersection of race and class with female sexuality playing on racist notions of black peopleas sexual behavioura ( Kramarae Spender, 2000, p.1103).
Even in Hollywood films, black women are depicted as such. These movies have promoted a wide range of degrading images of these women as it is obvious in what follows aln films as in television, African-American women have most frequently been portrayed in roles as servants or entertainers and are often ridiculed or shown as promis- cuousa ( Kramarae Spender, 2000, p.1122).
This shows that media can be sometimes racist, built on the discourse of the superiority of the whites and the inferiority of the blacks. Media is a place where racism as well as stereotyping meet each other.
In Asia, the image of women in media is also stereotypical and not really a representative of womenas accomplishment there. Although Asian women have been recently present in media as workers and producers, their image remains demeaning and restrictive.
The spread of advertisement in the area is partly responsible for portraying women as sex object and victims of violence. Even pornography is now becoming a trend in the area which is a total exploitation and manipulation of the female body and sexuality: aln pornography in this region, as elsewhere, women are represented as fragmented body parts, devoid of humanity and dignity a (Kramarae Spender, 2000, p.1104).
This portrayal might be explained by what is called sex tourism, to support the flourishing tourism industry especially in places such as Malaysia and Thailand where it is the most important field. Such portrayal would be presented partly in advertisements more than other media production, for ads are more popular and people are in most cases acquainted with them more than the other types of the mass media.
The representation of women in the Caribbean mass media is, once more stereotypical since analysis of print media has found that their portrayal have been mostly sexist and Eurocentric.
In their portrayal, upper class Caribbean women are portrayed in a way which is totally different form that of the lower class women, but in the both cases they are negatively described, as it is clearly explained in the following citation aUpper- class women were often portrayed as frail, nervous housewives; lower- class women were often portrayed as uneducated, sexually permissive domestic workersa (Kramarae Spender, 2000, p.1109).
This means that women are portrayed negatively not only on the basis of their gender, as women but also on the basis of their social class; the mass media and the social class then intersect.
Research on images of women in media in Europe differs from one country to another according to a review by the European Commission that came to the conclusion that the majority of studies has been conducted in Scandinavian countries, United Kingdom, Germany, and Netherlands whereas it is limited in countries such as Belgium and Ireland because of the small population.
In France and Italy research is limited because of the fact that issues of women and media were not established academically back then, whereas in central Europe the issue was still emerging at that time. (Kramarae Spender, 2000).
The situation is not better when it comes to the Israeli media since women are portrayed negatively. According to Lemish, the situation of Israeli women is explained in comparison to that of Israeli men aWhile men are represented as the anormala majority of society, women are portrayed as the minority, the aothera, the exception, the incomplete, the damaged, the marginal, and sometimes even the bizarrea ( Byerely Ross, 2004, p.42). The above statements reveal that women suffer from the way media portray them, not only in Europe or America but rather all over the world. Women and the mass media are not in a good terms.
If images of women are limited only to a certain negative portrayal, it is critical but not impossible to be changed. Most of the images of women in the mass media are not just restricted, but also negative. These images misrepresent who they are, demean them, and make it harder for them to be seen as people.
When women are only shown as beautiful and passive or rich with empty heads, it becomes more difficult for both men and women to accept them as the diverse, multifaceted people they really are. According to a study done on journalism students, it has been proved that women student seem to have the same stereotype about women men have and this shows that media inject its ideas in our minds even if they are against us (Tuchman, 1979).
The stories and images carried by someoneas head can mould him or her like any other major influences such as the family, education, religion and experiences. If these images are positive, it is a good indicator for they are going to leave a good impact on him or her and if they are negative, it is a bad news since their effect will be negative as well.
But what is promising is that there is always a possibility to break the stereotypes, therefore women have the opportunity to introduce their real images and make the world see who her really are. Now after dealing with the western context and its understanding of the way women are portrayed in media, what about the Arab world? Is it the same? Is it better or is it even worse?