Friday, March 18, 2011

When looking through different forms of media, whether it is film, print, music, or photography, a lingering dark cloud of hopelessness sometimes envelopes my mind. How could I have been so blind to what has been surrounding me my entire life? I could not see, and perhaps did not understand the huge role the media played in the decisions I made on a regular basis. The abrupt sexism in ads shown for American Apparel, while temporarily shocking for me, did not affect my shopping habits. I still stepped into the stores, not because I actually even wanted anything from there, but because the ads had made such an impact, although negative, that I became curious as to what they sold. They hooked me. I willingly stepped in, without even realizing what these ads stood for. Rape. Sexism. Racism. DV. Emotional and physical abuse. Low self esteem. Severe competition. Desperation. Masks. Lies, lies and more lies.
The active male/passive female role as described by Mulvey really set the tone for my understanding of how and why certain images and “roles” came to be in media today. In the chapter, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey states that the woman “signifies the male desire.” This line has resonated throughout my mind during the course of the class, and has been built upon after even subsequent reading. Every other reading, to me, has built upon this one “fact” of society. Women are to be used as objects. Even something as simple and wholesome as the Girl Scouts has turned into a falsification of the female position in society.

What can we do to change this? While not simple, change is certainly possible. In Gloria Steinem’s chapter, “Sex, Lies and Advertising,” she leads us through her journey in establishing and maintaining Ms. Magazine (which still exists today) while trying to protect the magazine against the dark forces which are women-objectifying media. Stances such as the stance Ms. Magazine took to keep the magazine pure are stances all men and women can take to ensure that it is known—Women will not continued to be objectified. Women will not be made fools. Women are stronger than you think. We are, in fact, stronger than we think. Movements such as these are few, but they do make an impact. I was extremely impressed, and empowered by Steinem’s chapter. That is the effect that these small decisions have on others. They have the potential to build seeds and create a larger hold on the creation of meaningful and positive images in society.

Taking a stance against accepting these types of advertising is an effective strategy for beginning to unfold the hold that media has on women’s images and representations in society. Another effective strategy is the introduction of images that not only empower women, but that show them as they truly are, and not as distorted images of women who do not exist. While Dove is essentially continuing with their “Campaign for Beauty” strategy because it produces revenue and increases marketing potential, I admire the effect the campaign has had on portraying images of women. The campaign has not only increased awareness regarding image portrayals of women, but it has become internationally visible and prominent in societies where women are regarded as second class citizens and nothing more. They have started workshops, surveys and programs directed towards girls that help them begin to understand their emotions, their confidence and their own self esteem. While not done for all of the “right” reasons, the campaign is a strong, fulfilling and powerful message that lets young girls, teenagers, and women know, that they are great.

Getting the government involved is always a positive sign that the message is coming through loud and clear. In fact, the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925) was introduced last April as a way to promote the positive imagery and “healthier media messages about girls and women.” ( In conjunction with the Girls Scouts of America, the bill attempts to provide support to non-profit groups create and maintain programs which help teach our youth how to maintain positive images of themselves while being surrounded by imaginary people who they are told to resemble. Programs that also teach our youth how to distinguish between “gender roles” and stereotypes are also rewarded.
In other forms of media, in particular, print, the solution is simple. Do not create images that you would not want your daughter portrayed in. If these ad executives placed their own children in these ads, they would be quickly altered. Images such as these, demonstrate a sheer lack of respect and lapse in judgment if you ask me.

An awesome alternative would be images which show positivity in words. Certain ads, while promoting a brand, also promote words and therefore, ideas that we want to teach our children. Images such as these, are not powerful, and in fact, are beautiful, because they show what we are all looking for—the truth.

Since these ads are not always realistic, it is important to note those advertisements that show women being people, rather than being objects are also quite important when trying to slay the dragon that is the media. These images of power, strength and positivity, and also of normalcy, are effective at teaching our youth that they are fine just the way they are. Images that contain people of different races, colors, abilities, and sexes are so essential in understanding our interconnecting world. Hopefully, in time, we can learn how to change what we see in this world. Until then, our decisions will show what we stand for, and hopefully, our decisions will be those that create a new, real portrayal of ourselves, and our roles in society.

images borrowed from:

1 comment:

  1. Great job Candice!
    I loved your post and the fact that you admit you were 'blind' and hooked by all these ads. I think most of us are. I certainly am. I have bought many products in the past just because of the way they were advertised! sad...but true