Inspired by the words of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the film Miss Representation, I wanted to bring to light the increase in women’s positive representation in the media. I am proud to be part of the ever growing culture of women that are vocal about women’s misrepresentation in the media and how it affects our consciousness as a whole. Addressing the root reasons and solutions on how the media stereotypes and categorizes women “into boxes” that hinder our agency in society. This is an issue of gender inequality that is crucial to women worldwide.
Aimed at changing the status quo of patriarchy and sexism existing in the media, Newsom raises surprising statistics “where in leadership less than 18% of women [are]… in positions of leadership despite being 51% of the US population and despite giving birth to 100% of the population.” We as women should recognize our power as citizens and consumers, especially with the fact that in the US and similar stats worldwide, women are 86% of consumers and are active members of the global economy. Using this to our advantage, we have the power to strategically challenge and change this status quo. Media disempowers women by commodifying their bodies to sell their products ranging from magazines, to alcoholic beverages, to airline services and many other examples seen in advertisements. The same source of exploitation can also be a source of empowerment as represented by Geena Davis and her role in the movie A League of Their Own. She stated in Miss Representation that many young girls were approaching her and expressed how they began to join sports teams after watching her in the film. This proves that women in the media shown in an active and positive light can remind women of their potential in reality. This goes with the saying that we sometimes do not envision what we do not see. Her role in the film impacted the lives of many women and girls.
Increasing women’s agency is imperative in bridging the gap of gender inequality. I too have become an active producer using media by creating a short video with my fellow classmates that raises the problem and challenges women misrepresentation in the media. Blogs like feministteacher.com (that integrate feminist discourse and social justice in the education of elementary to high school students) and womensmediacenter.com work as outlets that highlight strong women leaders taking action in policy making, educational discourse, etc.
The media can be used to challenge the status quo, it just depends on where you are looking.
Marilyn Frye in her piece “Sexism” explores the relationship between sex identifying behavior and how society as a result has created a dimorphic sex system. She is critical about how the constant need to behave, dress and speak like a female or male is a way for society to justify and treat the females and males differently. She raises the obvious point that this is irrational because the actual difference between females and males do not justify the subordination of women and herald men as dominant. Think about a time when you came into contact with someone and could not indicate what sex or gender they were. One of the first things you observe is their clothing, body language, behavior, the tone and pitch of voice and other “sex marking behavior”. Frye delves into how this occurrence is normalized to the extent that it affects our behavior when one eliminates sex-marking behavior. This is found in the medicalization of intersexindividuals and the procedures taken to “fix” them into either sex category of male or female. In regards to intersex individuals, the constant sex marking behavior patterns that society regulates individuals to follow becomes problematic.
“Sex-identification intrudes into every moment of our lives and discourse…” (Frye 19). The linguistic and physical behavior we carry out is based on the sex of the individual we are encountering. As I mentioned earlier this becomes problematic in a society that only recognizes a two sex/gender system. The pressure to conform into either of the sex categories normalizes the false perception of the human sex/gender system. As a result, individuals who are intersex suffer the consequences of having an often termed ambiguous sex. Intersex individuals are people with “chromosome patterns other than XX or XY and individuals whose external genitalia at birth exhibit some degree of ambiguity,” (25).
Throughout medical history, doctors and parents have allowed intersex newborns and individuals to be surgically or chemically “corrected” into with one of the two sex dichotomies. Surgeries are commonly performed on newborns and in most cases remove the enlarged clitoris because doctors think it can be easily restructured. Yet, the surgery often scars the tissue or mutilates the genitalia of the intersex individual which has psychologically and physically damaging effects. The alternative to surgery is hormonal therapies which work to aid in the “normal” development of the individual’s sexed body. These are examples of how intersex individuals are diagnosed with a disorder rather than the medical field recognizing that two sex system unreliable. We have created a binary sex system and we try to fit people in either category, but this system is clearly failing.