Media Matters: The Importance of Media for the Feminist Movement

Through the media, people learn a lot about a society’s culture. Movies, music, and books are just a small portion of media that people use daily. Some of the media people see in our culture is entertaining, truthful, or inspirational. But some of the media we see today, including mainstream media, is highly offensive, rude, or inappropriate for lots of viewers.

While growing up, I had the ability to distinguish whether what I saw on television was appropriate for me or not. If I were flipping through the channels and I saw a woman seducing a man, I quickly changed the channel because as a kid, I was utterly disgusted by those images and I knew that it wasn’t something that I was supposed to watch, so I stuck to cartoons.

But when it came to music, I was unaware of all the meanings of the lyrics when I listened to them. I was unable to decipher what the words said or meant, yet every time I would hear this music, I couldn’t help but nod my head and dance along to it. On my block, these songs were all that were played. In school, these songs were all that my friends would sing.

As I grew older, I began to understand the meanings behind this music, which left me shocked. I made the decision to never want to listen to these songs again. These are songs that mention sex, drugs, and cursing.

But what really shocked me were songs about how these celebrities treated girls and women, such as calling them the b-word or showing pride in pimping.

Hip Hop rapper Snoop Dogg at the 2003 MTV awards with two women on dog leashes. (Photo: Reuters)

I recently read Rachel Lloyd’s “Corporate sponsored pimping plays role in US human trafficking” and it was an article that really stood out to me because it made me question a lot about the music industry. How is it that the song “P.I.M.P” by 50 Cent went platinum three times and got him a 50 million dollar sneaker deal?

How is it that Snoop Dogg showed up at the 2003 MTV awards with two women on dog leashes, yet he still gets to be on the cover of Rolling Stone’s December 2006 issue as Santa Claus with the caption “America’s Most Lovable Pimp”?

Lloyd is the founder and executive director of GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), which helps girls and young women leave the sex trafficking cycle in New York. As I read Lloyd’s piece, I couldn’t understand why “our American girls are bought and sold everyday” and that the “median age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the US is between 12 to 14.”

It really made me upset that what I read was true. It later became proven when I watched the GEMS documentary called Very Young Girls, which showed the lives of real teenage girls who become victims of sex trafficking in New York City.

I couldn’t believe this was happening in my city. It makes me angry to see these so called “pimps” abusing young girls for their benefit, yet mainstream music tries to glorify this way of living.

Does 50 Cent really know what he is talking about when he uses the word “pimp” in his music? It made me want to jump up from my seat and do something for these girls whose lives were terribly affected by their pimps. But then I realized that something has already been done.

Why are celebrities like these who have been inappropriate and offensive still be loved by the majority?

As Lloyd states in her article, “it would be easy to point hip-hop culture as the primary culprit” of all of this nonsense. But hip-hop culture is not about that. Hip-hop is a style of music. There are hip- hop artists who sing or rap about the opposite of what these so-called celebrities state.

Many listeners refer to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G as the most inspirational and influential hip-hop artists of all time. But because these other celebrities like Snoop Dogg are very popular, they represent what hip-hop is instead. As a result, it is a genre of music that is highly misunderstood.

Then I realized that mainstream media plays a big role in influencing or teaching the masses. From a very small age, children are taught to have roles and expectations based on their gender. Girls are taught that beauty is important and that they must look innocent. Boys are taught to be strong and to show superiority.

Expectations about gender get even worse when children become teenagers. Young girls are taught to be attractive so that boys can be interested in them. They are told that in order to feel more wanted, loved, or important, they are required to wear make-up or wear very revealing clothing.

Boys are taught to act like pimps because getting the most girls is what makes them powerful and cool. Mainstream media has further exploited these ideas. As more songs, movies, and ads contain the ideas of beauty, sex, and pimping, the more people will be taught that it is important to have these values.

As a result, people do what they can to be seen as “cool” or as “important.” For girls, that means buying make-up, or for boys, that means acting flirty in school or standing on the street whistling and harassing young girls as they pass by. Based on the images they see, boys think that it’s really cool to be like Snoop Dogg and that it is appropriate for them to be pimps. This idea is further supported with the help of Rolling Stone’s December 2006 edition showing Snoop Dogg with the caption “America’s Most Loveable Pimp,” with the key word  being “loveable.”

Mainstream magazines seem to do the most harm, especially those that are read by many young people. As seen in the latest InStyle magazine (December 2012 edition) the front cover is full of examples of how to improve one’s beauty. Titles include “10 hair makeup magic tricks,” and “The no weight gain winter: 10 really easy expert tips”.

In Seventeen Magazine, the front cover has small headlines for girls audiences that read: “Find a great guy: Taylor Swift tells you how” and “Pretty hair glam makeup & sparkly nails for New Year’s!” Each magazine has a picture of an attractive celebrity on the cover wearing an overpriced dress to promote that beauty matters. Even on the magazines websites, like that of Seventeen, have the same messages as in their magazines. These messages never change in each new edition because looking beautiful is something that will never get old for people. We know this because, on average, the American woman spends about $12,000 on make-up products each year.

Seventeen Magazine, a very popular magazine, is an example of mainstream media that contain messages about the importance of looking beautiful. Magazines such as this latest one usually has the picture of a very famous celebrity recognized for her beauty on the cover. The majority of these covers have headlines on the side that are celebrity tips on how to lose weight, look beautiful with make-up, or how to attract an attractive male. (Photo from Seventeen Magazine website)

The media can have a negative impact on the way people act, think, and look, but can there be a positive impact? As I began learning more about feminist media, I realized that change can be made.

Miss Representation is a film that challenges mainstream media. This documentary focuses on how the media affects girls and young women. The film explains how popular television channels such as Celeb TV and Entertainment TV portray beauty. It also reveals how easily models are photoshopped by companies to be as beautiful as they can be for advertisements, whether it’s on a commercial, magazine, or billboard.

According to this film, studies show that 80% of young women in the United States are unhappy with the way their bodies look and 20% of young girls cut themselves due to depression.

The media has caused most girls to feel insecure about the way they look. Confident young women were interviewed for Miss Representation and they stated that the media should portray girls and women based on their intellect, not on their appearance. If all the 80% of girls who are unsure about their bodies were to watch this film, I honestly believe that they would agree with what these girls said.

The majority of girls and boys today struggle to live in a society where they are not accepted for who they are. The majority are influenced by the media. Some succeed in doing what the media “tells” them to do while others struggle to do so and therefore feel unhappy for not meeting up to the gender standards that we have in our current society.

The cover of Ms. Magazine’s Fall 2012 edition. (Photo from Ms.Magazine website)

I have to give a big applause to Ms. Magazine for starting its important contribution to feminist history and media 40 years ago. I was happy when I read the latest Ms. Magazine issue (Fall 2012). This is a magazine that supports women’s rights. This is an example of what every magazine should be like.

I can’t help but to smile while reading their slogan: “More than a magazine, a movement.” Here is a magazine that shows stories of inspirational women, such as Bharati Singh featured in the article “From Slum to Statehouse” about a woman who was elected deputy mayor of her state in India.

Another story of an inspirational woman in Ms. is Kim Simplis Barrow featured in the article “The Michelle Obama of Belize.” In this article, Simplis Barrow, the first lady of Belize, is recognized for her dedication to push reform in areas like education and healthcare.

This is not a magazine that has articles on how a woman can lose up to certain amount of pounds in a few weeks. This is a magazine recognizing woman for their intellect and for trying to help improve our world. I think that every magazine should have articles on people like Bharati Singh and Kim Simplis Barrow and to recognize each individual’s achievements. Not once does Ms. Magazine criticize these incredibly smart women about how they look.

By learning about feminist media such as Ms., it made me learn more about  girls’ and women’s oppression everywhere, which is certainly much more urgent than learning about some celebrity’s new hairstyle.

Who knows? Maybe if feminist media does reach its peak where everyone knows about it, maybe there can be an award for a film about sex trafficking and not for a film revealing attractive girls in every scene. Maybe there can be a song written and heard by everyone about the dangers of being involved in sex trafficking and not glorifying the life of a pimp.

Feminist media has taught me a lot and has shaped my thinking and passions. If that is the case, will it be the same for other teenagers my age to think change for these girls? To answer this question, the public needs to know about these issues first. They should be encouraged to watch Miss Representation, Very Young Girls, and read the works of famous feminists like Rachel Lloyd and Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine. If feminist media continues to grow just like Ms. has done, then maybe it could replace the current and corrupt mainstream media that we know of with something much more appropriate and respectful for everyone.

7 thoughts on “Media Matters: The Importance of Media for the Feminist Movement

  1. The image of Snoop Dog holding two girls on leashes is really disturbing. A leash is meant for a pet and putting a leash on a woman implies that Snoop Dog “owns them”. Also, the title “America’s most lovable pimp” helps to glamorize pimps.

  2. Nice post! I love hearing about feminism from the point of view of a boy! Growing up, there are such defined borders of what you need to do to be a girl, and what you need to do to be a boy. I like how you wouldn’t want to watch TV with sex or drugs when you were little, because you thought it was disgusting… way to go Cesar! “As more songs, movies, and ads contain the ideas of beauty, sex, and pimping, the more people will be taught that it is important to have these values.” And this is exactly the problem right here! While boys like you are able to stay above the media’s influence, so many young people, including myself, succumb to the pressures of the media… great job!

  3. as a longtime fan and follower of hip-hop music it frustrates me that this is what the genre has become. hip hop is storytelling with an artistic spin and for songs like P.I.M.P to be considered hip-hop, while it may be catchy, and images like the one above of rapper Snoop Dogg to be considered what hip-hop and hip-hop culture, is truly depressing and discouraging. it is frightening that the future of hip-hop is falling away from artists like Tupac, Nas, and Lupe Fiasco and towards non-sense and degrading artists like 50 Cent and Soulja Boy.

  4. I think it was great that as a child, you were able to control what you watched on tv so instead of watching some MTV show, you watched Spongebob, but then you talk about where you were left vulnerable to the wrath of the media. I can relate to that but flipped because I distinguished music that was clearly only about sex, women, and violence from songs that I actually liked and I felt good about that. In everything else I guess I was easily influenced. Even in my genre, metal, I found clear examples of the same messages that were being portrayed in the media, just not in such a large degree. I also really like the fact that you start by attacking hip-hop as a perpetrator of these gender views, like glorifying the life of a pimp but you quickly get to the point that hip-hop is not the perpetrator, it’s the victim of the media. You also really explore the expectations that were set for boys and girls but it really is not until now that I realize the effect that they had on children, especially girls. This was a really great post.

  5. I think that your post does a magnificent job at connecting the dots. From your personal connection to music, to popular exploitative artists like Snoop Dogg, to why the media dominates what we say and do and then to what must change and why feminist media could be the solution. Overall your argument left a lasting impression. Here are a few things that stayed with me:

    I seem to remember Snoop Dogg taking two women in collars to an awards show. It’s so vividly in front of everyone’s face but only proves so detrimental to our moral well-being as Americans because we are not taught media literacy. There is no class for that in pre-K or kindergarten when you are learning how to read. But once you understand it you see the corruption and immorality, it’s revolting and it’s everywhere.

    “As a result, it is a genre of music that is highly misunderstood.” – Hip Hop/Rap is one of my favorite genres to listen to. But I somewhat disagree. I do agree that it is more understood. But at the same time, I think that Hip Hop has evolved into something to blame, because sexualization and objectification in today’s rap and hip hop is inescapable. Old school rap from prior to around 2002 had fewer songs purely about objectifying women. Many of them told stories about growing up in a tough neighborhood and overcoming something, or about family, or just busting a move to a funky beat. But after artists like Snoop Dogg emerged, derogatory lyrics became the norm. Now we have song like “Whistle,” that is so blatantly about receiving a blow job!

    “Then I realized that mainstream media plays a big role in influencing or teaching the masses….Based on the images they see, boys think that it’s really cool to be like Snoop Dogg and that it is appropriate for them to be pimps.” – This goes hand in hand with the previous statement; not only does the media put out these messages, but it labels them ‘cool’ and then makes us all want to be ‘cool.’ Simply, it’s peer pressure. It’s the popular kid who dares you to drink hot-sauce or make out with someone. It’s the person who get’s you to do something self-harmful for their own personal gain. And the media’s personal gain is money.

  6. Great Job Cesar, I really like how you talk about music as another medium the media uses to instill ideas of oppression in our minds even as children. You say that “when it came to music, I was unaware of all the meanings of the lyrics when I listened to them.” I was the same, especially when they were American songs and the problem with that is that is that, although children do not truly listen to the lyrics and their meanings they still internalize the messages beneath them. I also agree that when I was put forth these lyrics for what they were “songs that mention sex, drugs, and cursing” I was shocked, these were songs I was listening to and maybe even sing down the hallways in lower and middle school, when I was still a child.

    I was also really disturbed by the picture of Snoop Dogg at the 2003 MTV awards, and specifically the caption ‘America’s Most Lovable Pimp’? that picture is the perfect example of the media normalization of an oppression as grave as the sexual exploitation of children. I love your point, “Does 50 Cent really know what he is talking about when he uses the word “pimp” in his music?”and it’s true, 50 Cent probably does not, and even if he does he has become (like many) a part in the cycle of this normalization of violence.

  7. This is a really great post!

    I was exactly like you, because when I was younger I didn’t realise what I was listening too, I thought it was just fun. But it’s when you see the visuals that it hits home what the song is about. Now, after seeing all the derogatory attitudes,, misogyny and just plain disrespect to women in these clips, I have a better understanding of what I am listening to, and the damage it causes. I now find the lyrics of a song are the things that draw my attention.

    You covered a lot of different angles of the media in this piece, and one line in particular that you wrote, I found to be crucial. “Young girls are taught to be attractive so that boys can be interested in them.” This just brings about the whole “purpose” of a women. To be a woman, you must have a man fall in love with you… that’s it. Or at least, that’s all we are taught.

    I couldn’t agree more about feminist media hitting its peak. If that can happen, the world will be a whole lot better.

    It’s really great to see your interest and views on the types of negative effects the media has on people, women in particular. I can tell this topic means a lot to you. Fantastic post!

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