Facing Hard Truths About the Representation of Women in the Media

Every time I am writing for my high school feminism course, it seems that there’s something else that I find out about, not only about myself but about everything around me that cracks the view I previously had of the world. 

In my high school feminism class, we were each given two Ms. Magazine  issues, the 40th anniversary issue and the Spring/Summer issue of 2012. The articles were great and covered topics such as voter suppression and unequal pay based on gender and race.

One article really stood out to me in the Spring/Summer issue called “I Can Handle It” by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano. This article is powerful because Whitefield-Madrano writes about her own experience with domestic abuse. I always seem to forget that rape and abuse are global epidemics and occur within the borders of a first-world country such as the United States.

Cover of Spring/Summer issue of Ms. Magazine. Image credit: Ms. Magazine

It is hard to read a story like this when someone just cannot see and fight against their abuser. If someone as informed as Whitefield-Madrano could just as easily suffer from abuse, then what happens to someone who is not as informed?

I have had a bit of experience in the sense that I know someone who suffered from sexual abuse as a child. They seem so powerful and happy on the outside but on the inside, they are screaming for help and tearing themselves down. It is a terrible feeling when you feel like you can’t help the person. That feeling of being weak is hard to get past.

Now, when I walk down the street or ride the train, I can’t help but wonder if there is a girl there that is being abused by a boyfriend or a family member. The worst part is when I look at people I care about and wonder if it is happening to them. It just fills me with so much anger to wonder what kind of sick, twisted person would ever hurt someone.

It brings me back to how hard it was to watch Half the Sky and looking at Fulamatu’s rapist with the desire to end that disgusting excuse of a human being’s life. That desire only brought me back to square one when I felt weak and unable to help the situation again because I knew that I could never end someone else’s life.

At the same time we were reading these Ms. articles, we watched a film in class called Miss Representation. This film really opened my eyes to how much the media has contributed to the common mentality that the exploitation of women is a natural part of everyday life.

My favorite part was when they went through a hundred different photos and videos of women in different aspects of society such as advertisements and video games. One hard truth that I had to accept about the media occurred during this section. The film hit me right in my comfort zone: video games.

A drawing of DC Comics Starfire from the team, the Teen Titans. Photo credit:http://barbaricpoetries.blogspot.com/2012/02/normal-0-false-false-false-en-us-x-none.html Drawn by Kenneth Rocafort

I grew up playing video games and I would always giggle at all the women in them because they always showed incredibly large breasts and always wore close to nothing. I guess I should admit that I felt that it was natural for women to be displayed like that. No one ever told me it was wrong, so I grew up thinking it was right.

It wasn’t until now that I look back at the way my friends and I acted towards girls and I am pretty disgusted by it now. However, I can’t blame myself for being trapped in the media’s grasp. Miss Representation forced me to notice these problems in the media, including the representation of women in comic books.

All of the female superheroes, even Wonder Woman, are drawn with such exaggerated features such as large breasts and overall perfect bodies. Even in something as geeky as comic books, there are still examples of the sexual exploitation of women.

I look at a magazine like Ms. and notice how interesting a magazine can be without Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie posing with hardly any clothes on the cover or with a deodorant ad that ensures that I will attract hot girls in bikinis.

Stuff like that seems to be everywhere now and is a force that has no age limit. It is going to take time and a lot of work but I hope that one day, as a society, we can move past the use of sexual images in everyday life. I can say from personal experience that growing up around images like these can have some really bad effects on children and society. 

14 thoughts on “Facing Hard Truths About the Representation of Women in the Media

  1. I love that you made this personal. It is so much more interesting to hear about a personal experience, and be able to relate that experience to the horrible problem we live within. I thought by bringing in the idea of hopelessness you captured the essence of how your friend must feel. This is the problem we are trying to stop, this sense of hopelessness, no one should have to feel hopeless. We as a country need to insure the safety of the people who live within it. It is our responsibility as aware and educated teenagers to continue the fight.

    I also enjoyed hearing you talk about video games and how you had your world shaken by hearing the analysis of women in video games and the media. It’s these realizations that are hopefully going to help stop the objectification of women in the media. If more young men, really people, can decided that there is a problem then we can see a change.

    I hope to see this change sooner than later.

    Great blog post!

  2. Luis, reading this, I can relate a lot in the way that the way in I see other boys act in a degrading way towards women, I feel a sense of shame for our entire gender. In addition I feel that the first step towards fixing the media and the messages they send to young boys and girls is by boycotting their ads and the products in which they are attempting to sell. It is hard work, but necessary for the sanity for the future of young people world-wide.

  3. “I guess I should admit that I felt that it was natural for women to be displayed like that. No one ever told me it was wrong, so I grew up thinking it was right.”

    I think this happens with many different aspects of the media. Especially when you’re young, you rarely question what is being told/shown to you in the media and automatically assume it is correct.

  4. The picture in this post of the super hero disturbed me deeply. As a kid I was the most avid comic book reader. I read them all the time with my dad and I adored superheroes. Female super heroes for as long as I can remember have been depicted like this, super heroes like the black cat, superwoman, even wonder woman. Even in fantasy, where a being can come from another planet and save the world with supernatural powers, women are still hypersexualized and objectified in their clothing. It happened so much I never questioned why either but I never expected women to do it because I had drawn this line between fiction and non fiction and I only thought women that were superheroes dressed like that.

  5. I agree with what you wrote about the feminism class, how: “there’s something else that I find out about, not only about myself but about everything around me that cracks the view I previously had of the world.”
    It’s amazing how moulded we’ve all become, growing up with all of these negative media influences. It’s not until this class that I really started to see what was wrong with the media, before — i’d never really thought too much about it, because after all, seeing girls in bikinis, or tight revealing clothing was “normal”.
    Like you wrote: “I guess I should admit that I felt that it was natural for women to be displayed like that. No one ever told me it was wrong, so I grew up thinking it was right.”

    The story you mentioned from Ms. Magazine made me really feel for you and the things you and the people around you have experienced. I know how hard it is, to not be able to help someone, when you know they deserve and need the help.
    Like you said: ” It is a terrible feeling when you feel like you can’t help the person. That feeling of being weak is hard to get past.”

    The following paragraph was my favourite of your whole piece, and really made me appreciate all the lessons we have learned in this class… “Now, I when walk down the street or ride the train, I can’t help but wonder if there is a girl there that is being abused by a boyfriend or a family member. The worst part is when I look at people I care about and wonder if it is happening to them. It just fills me with so much anger to wonder what kind of sick, twisted person would ever hurt someone.”

    This piece is really amazing.
    You did a fantastic job.

  6. There were some lines in your post that really stayed with me:

    “I always seem to forget that rape and abuse are global epidemics and occur within the borders of a first-world country such as the United States.” – That was precisely why I think I was so surprised at how close to home so many of these stories and problems hit. I like the way you give this post a personal meaning for you.

    The comic is very striking and I’ve noticed that women are so often objectified in comics. This is actually one of the worse one’s I’ve seen; I mean she’s it’s hard to imagine that one could reduce clothing any more than a spagetti-strap bikini, but somehow DC has accomplished it. This is how they sell comics, combine fighting and sex and you’ve got a stereotype for every heterosexual male’s wet dream. It’s absurd and I like the way you compared it to Ms. Magazine, showing what magazines should look like.

    “I felt weak and unable to help the situation again because I knew that I could never end someone else’s life.” – I thought this was very powerful considering that a large part of male gender roles is strength and confidence, and that men shouldn’t show emotion or vulnerability. So I admired the way that you admitted to your own feelings of helplessness.

    “I hope that one day, as a society, we can move past the use of sexual images in everyday life.” – I agree, completely and it makes me think about what the world would be without it. The whole purpose of using sex in ads is to appeal to men and to break through all the other ads and make you pay attention to that one. On almost a different note entirely, this makes me think of the way America is so used to abundance and that we have so many choices for everything that we are overwhelmed by information. My god-mother who used to live in Sicily and now lives in Kuwait, always comments on how much the abundance of America overwhelms her. So if America didn’t have SO MUCH would we need to put out sexually exploitive ads? If we only had one or two brands of deodorant instead of hundreds or thousands, would there be a need for ads with thousands of women running in bikini’s or would we just buy the product that we thought does what it’s supposed to do. A deodorant ad wouldn’t be about how the women will flock to a man who uses AXE, but instead how AXE does a great job at blocking body odor.

  7. I can relate to a lot of the things you mentioned about your own experience with feminism since taking this course. I am also much more aware and in constant thought, wondering if people I know are being trafficked and silenced like the girls in the GEMS documentary. I am most angered by how these girls are silenced. Obviously, human trafficking is a complete violation of a woman’s bodily rights, but the fact they are so shunned from society is what I find even more appalling. How can these girls that are being violated and abused to such sickening degrees be labeled “whores” and “low-lifes”‘? I think society needs to actually examine this issue with greater thought for once instead of just looking at these victims from the outside, and realize that these girls are in fact “victims” and not just the trashy girls that society labels them as.

  8. I agree with many things that you have relayed in your post. l too “always seem to forget that rape and abuse are global epidemics and occur within the borders of a first-world country such as the United States.” Especially when our country glamorizes the act of reforming developing countries’, but yet we have the same problems ourselves.
    It is our society’s views about women who have experienced sexual and domestic views that keeps people from telling someone what they are experiencing and fighting for themselves, sometimes until it’s too late.
    I also find it hard to know exactly what these people are going through, especially when you feel weak when it comes to helping them, and especially since some people don’t want help, but instead internalize this abuse.
    I like how you were quite personal with your post, not only mentioning how angered you got when you watched Half the Sky and one of the rapists were actually filmed speaking, but also mentioning how comfortable you had become with the concept of women almost always being very busty and scantily clad. I was very engaged while reading your post especially because of these personal touches. I appreciate you sharing your views for us to read. Great job!

  9. You were very honest with your piece. It seems that as soon as a person is introduced to feminist media, it really opens their eyes and helps them view the world from a different point of view. Now that I see the world from different eyes, I too worry about the people who are close to me. Sometimes, I become frightened to think if my family or close friends have gone through what these girls who have experienced in terms of abuse. Children at such a young age begin viewing images that they consider normal, but are actually inappropriate. The moment when you wrote about women cartoons in video games is a good example of how kids are viewing inappropriate images of women at a young age and that they consider it normal for our society. In comic books, the same idea is analyzed when young kids read comic books. Great post!

  10. I love how you brought in personal experience! I remember watching Teen Titans the TV show as a kid, and now that I’m looking back, I realize how early the expectation of how I should look was put into my head. Both of the girls on the show are the same height, very thin, but still have curves, and wear very little clothing. The boys have so much more range in bodies, one very short and thin, one taller and thin, and one very tall and buff. It shows young boys that there are a range of “accepted” body types, and people will like them exactly the way they look. It teaches young girls, that there is only one “accepted” body type. In fact, I believe it was this way with a lot of the cartoons I watched when I was young. Thanks for sharing this with me!

  11. I agreed and could relate to many of the things you have said in this post, especially about this feminism class. I especially liked that you wrote “when I walk down the street or ride the train, I can’t help but wonder if there is a girl there that is being abused by a boyfriend or a family member.” because I have too found my self look at people, girls and women differently, and like you said when I see a girl now I wonder if her smile is genuine or just a mask forced upon her to hide her sensibility and suffering. I also think about all the ways some girls are more likely to be recruited by pimps for sexual exploitation, and think about what I can do to help. I also found it very brave of you to write “It wasn’t until now that I look back at the way my friends and I acted towards girls and I am pretty disgusted by it now.” its something very personal but I absolutely agree, I myself as a girl had started to think of certain actions as morally normal until I started taking this course and realized they are not.

    Furthermore I also liked your point about women in comic books, it was not something I realized and I think you point is very important, that “Even in something as geeky as comic books, there are still examples of the sexual exploitation of women.”

    Great job!

  12. I agreed and could relate to many of the things you have said in this post, especially about this feminism class. I especially liked that you wrote “when I walk down the street or ride the train, I can’t help but wonder if there is a girl there that is being abused by a boyfriend or a family member” because I have too found my self look at people, girls, and women differently, and like you said when I see a girl now I wonder if her smile is genuine or just a mask forced upon her to hide her sensibility and suffering. I also think about all the ways some girls are more likely to be recruited by pimps for sexual exploitation, and think about what I can do to help. I also found it very brave of you to write “It wasn’t until now that I look back at the way my friends and I acted towards girls and I am pretty disgusted by it now.” It’s something very personal but I absolutely agree, I myself as a girl had started to think of certain actions as morally normal until I started taking this course and realized they are not.

    Furthermore I also liked your point about women in comic books, it was not something I realized and I think you point is very important, that “Even in something as geeky as comic books, there are still examples of the sexual exploitation of women.”

    Great job!

  13. I appreciated this post a lot. I liked how you were able to find the faults in one of your favorite things, comics. It’s really a shame that media hyper-sexualization is everywhere.

    An excerpt that stayed with me was:
    “Stuff like that seems to be everywhere now and is a force that has no age limit. It is going to take time and a lot of work but I hope that one day, as a society, we can move past the use of sexual images in everyday life.”

    It is so true that these images have no age limit, for children are able to understand different messages from the media, leading to internalization. I thought this post was great.

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