Women: “The Oppressed Majority” and the Effects of the Media

In our time, the thing that holds the most power all over the world is the media. No one lives through one day, where they haven’t had some connection to the Internet, television, newspaper, billboards or anything else that has been made to advertise a specific product.

However, what we don’t realise, is the negative effect the media holds. We haven’t yet mastered control over the media.

The effect the media has on viewers is outstanding. If the media is the most influential thing in the world, then shouldn’t it be sending out positive messages? Messages that would create a better world? Ideally, you’d think that was the purpose of the media. You’d think that since we are exposed to the media from such a young age, it should have a positive impact, not a negative one.

Miss Universe, Beauty and the Geek, Two and a Half Men, The Real Housewives. What do all of these television programs have in common? They are all degrading to women, are yet incredibly popular shows. I’m sure when you watch such programs as these you probably don’t watch it with a critical view — they’re purely for entertainment, and it’s all fake – it’s just made that way for television, so it’s funny. No harm done, right?

Wrong. The effects of the media go unnoticed which is what makes it all the more harmful. The most dominant effect the media has is on women’s rights and how women are viewed. You hardly ever see strong, independent, smart, happy women as the lead role of a television program. Instead, you see sexualised, dumb, “love-stricken” and hopeless women, as though that’s the only way a woman can be.

Children start watching television from the time they are born; sure, they might not understand what they are watching – but eventually they will succumb to its messages. When they are at the age where they can understand what they are watching, it just gets all the more worse.

Miss Representation is a documentary about the controversial misrepresentation of women in the media.

Miss Representation documentary cover (Source: Miss Representation) 

I am an avid watcher of television, and this documentary just helped open my eyes to what I already knew. I was always one of those people who would watch a show, or read an article and know, deep down, that I knew something was wrong with it — but nonetheless I continued watching or reading, because after all – it’s on a highly publicised form of media.

However, this documentary draws light to the fact that just because some things are seen as the “norm,” doesn’t mean it’s right. It proves just how much of a negative influence the media has on women and how we need to help raise awareness of the negative effects it brings.

Women learn from a young age that it’s all about how we look, and that constitutes the way men view us. The media creates unhealthy cycles that continually draw attention to the patriarchal domination of the world we live in.

Women are statistically the most prominent viewers of television, yet the programs we watch are most notably made to suit men’s interest and satisfaction. Stereotypes about women are created through these programs, making women feel as if we need to fit into these stereotypes of women that we see.

Women are put up against an impossible standard in the media and this leaves women with the feelings of not being good enough. This alone can lead to serious mental and physical health issues among women, particularly teenage girls. Over the years, there has been a rise in eating disorders, depression, self-harm and other forms of mental disorders in female adolescents. Most always, the cause of this is the constant pressure of the media.

There are many forms of magazines that are aimed toward women, and just with a quick Google search a whole list of them will show up. Much to my dismay, some of the titles consist of Good Housekeeping and Home Monthly.  Now, why would these magazines be considered “American women’s magazines”?

I know I certainly wouldn’t want to read about “Good Housekeeping” or what it means to have the “American Home.”  And how come, when I search for a list of American men’s magazines, none of those “home” magazines show up? Surely men should also know about “Good Housekeeping,” or am I wrong because women’s rightful place is in the home? These magazines re-inforce the idea that only women need to know how to cook, clean, and look after children; in short, only women need to know how to have the “ideal American family.”

I’m sorry if my bleak sarcasm is seen as too much, but I just don’t see the logic in having magazines that further degrade the power that women hold.

The most common magazines for young women and girls are titles such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen, all of which  emphasize negative messages toward women. All of these magazines teach young women and girls to have an “amazing body,” or  to “get the perfect guy,” and wear the “10 hottest fashion trends.”

None of these magazines bring awareness to the courageous, talented, and smart women in the world who have accomplished amazing things. Instead, they draw attention to models that have an impossible figure to obtain, to performers who roam around in skimpy body suits and dance submissively with men, and to getting “guys to notice you.”  How can this have a positive impact on young women and girls?

Ms. Magazine Cover – 40th Anniversary Edition.
(source: http://www.msmagazine.com/ )

There is one magazine, however, that has achieved greatness, and is using media as a platform for building awareness and knowledge. Ms. Magazine is a women’s (and men’s) magazine focusing on women’s issues around the world. It’s informative and draws attention to things that are important and to people who deserve attention.

The issues they write about aren’t “light” and “fluffy” but are hard-hitting and informative. One particular article that was written in the 40th anniversary issue titled, “Behind Closed Doors,” is about domestic violence in China. Written by Elyse Ribbons, the article starts with the shocking line: “Wives – if you go three days without hitting them, you’ll go crazy.”

Ribbons discusses the lack of knowledge that surrounds domestic violence in China and how, “when asked, many rural women say they’ve never been victims of domestic violence, but yes, of course, their husbands hit them now and then.”

Another article in the Spring/Summer edition of Ms. Magazine focuses on women’s reproductive rights, titled “Fighting the War on Women” by Beth Baker.  The article goes into detail about how the healthcare system belittles and humiliates women who seek an abortion. It also explores women’s simple need for contraceptives.

These articles are informative and most importantly, not degrading to women.

The success of Ms. Magazine is most notable due to its founder: Gloria Steinem. Steinem is an amazing feminist activist who has brought attention to many issues regarding women’s rights. However, mainstream media knows her for her “good looks” and she knows this too, and it annoys her. Why is it that when a woman is seen with power, she is always reduced to her appearance?

When a man is seen in power we don’t judge the suit he decides to wear, or whether he is married or not. We don’t care because he’s doing something important such as being a political leader, so why isn’t it the same for women?

As stated in the documentary Miss Representation, two successful women are always pitted against each other, whereas the same doesn’t happen to men. The more power women gain, the more backlash there is. A woman who is strong and powerful is seen as a “bitch.”

The media has the potential to have so much positive influence in the world, but in the words of Carol Jenkins:“We are a nation of teenage boys,” and until we can overcome such a thing, women will continue to be depicted in juvenile and degrading ways.

In a film about Gloria Steinem, Gloria: In Her Own Words, I learned that “women are 51% of the world’s population, making women the oppressed majority.”  We have the numbers, so all we need is for women to start taking control and gaining more power in the government and in the entertainment and media industry. If women can have an influence in these arenas, we will surely be on the right path toward having women’s equality become a reality.

It won’t be easy — but when has anything been easy regarding women’s equality?

13 thoughts on “Women: “The Oppressed Majority” and the Effects of the Media

  1. Your experience with coming to terms with this perception of women in the media as well as your revelation about it all was very similar to mine and many readers probably. The norm is always justified because it’s the norm. It is the simple “Oh it’s okay, everyone’s doing it.” response. What you wrote is the response to that “If everyone is jumping off a cliff, do you jump as well?” You essentially became a leader and led readers through a thread of ideas and evidence to proof why this issue shouldn’t be taken lightly.

    The same approach is taking to lyrics of hip-hop music, most of the people that listen to it don’t even listen to the words. Those that do and notice the degrading lyrics tend to be more apathetic towards it and brush it off as the usual instead of saying that the content is wrong. We, as the consumer, need to speak up because we affect the market and the market will only put out what we want. If we make it known that we’ve had enough of the stereotypes perpetuated in the media then they will change it.

  2. I love your writing style; it’s humorous yet at the same time sends a message. For example “Miss Universe, Beauty and the Geek, Two and a Half Men, The Real Housewives. What do all of these television programs have in common? They are all degrading to women, are yet incredibly popular shows. I’m sure when you watch such programs as these you probably don’t watch it with a critical view — they’re purely for entertainment, and it’s all fake – it’s just made that way for television, so it’s funny. No harm done, right?” Here you’re giving us shows that are watched by a great percent of society and that seem to enjoy it. But, they subtly tell you what a woman should look like and how a woman should act. And you’re laughing so it becomes normal.
    You made plenty of good points and I enjoyed your post a lot. Keep up the good work!

  3. This was such an amazing post. You start by talking about and revealing an aspect of every teenager’s life which is television. I think it is safe to say that every teenager has grown up watching television and it is not until now that you mention it that I realize all of the gender roles that the characters were playing out in. The men would always be the strong, intelligent man with the plan while the women were almost always a damsel in distress who somehow could not do anything herself. I love that you point out that just ” because some things are seen as the ‘norm,’ doesn’t mean it’s right” because all of that is what I thought to be right. You grow up for 15 years not realizing that what your favorite shows were telling you was not morally correct. I think all of this really starts with boys because everything seems to aim to please the males. I feel like boys are the ones that need to be educated. Great post and your “bleak sarcasm” is most definitely not too much.

  4. There are a couple of other magazines/websites that off-set mainstream media representations of women and critique popular culture: Bitch Magazine, which I’ve written for for years, is affiliated with Ms. and certainly celebrates women and feminists that are rarely written about in mainstream publications. Bust appears to be another. Online, Feministing does a lot of great work.

  5. “I’m sure when you watch such programs as these you probably don’t watch it with a critical view — they’re purely for entertainment, and it’s all fake – it’s just made that way for television, so it’s funny.” This is very true. When you tell people that what they’re watching does actually do some harm, a lot of the time they quickly reject you because it is “purely entertainment”. Similar to you, I learned that television can do harm. After watching that film, I definitely view tabloids and television shows differently.

  6. I liked how personal you made this piece. I thought you did a great job analyzing magazines in today’s society. I liked how you used the juxtaposition of two images to speak to the intensity of the problem in the media.

    I thought you really captured the essence of what all media should become when you stated, “Ms. provides an outlet for people to read about important feminist topics that are really not covered anywhere else in any other major media source.” A goal for our society should be to make it so that Ms. isn’t an outlet but instead a norm.

    Great job!

  7. Fabulous! You do a great job with engaging your readers. When you ask questions like, “how come, when I search for a list of American men’s magazines, none of those “home” magazines show up? Surely men should also know about “Good Housekeeping,” or am I wrong because women’s rightful place is in the home?” You immediately got my attention! I’m thinking uh hello we have got to change this, and you are clearly on the right track.

    Your ending was superb as well. I love it it’s like umm hello women having been fighting this battle for WAY too long and yet we are still fighting for even some of the most basic rights. As you said so eloquently, “when has anything been easy regarding women’s equality?” Just cause it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting.

    Great Job!

  8. This was a great post regarding the gender roles that men and women play in tv shows, and the media in a broader lens. I appreciated your dissection of the role that women play in modern media. Something that stuck out to me in your writing was when you wrote, “you hardly ever see strong, independent, smart, happy women as the lead role of a television program. Instead, you see sexualised, dumb, “love-stricken” and hopeless women, as though that’s the only way a woman can be.” It’s interesting because after reading this claim, I was thinking of any shows on tv that contradict this argument and sure enough, I couldn’t. I began to think that it is not that young teens and adults don’t choose to watch shows that host empowered and intelligent women, it is more that there is no option to do so.

  9. It was impossible for me to take my eyes off of reading your blog post without finishing it. You are a great writer and I learned so much from your work! Everyone in the modern world has seen some form of media today. It is the most influential tool in the world now. It promotes negative images for viewers. The media reveals women as “dumb, “love-stricken” and hopeless women, as though that’s the only way a woman can be” instead of “strong, independent, smart, happy women as the lead role of a television program.” And I agree when you question in your blog “How can this (the material in mainstream magazine) have a positive impact on young women and girls?” All these magazines want girls for be thin, beautiful, and to follow their tips on grabbing a guy’s attention. This is not a positive impact, it is brainwashing girls to do things that they shouldn’t do. And why do people never judge on the looks of a great politician man while if its a woman, people do? I hope gender equality advances more into the future. Great post!

  10. I always like the abrupt stance you take in your posts. Sometimes I feel like you catch me redhanded doing something I shouldn’t be doing, like a child with my hands and nose stuck in the cookie jar, guilty chocolate all over my face. Then you make your reader realize that why there’s something wrong with the picture.

    ” I’m sure when you watch such programs as these you probably don’t watch it with a critical view — they’re purely for entertainment, and it’s all fake – it’s just made that way for television, so it’s funny. No harm done, right?”

    In fact, Two and a Half Men used to be one of my favorite shows. But I always thought it was weird the way that Charlie never really appreciates how caring and loyal Rose is, no matter how creepy she may be when she appears. Instead, Charlie always takes home women and Alan is always begging to find a woman, all the while teaching Jake that this is how his life should play out. And no one even pays attention to Berta, who’s been in almost every episode since the beginning and has cared for the family but is vastly under-appreciated and one of the funnier people on the show. Then of course the only two women who aren’t sexualized in the show are Rose and Greta who are both somewhat motherly ‘house keeping’ figures.

  11. Good job Eliza, I could not agree more with the points you made in this blog post. I agree and think that you are right to say that “we don’t realise, is the negative effect the media holds. We haven’t yet mastered control over the media.”. It is incredible to me how major the effects on girls have been within the media and how little people have come to notice them. When you say that “The effects of the media go unnoticed which is what makes it all the more harmful.” I could not agree more the attacks on women have become incredibly subtle, so hard to see and hard to stop.

    Another point I think you made beautifully was that “You hardly ever see strong, independent, smart, happy women as the lead role of a television program. Instead, you see sexualised, dumb, “love-stricken” and hopeless women, as though that’s the only way a woman can be.” The media makes it seem as if women cannot be full individuals anymore, they can not be beautiful and smart and have a career because society teaches men and boys that they have to be always in power, stronger bigger and more successful then women through any circumstances.

    I also liked how you spoke about the article “‘Behind Closed Doors,’ is about domestic violence in China” because I had read it too and found it incredibly powerful.

  12. I loved this piece, and you used some quotes which I think are fantastic!! “We are a nation of teenage boys”, so true! It makes me think of stories of ad executives and producers who say things like “Yeah, she’s a good actress, but she doesn’t give me a boner.” Why is it accepted for attractiveness to be the only criteria for a woman to be in an ad or on TV, instead of being an intelligent, caring, inspiring role-model! “Women are 51% of the world’s population, making women the oppressed majority.” Ridiculous! From my history class, I have seen statistics that show that women tend to vote more for the betterment of society, whereas men tend to vote more for things that only benefit themselves. If we worked for the betterment of society, we would accomplish so much!

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