I found this week’s readings on the role of women in the media to be particularly disturbing. The objectification of women in advertising and the sexualization of violence in video games and movies is nothing new, but the merge of news reporting with both of these advertising techniques creates a dangerous and toxic culture which cannot separate fact from spin – especially where women are concerned.
Gill’s chapter in Gender and Media opened by giving numbers to the glass ceiling women face in the news reporting industry. Besides mentioning the differences between horizontal and vertical segregation of women and men in the media, Gil also gave research and anecdotal accounts of how this segregation and discrimination actually plays out. Not only is it common for women to be fired (or just not hired) because they did (or might in the future) “fall pregnant,” but women reporters are often tasked with opinion or feature pieces which perpetuate the media presentation of women as incompetent and sexualized victims. Some of the more staggering points made by Gill included the fact that women are two times as likely as men to be shown as victims and that women only constitute 14% of experts or spokespeople. As soon as Gil started talking about the new local form of news reporting which centered around a white middle class heterosexual couple, I immediately flashed back to my own “local news team.” How true that they were staged to look like a couple enjoying coffee together while melding stories of crime and corruption with a segment called “Cooking with Class.” What is news now? Gill says that news is whatever is considered “relevant,” but it seems all too often that women are only expected to find diet or relationship advice and tabloid stories to be “relevant.”
One of my favorite characters in the show Newsroom is played by Olivia Munn called Sloan Sabbath, but last season I was a bit disappointed with the role she and other female characters were cast. While Ms. Sabbath is a depicted as a fiercely intelligent and successful economist (a women as an expert in something other than health and wellness!), the show also calls into question her sexual integrity and mental capacity when pictures she took with a spiteful ex are leaked. Her coworkers then imply that she should’ve known better, that as the woman she was expected to be the gatekeeper of sexual impropriety. Another female character, Maggie, is shown as mentally unhinged and her reporting abilities are called into question after she witnessed the death of a young child while fleeing from gunmen while chasing a story in Africa. These two successful women are not even immune to the unfair double binds of female journalists when depicted on a fictional show. Interestingly, when I Wikipedia-ed this show, the main female characters were defined at least partially by their relationships, while the involved male parties were described only by their job descriptions.
Another interesting and relevant segment I found is actually being featured on The Today Show this week. It’s called “Love your Selfie” and features the news team confessing their body flaws, insecurities, and tips for how to focus on something other than appearance with the help of Doctor Oz. I’m really not sure what to think about this segment. Body image is a huge issue in our culture and I liked that both the men and women of the show were featured without makeup and “owning” their bodies, but what does this say about our culture? Instead of tuning in to morning news, we are tuning into morning shows which seek to entertain and subtly reinforce insecurity. If these nine already beautiful people are shown airbrushed and caked in makeup at 7am, what is our society being normalized to expect as normal? I’m back and forth on this one so I’m looking forward to comments.
I realize I’ve gone on and on about Gill’s article, and maybe that’s because Pozner’s Bitches and Morons and Skanks, Oh My! doesn’t really come as too much of a shock. Reality tv is often considered trash tv and therefore benefits from featuring gross caricatures of humanity rather than real people. Much like the WWE, reality tv is designed to entertain, rile up, and ridicule. And we eat it up in order to feel better or worse about our lives (depending on the day and personality we’re watching). The real reality of course is that these toxic representations of women as catty, untrustworthy, stupid, domesticated goldiggers, shapes new generations of women to believe that these characteristics are desirable feminine qualities and justifies the mistreatment of women. I wish this was coming as a shock, but perhaps my sociological glasses have jaded me in this respect.