“We are to fear women with power, yet admire women with the status of victim.”

Olivia Rabbitt

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.

Love your Selfie

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.


6 thoughts on ““We are to fear women with power, yet admire women with the status of victim.”

  1. With the “Love Your Selfie” series, I thought it was a nice idea to show that all people deal with body image issues and insecurities, but at the same time, these are all attractive, successful news anchors. They aren’t exactly your typical Americans who struggle with obesity (except for Al Roker who has actually gone under gastric bypass surgery) or other large issues. So while it seemed like a good idea in theory, I don’t think most people will resonate with Natalie Morales, a quite slender woman, who complained about how she didn’t like her “stomach pouch”. Also like you said, it was less a hard-hitting journalism piece and more of a human interest fluff piece which seems to be how news is going these days.

    Cassie Walter

  2. I’m glad that Olivia brought up the “Love your Selfie” article/segment because I was looking at it the other day and had many of the same thoughts. As a society we are focused so completely on the way we look that it seems like more important aspect, like the news, can get lost. I agree that it was good to see that both the women and men were asked about their insecurities, but the fact that this becomes our nation’s “news” is somewhat concerning. As Olivia says, women and men are already so concerned with their body image and features like this only call more attention to the things that we all think are “wrong” with our bodies.

  3. I also watch the Newsroom and enjoy the change of pace with strong, smart, and confident female characters as important parts of the show. Mackenzie, Sloan, and Maggie, all show countless times why they are intelligent, and equals to the males on the show. However I agree with you that the storyline about Sloan’s leaked nude photos did portray her as stupid and inferior in a lot of ways. It showed that at work she was sophisticated but then outside the newsroom she is only sexual and foolish. She constantly struggles with men and relationships, which could be blamed on the intense focus she puts on her work. I was happy to see the Love your Selfie segment which at the very least addressed the fact that these people are wearing makeup. Just seeing people who are on TV everyday talk about their appearance and to show that they have some discomfort with their own bodies makes it easier for viewers who have similar discomforts to accept them.

  4. I saw the love your selfie video a few weeks ago when it first came out. It was filmed in my home state and I know a few girls who are actually went to that school. I remember watching it and smiling (even though there was some questionable material). However, at the end I saw that it was sponsored by Dove. Dove has done a lot of these campaigns where they expose the beauty industry and promote positive body image. What I think is important to keep in mind, however, is that they are still a beauty products company. I think in the media it has become “trendy” to be aware of body image and Dove, and other companies (recently Aeire) are still profiting off of this.

  5. I feel your pain about these things not coming as shocking anymore. I really can’t expect anything that the media portray as feminine to be valued at all. There is so much power in the economic and social patriarchy. It hurts to be reminded of how hegemonic masculinity actually is. Men can’t actually portray women (or non-white, non-homosexual men) in positive lights because they would lose some of that hegemony. These images really become truth for so many people and so many people internalize this sexist, racist, homophobic, attitude. And as much as I don’t want to conform, and I do my best not to, I actually kind of want to have economic stability. It’s a shaky line to walk across for any of us and we all feel the pressure in different respects. Some of us feel the need to put on more makeup, some feel the need to be violent to sustain masculinity.

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