Media represents women as ‘others’; takes toll in reality

Kate Clark

It would be easy to assume that since women make up roughly half the population, there would be relatively equal distribution of visibility between men and women. However, this is far from true because underrepresentation of women permeates almost all forms of media and day-to-day life.

KateClark
Kate Clark

In 1985, Alison Bechdel premiered a sort of litmus test for representation in films in her comic “Dykes to Watch Out For.” The “Bechdel Test” is quite simple. A film must have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

Seems easy enough, right? In everyday life, women have these sorts of conversations all the time. How difficult would it be to replicate in fiction?

Only four of nine Oscars nominees for “Best Picture” this year managed to pass that extremely low standard. In a study conducted by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D, “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” where she looked at the 100 top- grossing films of 2011, she found that 11 percent of protagonists were female and only 14 percent of female characters were shown in leadership positions.

This may not seem like a big deal; it’s fiction. Yet, fiction and media  influence real life and how we perceive the world.

In Robert Lipsyte’s New York Times article “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” he wrote, “It’s a cliché, but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominantly female characters.”

His argument is that boys don’t read because there isn’t enough male-driven fiction in the young adult genre.

While this may be true, there is a way we could fix this problem. We could stop discouraging boys and men from consuming female-driven media. Because, despite the fact male-centric stories are expected to be relatable to almost every demographic, female-driven stories are typically filed under “things to be enjoyed only by women.”

“The Hunger Games” movie prompted news headlines such as “Will Guys Go See ‘The Hunger Games’” and “Is ‘The Hunger Games’ Just for Girls?” Try finding similar articles for movies and TV shows featuring a male protagonist and you’re in for some deep Googling.

One of the reasons the disparity is so easy to miss is because women are, in general, viewed as the ‘other.’

The white, cisgendered, heterosexual male is generally the generic default setting in social acceptability. They go by essentially unnoticed in their numbers, while those who don’t fit that mold are pointed out as different. In some cases, the variations cause people to view the others as inhuman or objects. Female characters are pushed to the sidelines.

But this happens in real life to girls as well. In the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) report “How Schools Shortchange Women,” they found that teachers give less attention and encouragement to female students as opposed to their male peers.

While men are encouraged to speak up and state their opinion, women are encouraged to sit quietly. According to the study, “When boys called out, teachers listened. But when girls called out, they were told to ‘raise your hand if you want to speak.’ Even when boys do not volunteer, teachers are more likely to encourage them to give an answer or an opinion than they are to encourage girls.”

The lack of attention is more prominent in math and science classes and could be part of the reason there is such a high gender imbalance in those related fields.

The one area in school that girls typically do receive more attention is their physical appearance, whereas boys are praised for their thoughts. This carries over into adulthood.

According to a study by the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, female news anchors, despite making up half of the workforce, have to deal with the “overemphasis of physical appearance” as their greatest work related barrier.

In regards to it being more socially acceptable for men to be outspoken, one only needs to look at The North Wind’s own Opinions page.

Since the beginning of this semester, excluding editorials and staff columns, four opinions pieces were written by women, while 18 were written by men.

What’s unfortunate is how truly simple the solution to this problem is, which is to view women and men as equal in their potential.

We as a society must stop silencing and objectifying women until the only thing they believe is valuable about themselves is their appearance. Likewise, more fair representation should be offered to women in the media to not support the idea that we are nothing more than accessories to society.