The Way Media Portrays Women and Men is Hurting our Children
When I was younger, I remember always buying teen magazines from the grocery store. I would stare in awe at all the girls with flawless skin in the Covergirl ads, and I would marvel at the way all the girls’ bodies were all perfectly proportioned. I would then compare myself daily to these photos I saw, constantly of what women supposedly should look like. This was really hurtful to my self confidence and how I viewed my own worth. That’s just one example of the media that surrounded me and how it affected me negatively and constantly. I would pay attention to all of this, and I thought that that’s just how it is, and that’s how it’s always been, and it isn’t changing. But, the thing is, that’s not how it needs to be. That isn’t how it always has been, and it could absolutely change. The way women and even men are portrayed in media is demeaning, encourages sexism and has negative repercussions for the development of young girls and boys. It upholds stereotypes, motivates domestic violence and can be extremely harmful to a young person’s body image.
This has gone on for too long, and there needs to be a change made in what people are exposed to every day. The media just sells what is popular, and the people are slaves to what is popular. What’s “in” and socially “acceptable” is being shoved down our throats every single day via movies, music, television, ads and social media. But, the media have the power to make certain things popular, and they are capable of making positive material to send out into the world. It all comes down to where they decide to put their focus.
However, right now, the way the media focuses on women and men and how they’re portrayed is degrading and shameful. The media still show both genders in a very stereotypical and offensive light.
For example, women in magazine ads or on TV or in movies usually look a certain way. Their skin is flawless, not a hair is out of place, and they have what many view to be the “ideal body.” This same problem applies to the way men look in ads. Quite often, they’re tall, “buff,” and don’t have a single hair on their chest. The men have this certain level of masculinity about them, and if you don’t measure up, you’re not “manly” enough. There are several things wrong with all this. With all the airbrushing and photoshopping that goes on, it sets unrealistic standards for women and men. No one just naturally looks that way. It’s really not normal to look like that. Everyone has flaws. But when kids and teens only see a certain look in ads all the time, that’s what they consider beautiful; and when they don’t match up to the so called “beauty” or “perfection” that they see all over magazines, billboards, and the internet, this may cause feelings of not being good enough. They can be led to believe that the only thing that makes them of any worth at all is their looks, and how they appeal to the eyes of others. Not only will they view themselves this way, they’ll view others this way, too. When a male or female grows up and is finding someone to date or marry, they’re going to compare them to the ideals of perfection that have already been set for themselves, which will ruin chances at a lasting, healthy relationship with their partner. Distorted images of perfection that girls and boys are exposed to by media affects self esteem, body image, self perception and self confidence.
Despite the physical factors or the looks that come into play in this, there are other factors as well. In movies and on TV, the female character is most often the sidekick, the weak one, and usually just there to stand around and look pretty. In quite a bit of superhero movies, when the female characters get close to having a lead role, there is quite often a love interest involved. One example I can think of is Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In that movie, Black Widow (the female superhero) finally gets a lead part, but soon into the movie, she becomes the Hulk’s love interest, and that’s the majority of the focus put on her for the rest of the movie. That’s just how it is. We diminish a woman's worth to her ability to have a relationship with a man, and the only thing she’s good for is to serve men.
This leads me into the fact that the objectification of women in media is linked to domestic violence and sexism. Leah Kinnaird of Iowa State University has said that, after talking to several social workers over the years, they echo her claim: “I see domestic violence (insert your specialty here: child abuse, elder abuse, sexual violence) everywhere...there’s no denying there is interconnectedness between violence against women (domestic and sexual violence) and the objectification of women in the media...the way women are portrayed in media impacts that way we treat them, and in turn our children.” As I stated a few paragraphs above, we will view people the way we have been taught to view them. If women are thought of and seen as objects, that is precisely how they will be treated, and same goes for men.
Sexualization and objectification of girls in the media is also linked to mental health problems. The American Psychological Association released evidence and findings from their study and research on content of television, music videos and lyrics, magazines, movies and the internet involving or aimed at girls. They concluded that “the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising and media is harmful to girls’ healthy development.” To quote Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, the chair of the APA Task Force and associate professor of psychology at UOC, "We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development." The research evidence provided in this study shows 3 main sets of consequences. The first one, cognitive and emotional consequences, shows that sexualization/objectification of a person will undermine one’s comfort in their own body, which leads to self image problems including shame and anxiety. The second, mental and physical health consequences, has linked sexualization/objectification to eating disorders and depression. The third and last, sexual development consequences, shows that the sexualization/objectification has negative consequences of a person’s ability to “develop a healthy sexual self-image.”
With all this being said and taken into consideration, it is time to lead to the most important and often looked over point -- a lot of the views children have on the world and themselves are caused by media. The things they look at every day. Young children are particularly susceptible to deceit by the media because of their inability to differentiate between imagination and reality. The first few years of a child’s life is when the brain is most rapidly developing. A study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation has shown that “nearly all children in the zero to six age range have listened to music (97%) and have read or been read to (95%), or that nine out of ten have watched TV (91%) and videos or DVDs (89%)...nearly half (48%) of children six and under have used a computer, and more than one in four (30%) have played video games...and children six and under spend an average of about 2 hours a day with screen media.” If children, at the ages in which their brains are most rapidly developing, are allowed to be exposed to this much media every single day, surely (one would hope), it would be something wholesome and true and appropriate. But, referring back to my previous explanation of how women and men are portrayed in media, that is not the case. In addition to this, when children see inappropriate, disturbing or over the top things in the media on a regular basis, they will more than likely become desensitized to it.
The images we are letting the young people of this country be exposed to create notions in their brains of who they should be and what they can achieve. Many suggestions could be made on how to end this growing problem, like reducing media use, putting stricter rules on what is being put out or putting heavier regulations on the media, but I don’t believe this is what will make the biggest difference. Rules will always be broken. People will find loopholes, and being stricter isn’t always the best answer. The best solution to this issue is to push the people of the media and of the country to create a more positive and healthy portrayal of women and men -- from television, books and movies, to the way we speak to and about each other every day.