Media’s Looking Glass on Feminism
Media plays a crucial role in shaping the cognition, perception, and personality of the populace. In the prevalent status quo, media has become a powerful platform which does not copy a culture of a society; rather it is creating its own culture being followed by everyone. Moreover, the audience identifies itself with images, culture, stories, and narratives that are presented by mass media on TV, radio, in movies, and musical videos (Sarkar, 2014). Media is basically procuring its own lens to portray everything, which has also affected the sight of the viewers. Hence, our perception of culture, age, relations, experiences, lifestyle, code of life, gender, and even ourselves are modified by mass media. According to Brooks and Herbert, “Media, in short, are central to what ultimately come to represent our social realities” (2006). Some of the things represented are so unrealistic and new, that one is unable to believe in them. Yet, things are presented in such a manner that one is compelled to believe in these things and finally follow them as if they were an ordinary part of life. The role of different media platforms in increasing visibility of the feminist movement has been detrimental, however, the manifestation of the agenda has not been completely obvious or administered with conviction. Most times feminist ideologies are stifled.
Both single and married women are significantly becoming independent since 1947. By 1974, 50% of women in America were employed and this percentage has increased significantly, yet media representation is showing diverse perceptions. For instance, employed women are under-represented in all kinds of media, but are usually represented in the domestic domains (Bienick 2015). Even if they are depicted as employed women, their statuses are not shown as those of successful or high-scale jobs. Men are represented as perfect businessmen and celebrities, even though women are partaking roles in every profession. Additionally, problems faced by women like gender discrimination, domestic violence, and harassment are not portrayed at all. Some societies even consider such subjects as taboo and immoral. In fact, gender is actually used to show a division of men and women; and men are portrayed as the leaders and power-holders, while women are depicted as frail, dependent, and sex objects (Brooks and Herbert 2006).
Media emerged most probably in 1833 with the development of modern newspaper after the rotatory press was invented by Richard Hoe. At that time, the newspaper “New York Sun” was also introduced to common people, and it cost only one penny. Later, motion picture technology was developed in 1890s by Thomas Edison and Lumiere brothers, but commercial television evolved in 1913. Next, radio became commercially popularized in 1920 by KDKA radio station in Westinghouse; sound was added to movies in 1929; and radio became parts of homes in 1950s. Further, NBC and CBS channels broadcasted war news in specific timings, but independent and cable TV became popular in early 1970s. Finally, web surfing was introduced in 1993 through the user-friendly browsers, and the new age of Internet began. Internet became popular in a very short time and even gave tough time to other media masses because “internet does not simply compete with its predecessors, it subsumes them” (Neuman 2010). Therefore, the evolution of media platforms has equally revolutionized the evolution of Feminism and the ideologies surrounding the feminist movement has experienced many dynamics and faces over the years. The feminist agenda is ever-evolving, and it is important to look back down memory lane to understand its origination and the influences that sparked this movement.
Feminism came to surface in 1920s, but media represented it in such a dark light that though females wanted to obtain their rights, they didn’t want to be recognized through the label of feminists. For instance, Darah (2011) studied the news related to the waves of feminism in “Seattle’s Times” and found that feminist movements have either been completely ignored or under-represented in media, and this directed a message to audiences that it is not an important movement at all. Now, feminism began in 1920s against the dominance of men, and its second waves started in 1960s and gave rise to many controversies.
One of the symbols used to portray feminism through media at the time was the famous the famous J. Howard Miller’s “We can do It” poster also referred to as “Rosie the Riveter.” The poster dates back to the World War II period, a time characterized by rampant patriarchal domination (Schipske, 2008). During the war, millions of men were deployed overseas to fight and contrary to the expectation of women’s roles in the society, they were expected to fill their shoes and fulfill their roles. Women were encouraged to step up and join the workforce changing their traditional roles as homemakers to working women. There were varied versions of them depicting a full spectrum of industries, administrators, defense, where some welded, riveted hence the name ‘Rosie the Riveter’.
However, the poster was not as empowering to the feminist movement at the time, it was merely intended to encourage women to join the workforce temporarily and for patriotic reasons until the men returned from war. Therefore, the initial intention for the poster was to spread propaganda to encourage women to join the workforce albeit from a sexist point of view (McGrath). They were regarded as ‘home front soldiers’ where their contribution was deemed heroic and not for personal benefit or growth. Sadly, media represented the feminist movement as dead or dying in 1970s. Even in the contemporary times the labels has been too defamed because media only shows those opinions that negates it. Media just propagates its own view, “by choosing which stories their public does or does not view gives them incredible power in determining the success or failure of social movements” (Darah 2011:16).
Media also presents its own view of a woman’s body image. Most advertisements represent a woman as a sex-object and the charm towards every advertisement is created through a woman who has a fair complexion, less than 24 inches waist, small clothes, seductive looks, and pretty gait. Moreover, media portrays women as being materialistic and greedy (Sarkar 2014). In movies, drama, and advertisements, they are depicted as being frantic towards rich and successful men. In advertisements, girls are depicted desperate for men with expensive cars, bikes, jobs, and homes, and are also deemed unfaithful in such cases for being coquettish (Watkins and Emerson 2000). As a result, girls who do not conform to the beauty standards are ignored by others, and they also lose their own self-esteem which results in depression and stress. Therefore, they leave no stone unturned to achieve the ideal body, despite the fact that these trends keep changing after some time.
In this already biased representation, there is more discrimination when white and black women are publicized. For instance, white women are portrayed as privileged, while black females are shown in inferior states. Black feminism has evolved as a result of this difference, which upholds that colored females are further depicted as inferior to whites, as “mammies, matriarchs, jezebels, welfare mothers, and tragic mulattoes” or having coquettish attitudes that tempt men towards their bodies (Brookes and Herbert 2006: 299).
However, Bienick (2015) is of the view that feminism is getting a new turn because contemporary programs show female role models and powerful women. The author cites that examples of dramas like The Good Wife, Parks and Recreation, Scandal, Orange is the New Black, 30 Rock, The Mindy Project, and Transparent. The animation movie “Frozen” also projects this positive aspect. Although the trailer portrays them as singing and dancing princess, they are depicted as strong girls. Women might be physically frail, but that doesn’t mean that they do less than men, can perform only domestic chores, and be the sex objects. Media exposure manifestation of the feminist movement has increased in our contemporary world encompassing a wider spectrum where feminist agenda is featured on mainstream platforms as opposed to just special features. Over the years, the “Rosie the Riveter” poster has been deciphered, parodied and appropriated through different media platforms in movies and videos and with posters, mugs, T-shirts, tapestries sporting the image. It portrays a woman flexing her arm and biceps with the slogan “We Can Do It!” (Schipske, 2008).
The image has become widely popular as modern myth symbolizing strength and empowerment to women. The exalting nature of the image of Rosie the Riveter, for example, is what perhaps propagates its relevance to feminism. The flexed arm and fist raised upwards portray her capability as a woman. The almost masculine and vigorous arms go against the dominant paradigms that associate women as feminine beings and masculinity as a preserve for men. Her presence dominates the picture figuratively and literally, signifying a reversal of role indicating a revolution where women are no longer meek, dependent and inferior. The ‘we can do it’ slogan in totality embodies a sense of collective responsibility that is synonymous with the women liberation movement activities to empower all women (Hooks, 2014).
It is quite evident that media is a very strong platform that can show and influence the view about any particular things in way that it wants by increasing visibility. Although women are being portrayed in the most negative way, they can endeavor to unite instead of getting scared of the labels and stereotypes regarding identifying with or advocating the feminist movement and work together to portray a positive image of females. If TV or radio doesn’t help them, they can utilize the new platform of social media to bring awareness to people. Inspirational videos, messages, quotes, and images should be made to influence people. Moreover, female writers and directors should take an initiative in the world of media and make stories that display them as resilient and perfect. They can also work to eradicate the stereotypical believes of objectification, frailty, and sex objects.
Bienick, Adrienne. 2015. Feminist Theory and Pop Culture. Rotterdam: Sense Publications.
Brooks, Dwight E. and Lisa Hébert. 2006. “Gender, Race, and Media Representation.” Pp. 297-317 in Sage Handbook of Gender and Communication, edited by B.J. Dow, and J. T. Wood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Darah, Kelly. 2011. Media Portrayal of the Feminist Movement: The Seattle Times Coverage from 1970 to 1979. Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University.
Dutt, Reema. 2014. Behind the Curtain: Women’s Representations in Contemporary Hollywood. London: Media@LSE.
Hooks, Bell. 2014. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Routledge
McGrath, Casey. Rosie the Riveter, a Reluctant Symbol of Patriarchy. The Evolution of an American Icon.
Neuman, W. Russel. 2010. Theories of Media Evolution. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Sarkar, Sumita. 2014. “Media and Women Image: a Feminist Discourse.” Journal of Media and Communication 6(3):48-58.
Schipske, Gerrie. 2008. Rosie the Riveter in Long Beach. Arcadia Publishing.
Watkins, Craig, and Rana A. Emerson. 2000. “Feminist Media Criticism and Feminist Media Practices.” Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science 572:151-166.