Having a daughter has made me much more attuned to the media and how it represents women. I never really gave it all much thought before Emily came along. I always assumed I was pretty immune to the antics of hollywood, and those trashy-magazines that fly off the shelves because some random actress has *gasp* gained 10 pounds. Or Julia Gillard has *gasp* chosen another pantsuit. But the messages this kind of media sends slowly seeps into the subconscious. Nobody is immune. When waiting in line at a checkout and reading the latest headlines, you just cant help but have an internal dialogue with yourself that sounds something like this:
- Me: Alright, I’ll just quickly pay for these groceries. It’s a nice day and I’m feeling good about myself. *notices a 2-for-1 chocolate bar deal and contemplates her well deserved reward*
- Magazine: Hey you, Chubbo, look over here…random actress lost her baby weight after 3 days. What’s wrong with you? Are those maternity jeans you’re still wearing? *evil snicker*
- Me: I dont care about her, she’s got hoards of staff cooking for her and nannies looking after her children. Plus she’s probably dumb and unhappy. I have way more going for me. It’s not real life…. right? *feels confident and sassy, but opens cover to see pictures*
- Magazine: Oh it’s real life, check out this other random actress who did the same. And those other ones over there. You are inadequate, face it. *evil belly laugh*
- Me: Bah, I’m not listening to you, I am above this. *slowly puts back the chocolate bar, tucks stomach into well-worn maternity jeans, and vows to get fit*
While we can’t escape the mass-media, with a little understanding of what message its sending to us – consciously or not – we can at least try to change some of our media consumption habits. If not for ourselves, then for our daughters. When it comes to role models about the options she has in life, or what is important when you’re a woman with a career, I really want Emily to have choices – not role models handed to her by the popular press. You would never say to your daughter: “Sweetie, to be happy when you grow up shouldn’t be kind to those around you, follow your passions or build a career if you’d like. No darling, you should have a filthy rich father, be dangerously skinny, have a perfect husband and flawless children, and god-forbid, never-ever age”. The problem is that this IS what much media professes to women of all ages – media is just a bit more sneaky and sub-consious about it all.
If the mass media gives this subliminal message to grown women, I wonder how it impacts young girls. How do kiddie movies, TV and advertisements influence who they become? Who they want to become? When I was a kid, becoming a princess (Auriel from Sleeping Beauty was my princess of choice) was high on my list, and I’m darn sure that it wasn’t my parents who were promoting that. It’s fascinating, because some of the most non-princessey mothers I know have daughters who are absolutely obsessed with princesses despite Mom’s best attempts at providing other options. It’s an epidemic that doesn’t quit (and one that I am likely be going to face in about a year with Emily). So where does it come from?
On that note, I enjoyed Sonia Sotomayor’s recent clip on Sesame Street. Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything wrong with dressing up like a princess – I just want Em to have choices. And Supreme Court Justice is a cool halloween costume, no?
Also, a really interesting documentary – that I think everyone should watch -about the portrayal of Women in the media is called Missrepresentation. While it has a very American slant on things, I’d say that a lot of it is pretty applicable to many many countries. And even if you disagree, it makes you think about the messages you’re taking in, and those that your daughter might be exposed to growing up.
Here’s the trailer. It was free-to-TV in many countries, so you can probably find it online somewhere:
I’m not really sure what the solution is; I hate it when people harp on problems and don’t offer any solutions. Perhaps at this point I’m just banging my drum to raise more awareness of what’s going on. The next time you’re at the grocery store gazing into the latest copy of trash-magazine, try to fight back: avert your eyes, resist purchase, run, hide, and fight that soul-destroying internal dialogue. If not to save yourself, to save your daughter!
More great reading:
One of my supervisors, Amanda Sinclair, does amazing work about bodies and leadership. Well worth exploring if you’re interested. For example: Sinclair, A. (2005). Body possibilities in leadership. Leadership, 1(4), 387-406. http://lea.sagepub.com/content/1/4/387.short