Gender in Media: It’s Time to Change the Story
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” – Jim Morrison
In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2016, I will sit on a panel at a luncheon at the Ladies Recreation Centre (LRC) on behalf of The Women’s Foundation (TWF) to discuss gender portrayal in the media and the impact it has on the ‘beauty ideal’ on women and girls.
Put simply, the pressure to be the woman who’s ‘got it all’ – the body, the brains, the career, the relationship – has never been more strongly felt. And the negative effect is tangible: women are more dissatisfied with their bodies than ever before, leading to self-esteem issues and eating disorders.
For example, a study conducted by GFK published last year found that only three per cent of Hong Kong women were “completely satisfied” with their looks. Sixty-one per cent of women were either neutral or unsatisfied with their looks, ranking the region third from the bottom of the 22 countries examined.
It’s hardly a surprise when you consider how the media portrays women here. According to a study conducted by The Women’s foundation last year, more than 57% of Hong Kong women believe the media portrays them negatively. Sixty percent of women interviewed said they have avoided doing something because of how they look, and close to 90 per cent of those women confessed to thinking about their weight all or some of the time.
What is of greater concern is how this is affecting our children. Ninety percent of anorexia victims are girls aged 12 to 25, believed to be highly-correlated with perceptions of what is ‘beautiful’ as portrayed in the media. And, study after study reveals girls’ confidence begins to plummet as they enter their teenage years. In the UK, for example, a nationwide survey published in 2014 of 58,000 school students found only one in three 15-year-old girls have high self-esteem. Boys have also been hit with a similar confidence crisis in the last 10 years, although consistently it is girls who are most at risk.
The messages we receive in the media around what is ‘beautiful’ and ‘normal’ are frightening. But scariest still is what we are not shown. And what we – and more importantly, our children – do not see in the glossy magazines, the billboards, the music videos, even children’s cartoons, is reality.
A 2013 report on gender disparity by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that women are only represented a third of the time, and even then usually only as ‘eye candy’. The three-year study looked at family films released between September 5, 2006, and September 7, 2009 (122 family films in total) and found that 2.42 males were depicted to every one female. When assessing a total of 5,554 speaking characters, they discovered that only 29.2% were female.
To emphasize the disparity even further, not one female character in the G-rated range of family films studied was working in medical science, as a business leader, or representative of law or politics. Again in terms of occupation when looking at these same films, 80.5% of the working characters were male, and 19.5% were female – a huge contrast to the real world where women comprise half of the workforce.
When the media has such an undeniable power to control our minds, isn’t it time we changed the narratives we tell our children?
We all want our children to grow into confident and accepting people with good self-esteem. And that requires them to be aware of the impact of bias in the media and to stand up for gender inequality.
No matter how hard we try, our kids will be exposed to media that features sexualisation and gender inequality until things change. However, social learning science teaches us that children’s development happens through observation and imitation. This means you can begin to have an impact by modeling gender quality in your own home and community.
- Be aware of your own language (no complaining about your “big thighs” or saying that you “hate your nose”).
- Be active about voicing your views or filing complaints with a local retailer for running a sexist ad campaign, for example.
- Be mindful of the content your children consume and how women are presented.
- Be a champion in your own life for promoting equality in the home and in the workplace.
But above all, women around the world must push back on the stereotypes and love and accept themselves. And as Emma Watson and the #HeForShe movement maintains, men, this is your issue too.
The International Women’s Day event is hosted by the Ladies Recreation Centre (LRC) and is open to members and their guests. For more information or to book tickets, please contact the LRC on 3199 3500.
- A Mighty Girl: An empowering resource filled with books, toys, movies, and music for parents, teachers and others dedicated to raising smart, confident, and courageous girls. And, of course, for girls themselves! A definite bookmark worthy website.
- Anea Bogue: Anea is the creator of the REALgirl® and REALwoman® Empowerment Programs that supports females of all ages to be the best version of themselves. At a time when studies are telling us that ‘the average girl’s self-esteem peaks at the age of 9 and then plummets’, REALgirl® and REALwoman® is dedicated to inspiring and guiding females from age 9 to discover their ‘REAL’ (authentic) selves and develop the skills, knowledge, confidence and courage they need to consistently make informed life-choices from a place of self-knowledge, self-respect and strength.
- Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: Founded by Academy Award®-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, the Institute is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to dramatically improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under.
- Video: Seejane.org – If She Can See It, She Can Be it
- The Women’s Foundation: The Women’s Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in Hong Kong. They aspire to conduct ground-breaking research, to run innovative and impactful community programmes and engage in education and advocacy in the pursuit of challenging