Two weeks ago I interviewed Jennifer L. Pozner, media critic, lecturer and founder and executive director of Women In Media & News (WIMN) on the effect of sexism for women in politics for Let Your Voice Be Heard! Radio. Not only was Ms. Pozner overflowing with important information regarding the effect of media on women, but she showed us how it truly degrades, demeans and sexualize women, to the point where they become objects of desire, anything but viable candidates for political offices. The United States is 77th in the world in terms of women in legislative positions. Even Iraq and Afghanistan have more female participation in politics.
I finished the interview feeling informed, but hopeless. The media has a very tight grip on it's consumers, and the biggest consumers of media are by and large, women. In a sense, they own us. But how can we expect change if women hold only 3% of clout-positions in the mainstream media and are only 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors for the highest domestic grossing films?
Some don't understand the importance of having women accurately represented in politics and media. But when we have little girls thinking that being a princess is a viable career option, and newspapers more concerned with a female politician's attire and not her policies, we all suffer. Women are 52% of the Unites States population. We are not a minority, we are not an interest group, and we are most definitely not princesses waiting for prince charming.
The time to teach our young women that they must write their own stories is now. We can't expect to see changes in the way women are portrayed in the media until women write their own roles. What we see on television now is a caricature of what we truly are, and that portrayal is what young men see and confuse for real women. Inaccurate representation of women hurt both men and women. Young girls grow up trying to achieve an unattainable level of beauty and believing that women's issues revolve around makeup, hairdos, and boyfriends, while men grow up believing this is how women truly are.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching television, 17 hours a week listening to music, 3 hours a week watching movies, 4 hours a week reading magazines, and 10 hours a week on the internet. That means they have to process 10 hours and 45 minutes of media every single day. If their media consumption is saturated with inaccuracies, we cannot expect women to want to consider entering politics, or men to believe that women are their equal.
So what is to be done? First, acknowledge that depictions of women in media are inaccurate. Be the protagonist of your own life and know that it is more real than any movie or TV show. When you see presenters and newscasters using sexist language to refer to female politicians, call out their bullshit, and for the love of whatever you believe in, do not fall for their trap. And look out for your own sexist behaviors, we do it more often that we think. Before you attack a candidate for her appearance or her emotional state, take a minute to consider all of the valid, non-sexist reasons to criticize her. This is not about conservatism or liberalism, it is about having a fair and accurate portrayal of women in media for our young girls to look up to.