Sunday, April 14, 2013

We resist, we rewrite: Representations of women in the media

Screenshot of google image search for "beauty"
Try this out: google "beauty" and look at the images that come up in the search results. Scroll down to see if the images change or not.

  • What do you notice about about who is (or isn't) represented? 
  • What social, political, economic and cultural attitudes are reflected in the images?
  • What do the images imply/say about "beauty"?

While a google search of "beauty" isn't necessarily direct 'corporate' advertising, the overwhelming representation of whiteness, age and body type of the women that come up in the search is remarkable. While we can be critical of mainstream media, knowing that companies pay to have certain images shown in our public spaces, what does it say when we do our own search on google--from our own homes--and see what images come up in the results?

Addressing what they see being represented in mainstream media, students from the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah, Kayla and Dylan, examine gender role representation in advertisements by creating a project for their Women and Gender Studies class. Through the project, they bring attention to sexist, negative and objectified images of women in mainstream media. 

The project looks at gender represented in advertising on a male/female binary and illustrates how women are sexualized, often in submissive or violent ways, to sell products. They contrast this with hyper-masculine stereotypes that portray men as strong, dominant and aggressive. The strategy for their project is to present images that show gender role reversals to demonstrate how mainstream media portrays gender roles and stereotypes in advertising. 

Representations of Gender in Advertising is just one example of a student project that critiques representations of women in the media--maybe you've seen Rion Sabean's popular set of photographs, Men-Ups? Or, you might have taken a look at the article, When Will the Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?, where Tracey Ross highlights the book, Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Womantaking an in-depth look into media's portrayal of black women. 

In a world where our lives are often saturated with corporate messages, it's important to be critical of the media and the corresponding messages. The relentless reproduction of these images, accessible for mass consumption, normalizes sexist and racist representations of women. Because of the way in which these images are circulated--as a norm or standard--it's important to make alternatives visible and challenge gender stereotypes and racist representations in various sources of media. 

Jarrah Hodge, from Gender Focus, asks some good questions about what it means to look at media critically. She writes, "media literacy is asking who is creating this and why. It's asking where the funding is coming from and whether that's influencing the message. It's asking what it means when the majority of messages we're receiving in mainstream media are coming from similar interests. It's also asking, "How does this make me feel?", "Are there people who aren't being reflected here?" "What pieces of society does this reflect?", and "Is this part of a larger pattern in pop culture today?".

Despite the abundance of corporate messages in mass media, viewers can, and do, position themselves as critical respondents to messages that are sent; they resist and rewrite through responses to mass media by culture jamming, doing street art, and self-publishing in zines and blogs. Responses through these mediums provide avenues to represent transgressive ideas and identities that are often not represented in mainstream media and pop culture. 

If you know of any resources that offer a feminist media critique or analysis, please share them!

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