A Reflection On Gender Representations in Pop Culture

Guest Post by AJ Trela, Future PR Professional

Throughout the semester, listening to the American and Italian creative women speak about their collective experiences in advertising made me think. Watching Miss Representation made me mad.


Image from Now Foundation’s 2012 Love Your Body Campaign

What did I learn? Media is overwhelmingly in the hands of men. So is advertising. This means that 97% of what we know about the world and ourselves comes from a male perspective (according to Miss Representation). Think about Hollywood. There are few female directors and writers. Women in movies are not real, complex characters, but essentially caricatures of what male directors think women are. Think about advertising. We are sold products in ways that bank off insecurities instead of in ways that demonstrate real benefits – just because sex sells.

Why am I mad? Marketers dictate cultural rules and values whether we realize it or not. Based on trends throughout the history of advertising, this translates to the fact that women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure.

It’s not “just TV,” and it’s not “just a magazine” and women shouldn’t know better than to fall for Photoshop tricks. Media impacts real life. Beyond promoting acceptance of skewed body image and sexual/gender values (by casually portraying situations like domestic abuse), media and advertising impacts power structures in culture.

We are undermining women. Sexism spills into our lives from every direction. As Miss Representation illustrates so well, we (via the media) don’t seem to genuinely care about what powerful and smart women are doing. We care about their hair and who they’re dating and whether that dress made them look fat.

The female voice, while more common than 30 years ago and definitely still growing, is still fundamentally missing from media and advertising. If things keep going the way they’re going, I frankly do worry about my future children. By exposing girls to the messaging trends we see now, we subconsciously insinuate that these are cultural expectations by which they will be measured and, down the line, we increase their dissatisfaction with themselves.

But this isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a men’s issue, too. By exposing boys to the often borderline misogynistic portrayals of life in the media, we are saying it’s OK to treat women a certain way.

All this being said, I haven’t lost hope and I believe in my generation. I know many young men that support their female colleagues in a career-oriented and platonic way. These young men get genuinely excited about their successes. And these young ladies are strong, smart, determined. I admire them. I personally want to be part of the change. Maybe sexism is getting stale. Maybe my generation will be the one to instill new values in future generations. Maybe we will come to realize the value in shedding our country’s heavily patriarchal traditions.

I also hold out hope for the women that are said to purvey unhealthy body images – models. I see a slowly growing trend of body acceptance coming from within the most notoriously damaging industries around. There are a slew of incredibly well known models becoming advocates for self-love. Many of these ladies are now powerful businesswomen and were severely bullied as children for physical imperfections that the fashion industry embraces. They speak out against judgment, against posing nude and promote self-respect. I admire this wave of women as well. I hope that their platform becomes a more visible one to help challenge everything damaging that our culture has inflicted unto itself.


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