By Nefeli Kanellou,
Men and women have always been, and still are, portrayed differently by the media. Even if this is the norm, it is rarely detected, let alone be deemed as problematic. Is patriarchy so embedded in our society and every day life that we cannot even see it when it is on the headlines of the news?
Well, I hate being the one to break it to you but, yes. And patriarchal beliefs are expressed by both men and women in the media.
We first started to pay attention to it when the #metoo movement made its appearance. News presenters, columnists, interviewers and interviewees were asking all the wrong questions. “Why now?” “Does she do it for the fame?” “Is she lying?” “Why didn’t she quit?”
The same line of questions is applied whenever an incident of sexual harassment or abuse made the news. “Why was she walking alone?” “What was she doing out so late at night?” “Why was she dressed like that?”
But sadly, we are so used to victim blaming by the media that every time it happens, no one bats an eye. And the cases of sexual assault are the most well-known examples, the most detectable ones when it comes to the problematic image of women in the media.
The ones that we do not detect are in the every day news. But let me give you some examples. A woman was murdered and the news headlines read “Gorgeous 20-year-old woman was murdered in her house”, “The whole country is shocked after the death of the beautiful 20-year-old mother”. A female tennis player made it to the semi-final of Roland Garros, many headlines read “Look whom she is in a relationship with” “Her boyfriend was there to support her”. Another woman was attacked with acid and the headlines were “The beautiful woman will never look the same”, “Look how the beautiful woman was before the acid”, “One year after the attack the por beautiful woman is still traumatized”.
The same thing happens with women in places of power or when academia is involved. Most of the times when a female politician makes a public appearance the media are more preoccupied by what she is wearing rather that what she is saying.
But the one news headline that shook me the most was about a Nobel prize about two years ago. A couple, husband and wife, of professors won a Nobel prize in economics. The headline was: “(Name of man scientist) and wife win Nobel prize”. The name of the woman was not even mentioned. And she had just won a Nobel prize. Shall I go on?
Media, in all of their forms, shapes and sizes, play a crucial role in how the society perceives certain people. Women are repeatedly degraded in the media and characterized only as girlfriends, wives, mothers, beautiful, stunning, well-dressed. When the media only care about a woman’s appearance, their marital status and whether they are mothers or not, that is how society is going to see them and subsequently judge them if they don’t meet the criteria.
And yes, many times the same adjectives will be used for men, but never on their own. A man for the media will always be a “successful businessman”, “handsome entrepreneur”, “CEO and father of three”. Their career is what defines them. If they are not married, they will be deemed as “eligible bachelors” whereas if a woman is not married, she is characterized as “poor” or as a “careerist” and always under a negative light.
Women need to be portrayed as human beings. They should not be defined by the man that they have, or don’t have, by their side. They should not be criticized if they chose to pursue a career instead of having a family. They should be able to do whatever a man does and not be persecuted about it, such as walking alone in the night.
And sadly, this form of stereotypes is rooted so deep in our society that we do not even detect it when they appear. And it does not only apply for women, but for every minority that is treated poorly, only because they do not conform with the standards of the society. Only when we apply the same standards for each individual will our society be freed from misconceptions and opinions that belong in the past. Labels are important, but it is more important to know when to not use them in order to criticize people for the wrong things.
- BBC, Representation of gender, Available here
- Forbes, How Media Portrayal Affects Women, And What Geena Davis Is Doing About It, Available here
- Arab News, Why the way women are portrayed by the media matters, Available here