The Impact of the Media on the Status of Women

Women and men almost instinctively begin to take on societal roles based on gender as soon as they are able to understand the difference between boys and girls. We learn that boys wear blue, girls wear pink. Boys play with toy trucks and Lincoln Logs, girls play with Barbies and Polly Pockets. Boys play cowboys and Indians, girls play dress up with princess gowns and make-up. As these boys and girls grow up, most societies teach that the woman’s place is in the home, to care for the house and husband and to raise the children while the man’s place is in the workforce to provide means for his family. Society sees this as normal and acceptable behavior between men and women. While I see nothing wrong with these seemingly innocent societal roles among women and men, I do see something wrong with extreme societal roles that deem males and females so different that one is viewed as inferior to the other. For example, in Saudi Arabia the societal role of a woman’s place in the home has become a prohibitory one in which case women leaving the home can become quite the ordeal. A recent article tells of a Saudi Arabian woman named Manal al-Sharif who defied her country and chose to drive while being video-taped.

She then launched the video on YouTube. She was arrested the next day and held for nine days without being charged. She was released only after Saudi Arabia received substantial international pressure. While driving is technically not illegal in Saudi Arabia, Manal was still arrested because of a religious edict, or fatwa, issued in the early 1990’s that banned the practice. (1) Another prohibitory norm found in Saudi Arabia is an extreme patriarchal society. Manal explained that in school she was taught that “making a decision without consulting her male guardian was forbidden and sinful.” (1) With these types of ideas being taught to the women of Saudi Arabia, the future looks dim for the empowerment and equality of women in this country and countries that share the same ideals.

The solution seems then to change the mindset of an entire nation to the idea of equal rights and fair treatment toward women even within their societal roles. While such a solution is far-fetched, it is indeed possible by means of small steps toward women’s rights. One step which I think can be extremely influential is the proper portrayal of women in the media. Malcom X said this of the influence of the media, “the media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power; because they control the minds of the masses.” (2) The idea of the media controlling the “minds of the masses,” has been studied extensively. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that “television exposure during adolescence has also been linked to subsequent aggression in young adulthood. A 17-year longitudinal study concluded that teens who watched more than one hour of TV a day were almost four times as likely as other teens to commit aggressive acts in adulthood.” (3) Although this study does not tell how women’s portrayal in the media affects societies’ attitudes toward women, it does make the point that the media does indeed have an impact on the behavior and attitude of society. This point is proven again in the article discussed above. Because Manal used the media to her advantage through the use of YouTube, she is now “the face of Saudi Arabia’s Women2Drive movement, which plans to hold demonstrations on June 17 calling for women in that Middle Eastern country to be able to do something that’s downright banal everywhere else in the world: drive themselves around town in an automobile.” (1) Manal’s courage has helped other women gain the courage to stand up for equal rights and has also helped bring to the attention to the men that women desire the same privileges that they enjoy. The media’s effect can be far-reaching. With that in mind, I decided to search for articles related to women for one week to lightly determine how women were being portrayed. I used CNN to represent the media for the United States and Al Jazeera to represent the Middle East. I wanted to compare the United States’ media portrayals compared to the Middle Easts’ because these regions differ greatly in terms of equal rights for women. The United States is seen as farther along than the Middle East when it comes to the empowerment and equality of women and therefore the needs of women in the U.S. are different than those in the Middle East. For example, some trouble a woman may encounter in the United States is not being paid as much as a man in the same position versus trouble for a woman in the Middle East may be not being able to go out in public without a male escort. I wanted to find if the media in each region is properly portraying the different needs of women living in different areas. The results of my findings are as follows:

CNN

Conservative group targets women voters Updated Tue June 12, 2012 (CNN) – The Concerned Women for America conservative group on Tuesday announced what they hope to be a $1 million voter identification, registration, and turnout effort targeting women. The group said the effort, She Votes, would be focused in 23… http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/12/conservative-group-targets-women-voters/

Is there a war on women in the Catholic Church? Sister Maureen Fiedler on Vatican’s claim that U.S. nuns are ‘radical feminists’ Updated Tue June 12, 2012 Catholic nuns are going straight to the top today to address these claims that they have strayed from church doctrine. Members from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will meet with Vatican officials. A report from a church watchdog accuses… http://startingpoint.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/12/is-there-a-war-on-women-in-the-catholic-church-sister-maureen-fielder-on-vaticans-claim-that-u-s-nuns-are-radical-feminists/

“Interfaith Voices” host: Women not treated equally in the church Updated Tue June 12, 2012 “Interfaith Voices” host Sister Maureen Fiedler appears on Starting Point to answer questions about gender equality in the Catholic Church. Sister Fiedler says, “It’s certainly true that at the institutional level, women are not treated as equals in… http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/12/interfaith-voices-host-women-not-treated-equally-in-the-church/

Clinton offers advice to young women seeking to emulate her Updated Tue June 12, 2012 By Jill Dougherty Whenever Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks before a group of women from other countries she’s invariably asked whether she will run for president. But at Monday’s opening ceremonies for the first Women in Public Service… http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/12/clinton-offers-advice-to-young-women-seeking-to-emulate-her/

Opinion: Do powerful women need to tame their unsightly bulges? Updated Fri June 8, 2012 Editor’s note: Orit Avishai is an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University. She is the author of “Managing the Lactating Body: The Breast-Feeding Project and Privileged Motherhood.” (CNN) – Adele, who won big at the 2012 Grammys, once… http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/08/opinion-do-powerful-women-need-to-tame-their-unsightly-bulges/

Al – Jazeera

Why Arab women still ‘have no voice’ Amal al-Malki, a Qatari author, says the Arab Spring has failed women in their struggle for equality. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2012/04/201242111373249723.html

Lebanon’s women warriors Lebanese women from all sides talk about participating in their country’s civil war. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/general/2010/04/2010413115916795784.html

Turkish women protest plans to curb abortion Thousands took to Istanbul’s streets to express anger at plans to reduce the time limit for abortions. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/06/20126316302678229.html

Turkish forces kill 15 Kurdish women fighters Female unit of Kurd separatist movement PKK wiped out by Turkish army in Bitlis province, interior ministry says. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/03/201232414824922144.html

Egyptians protest against beating of women Thousands rally in Cairo to denounce military’s attacks, as foreign ministry denounces criticism from United States. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/12/20111220132113595450.html

Sacred women in Israel and Palestine Will protests against ultra-Orthodox Jews’ campaign for gender segregation get justice for women in Israel, Palestine? http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/12/20111228131232259788.html

Qatari women prepare for Olympic debut For the very first time, conservative Gulf Arab state will send female athletes to the Games, in London. http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/05/201252216917310490.html

Libyan women hope for gains in elections Next month’s elections to the national assembly present women with a rare chance to step out of the shadows. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/05/20125178164415112.html

The new Egypt: Leaving women behind On International Women’s Day, Egyptian women contemplate being overlooked in the formation of a post-Mubarak future. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/03/201138133425420552.html

Based on these articles for just one week, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many articles were written about women and their varying issues. While much needs to be done to achieve equality for women everywhere, seeing these issues brought to light through the media is indeed a step in the right direction!

—by TS

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One thought on “The Impact of the Media on the Status of Women

  1. GoodReason says:

    Fascinating . . . I guess we just need to keep plugging away, getting things into the media, and hopefully we will see change!

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