A complicated relationship: gender and the media

Emily Lataif, Staff Writer


The Office of Student Life is in the midst of their Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a smattering of events, including a film screening and discussion I attended on Monday night. We watched the documentary “Miss Representation” and afterwards discussed gender in the media with a panel of professors and staff. The movie dealt in particular with how women are objectified in movies, TV and politics.

As one contributor in the documentary put it, “women are just body props for young male viewers.” This is a terribly sad fact about the society we live in. I can’t turn on the TV with my younger siblings or the kids I babysit without having to flip through channels to search for something that doesn’t show women degraded and sexualized, even on so-called children’s shows.

Just last week, I was babysitting three children under the age of eight, and as we sat on the couch watching a cartoon about Batman and Superman, my attention drifted. I stared out the window before glancing back at the screen, where I saw an almost-naked woman in bed with Superman, using all her charms of seduction.

One theme throughout the documentary was the idea that as women are sexualized, they are taken less seriously when in positions of power. The film was rife with statistics about the lack of parity in the U.S. between men and women’s positions of authority in society.

Another contributor said, “turning someone into a thing is almost always the first step in justifying violence towards that woman.”

We need to treat women as the complex persons they are and not reduce them to their sexuality.

Women undoubtedly face sexism at some point or another; I’ve experienced it here at the University of Dallas and elsewhere. My girlfriends have frequently relayed stories of being treated unfairly or disrespectfully by men. And I couldn’t agree more with the filmmakers that objectifying women is shameful, particularly because society ceases to consider their accomplishments, but rather looks toward the more shallow aspects of their personhood.

However, as someone who is interested in the intersection of politics and policy, I found it difficult during the movie to reconcile the fact that these very activists who claim to fight the sexism and objectification (a sampling of the more prominent contributors were Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Gloria Steinem and Rachel Maddow) make a 180 when conservative female activists also try to make their voices heard. Those women are accused of waging a “war on women.” (The documentary also said that Ronald Reagan, capitalism and the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment facilitated the rampant sexism we are now dealing with today, a questionable claim at best.)

One contributor said, “No one will look out for women, except other women.” But for all the talk of women helping women, the irony is that conservative women like Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina are vilified as being anti-woman.

I was at the Supreme Court the day they decided the Hobby Lobby case, which granted closely-held corporations an exemption to the birth control mandate in Obamacare. Shortly after the decision came down, a group of high school boys who were all part of a Planned Parenthood delegation surrounded me, aggressively accusing me, a woman, of being anti-woman.

My own mother was one of the first young women to speak out in the public square against abortion not too long after Roe v. Wade was passed. When she would go on television, people were often surprised to find out the pro-lifer was not an old, Catholic male. My mom was none of those things.

As the Chicago Tribune once said of her, “[She] has emerged as the most visible advocate for her cause, an articulate, telegenic, well-dressed contradiction to charges that the antiabortion movement is dominated by middle-aged men eager to dominate women.”

She and women like Lila Rose, Marjorie Dannenfelser and Kristan Hawkins defy the left’s idea that all women must support policies like abortion and sexual liberation in order to find total happiness and fulfillment.

The issue of sexism in the media, and in culture more broadly, should cross party lines. The documentary claimed to be about the media, but frequently transformed the subject into a political debate by pitting the “homophobic, older white men of Fox News” against “brave cultural warriors like Rachel Maddow.”

Regardless of policy disagreements, women should not be accusing other women (or men) of waging a war on them simply because they have different ideas about what is good for society.


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