Screens: The Glass Ceilings in Everyone’s Homes

This was supposed to be a small, researched feature article for a class I take. Very quickly, it got a lot bigger.

It’s approximately twelve-thirty on a Thursday night – or should I say Friday morning – when my eyes lock onto a post on the famed social media website, Facebook. My brain, which has settled into a rhythm of mindless scrolling, has to alert my fingers from their automated state of scroll down to one of a quick scroll up. Just to check. Just to make sure that my sleep-deprived mind wasn’t hallucinating. It wasn’t. The post is there: Being nice and complimenting a girl and not even getting acknowledged hurts.

For fucking fuckdiggery’s sake. I’m used to sexist comments popping up on my newsfeed, but usually these kinds of “statuses” are from a multitude of nameless internet idiots. This time it’s a kid from my school who I don’t think is an altogether repulsive human.

I have the sudden urge to comment on the post, ripping into it with a feminist rant about male entitlement and how it leads to rape culture. My decision not to comment is based on the (rather sensible, if I do say so) logic that I will be better placed to fight this cultural misogyny as a fully-fledged Juris Doctor with an undergrad in Gender Studies, and that just won’t be happening if I spend my time engaged in Facebook fights during my pre-ATAR exam study period. Instead, I take a screenshot of the post and send it to a friend. She goes ballistic and we spend the rest of the night discussing feminism and Nicki Minaj’s recently released music video for her song “Anaconda.” So much for my rational decision making, and a big three cheers for my ATAR.

I haven’t abused the not altogether repulsive human for his Facebook status, nor will I do so anytime soon (or at all). It’s not his fault. The society that you, the kid and I share is one of ingrained misogyny. It doesn’t have to stay that way and I should hope that the changes we are making and the fights that we are fighting are forging a path towards gender equality. The problem is that there’s something that is standing pretty stubbornly in our way. It’s known as the media, and it’s a tough opponent.

Let’s start off by establishing the huge power and influence the media has on our everyday lives in Australia. We are constantly exposed to the media’s influence, thanks to smartphones, laptops and television sets that are never turned off. Advertising is everywhere; on billboards, the sides of buses, in our mail and on our phone lines.

In our state of connectivity we are more exposed to the media’s influence than ever before. Surely, though, as humans capable of higher thought, we might have some critical thinking left in us? Correct you may be, but our kids might not.

We have a generation of kids who have been bought up in front of the world’s most popular babysitter – the TV. We switch it on for five minutes, just to keep our tiny tots out of harm’s way. Out of trouble. I disagree. The media is harming more innocent kids than Rolf Harris and unfortunately, there aren’t any laws that allow us to lock the media away for five years and nine months for instilling misogynistic values in our children.

Corporations sing through the television about the latest pink or purple doll or real-life kitchen/fashion/maternal simulation they’ve created in plastic. During the next thirty second segment they shout and growl, emphasising the grunt and roar in their new cars, guns and fighting games. Girls play in groups, smiling demurely and occasionally break out in a constrained giggle. Boys fight, shooting and chasing each other, while screaming and pulling angry face. Through television, our children are being taught to keep to their assigned side of non-existent gender binary (IT’S A SPECTRUM, PEOPLE, GOSH).

These programs and commercials are teaching our girls that physical beauty is important, and our boys are getting the message that physical beauty is what is primarily important in females.

 Look at pop culture. It is reflected time and time again through our society’s reality; they feed off each other for inspiration. Pop culture is, perhaps, the epicentre of our society, and it is run nearly entirely by the media.

Unfortunately, our pop culture is one of sexism, double standards and misogyny. In pop culture, women are valued for their physical beauty rather than their intellect. In pop culture, women are taught that being strong, smart and talented is simply not enough. In pop culture, beauty standards are rising. They are unrealistic and generally unattainable, but women everywhere are striving to achieve the look that is everywhere. The long, tousled hair, wide hips, large eyes, big hips, skinny legs, tiny waist, thigh gap of the supermodel or celebrity, gazing out at us through photo shopped eyes from a screen or print text. These unrealistic beauty standards, perpetuated by pop culture, which, itself, is driven by the media, are influencing the 53% of thirteen year old girls unhappy with their bodies. The 73% of seventeen year old girls unhappy with their bodies. The 17% of teenagers who engage in cutting and self-harm. The media’s insistence of female beauty is hurting us, in more ways that we can know. It reinforces the misogyny that is ingrained in our culture and, consequently hurting us all.

The misogyny of the media doesn’t just affect women. Our society is one where the television programs and games marketed at young boys are violence-centric and often have a focus on world domination. Both good and bad sides use destructive violence in an attempt to “win”. The leaders are always male. Boys are taught not to show emotion; as a result, they find it difficult to talk about or seek help for their problems, preferring to “take things into their own hands”. Do we, as a culture, see anything wrong with this? “Boys will be boys,” we tell ourselves, while watching them fight, wreak havoc, destroy. Of course we don’t.

As teenagers, boys are exposed to new kinds of media. From prime time television to pornography, women are repeatedly presented as objects for men to enjoy. The aforementioned Judd Apatow-Seth Rogan films and Big Bang Theory episodes present women as conquests. The media presents women as if their lives revolve around men; as if they are something to be won by the hardest working male character.

The Bechdel Test, developed by Alison Bechdel and published in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. It is a simple test of female presence in feature films, which names the following three criteria: (1) the film has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

“The Rule” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For (1985)

Of all 5400 films on the Bechdel Test database, only 56.8% pass all three questions on the test. 10.2% of the films don’t pass a single test. Let me repeat, 1 in 10 of films produced DON’T HAVE MORE THAN ONE WOMAN IN THEM. 1 in 10 films nearly entirely deny the existence 50% of the world’s population. 1 in 2 of the films produced by the media conglomerates do not present females in a realistic or healthy way; 1 in 10 do not present them at all. Through film, which is undeniably one of the most important text types in modern society, the media is reinforcing misogyny in our society.

Misogyny: A dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Most sensible, well-educated human beings would agree that a misogynistic society is not a good society. Slightly fewer are the number who would agree that our modern, western society is a misogynistic one. But there’s still quite a large majority there. However, when I suggest that just about every single person on the planet has or is, in some way, contributing to this culture of misogyny, I will lose a huge number of followers.

Everyone who has ever;

  • made a “kitchen” or “sandwich” or “dumb blonde” joke,
  • told another – regardless of gender – to “man up” or “grow some balls,
  • told someone they hit, throw or play “like a girl”,
  • wolf-whistled or catcalled a female,
  • slut-shamed,
  • made judgments of a girls’ character based on their physical appearance,
  • complained about being in the “friend-zone”,
  • complained about a girl not dating/hooking up with/going out with/being friends with them,
  • suggested that the reason a girl may be angry or frustrated or annoyed at you is because “she’s on her period” or “PMS-ing”

has contributed to misogyny in our society, and that was by no means a  definitive list.

This kind of misogyny seems small – insignificant. I mean, it’s all just a bit of fun – a bit of a joke – isn’t it? “My girlfriend asked me to see things from a woman’s point of view so I looked out the kitchen window” is just a joke.  Seth Rogan getting the girl in every Seth Rogan-Judd Apatow movie, ever, is just a joke. We’re supposed to laugh at the antics of the boys in Big Bang Theory as they try to pick-up girls, because hey, it’s just a joke. So, was it just a joke when, on May 23rd 2014, Elliot Roger killed six people and injured thirteen others on a misogyny-driven killing spree?

Misogyny is not a joke, and as was seen during the Isla Vista killings, culturally-imbedded misogyny kills. In his sickening manifesto, “My Twisted World”, Roger describes his anger and frustration toward women, simply because they would not date or have sex with him. He was angry with sexually active men, believing that they took away the girls to whom he believed he was entitled.  He planned his “day of retribution” against women, posted his manifesto online – both in written format and on popular video sharing website, YouTube. He then carried out his plan, which resulted in the loss of six lives.

The monster that was Elliot Roger did not create itself. He was a product of his society, and his society was, and is, a media-driven culture of ingrained misogyny. The six individuals killed by Elliot Roger – four of whom were male – were all victims of the media’s misogyny.

The Isla Vista massacre is not the only account of the media having serious, misogynistic affects within society. Media treatment of first female Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was deplorable. What Gillard wore to work became the subject of national headlines. Questions were raised over Gillard’s suitability for the top job simply because she was not a mother. Equally ridiculous was the intense scrutiny of Gillard’s relationship with partner Tim Mathieson.

This kind of media attention undermined the authority of Gillard as Prime Minister, and it is thought highly unlikely that such treatment would be deemed acceptable for male leaders. The Australian media showed itself to be misogynistic throughout Gillard’s time in office, and their coverage undoubtedly impacted on the success and approval ratings of the Gillard government. The treatment of Gillard by the media affected not only Gillard, but will also influence the careers of future female political leaders and potential Prime Ministers. Misogyny, perpetuated by the media, significantly influenced – and will continue to influence – the Australian political system.

So what can a person do? The media is run by a handful of huge corporations, owned by a tiny few individuals. In Australia, our media is nearly entirely controlled by Rupert Murdoch. It would be nearly impossible for anyone, let alone a couple of kids on a student budget, to compete with the Murdoch media monopoly. However, there are some things we can do; some choices we can make that will ease the affect that the media’s misogynistic smother can have upon ourselves, and possibly those around us.

Firstly, we need to educate ourselves on misogyny in both our own backyards and throughout the world. We cannot begin to fight something we don’t know about. In this age of the internet, there are many fabulous and free sources available. Birdee Magazine is a great place to start. Jezebel and Rookie are also excellent feminist websites. Everyday Sexism presents readers’ personal experiences with sexism and misogyny. Read, watch and contemplate texts of all natures; process them critically, analytically and from the perspective of gender.

Secondly, it is important to be receptive to misogyny when it is evident in society. Speak up and against misogyny, whether you are in a group of your friends, family, or even online. Often, comments of a misogynistic nature are thrown around unknowingly – point these out. These are the comments that ingrain misogyny more and more deeply in our society. These are the comments that provide a basis for discrimination against women.

In terms of the media specifically, don’t buy the magazines, don’t read the articles and don’t watch the programs and films that promote misogyny within our society. Sure, The Big Bang Theory might be funny (this is highly debateable, but nonetheless) but is it still funny when it is reinforcing a damaging culture of male entitlement? Personally, I am more disgusted than entertained.

Girls, Miranda might have a “rockin’ bikini bod” but, no, we don’t need her tips on how to be “summer-ready in just 20 minutes a day!” Every second women and girls spend trying to conform to media-perpetuated beauty ideals is a second that they aren’t out changing or enjoying the world. Let’s not waste those seconds.

Finally, boys. Contrary to what Robin Thicke might have told you no means no. You might be lovely, and “all the movies” might have told you this but your loveliness does not mean that every girl wants you inside her pants. Please, please, please stop complaining about the friendzone; all I’m hearing is “male entitlement”. Don’t engage in talk about the friendzone, and stop it if you hear it. This kind of talk just perpetuates the damaging myth that women are there for the purpose of satisfying men.

A few more things. Cat-calling needs to stop. Kitchen jokes need to stop. Gettin’ all freaky about periods and then blaming any show of emotion on PMS definitely needs to stop. None of it is helpful and all of it further ingrains the misogyny that the media perpetuates.

The media is horrible to women. As a man, you are not ever going to understand what it’s like to have the media dismiss your gender as existing with a purpose other than to please men. You are not ever going to understand what it’s like to be constantly discriminated against because of your gender. You are not going to understand what it’s like to be constantly challenged by society, and I’m not asking you to be.

Instead, listen to what we have to say. Listen, and then support us. Support us in what we are trying to do. Let’s work together to prevent more statuses like that first one, to prevent more humans from turning out like Elliot Roger and to promote gender equality by eliminating the ingrained misogyny that the media perpetuates. We’re up against the big, bad media here. We’re going to need every bit of strength and support we can get.


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