Anatomy. Biology. Physiology. Politics. Philosophy. English. These are all words and classes that we, as university students, are more than likely all too familiar with by this time in our academic careers. The importance of these classes and the knowledge to be had from them can’t be stressed enough, but there is also a different type of comprehension that we can learn from our classes that focus on the studies of socially constructed aspects, ones that we are largely passive to each and every day, such as gender.
Over the past month, GNDS125 has made me hyper-aware of the differences and double standards that make up our heavily gendered world. We focused mainly this month on advertisements, and their key ingredient, the over-sexualization of women. You don’t have to read in too closely to ads these days to realize what messages they are usually trying to convey; that women are passive, extremely vulnerable creatures who depend and dote on the infinitely stronger, more powerful, dominating male. As a result of this, girls and women have been taught to never see themselves as ‘good enough’, even when if they do come close to that unattainable standard, tall, dainty, large breasted, long legged and tanned. The never-ending cycle of comparison and self-distain can never lead to anything positive or beneficial, some typical cases concluding eating disorders, depression, girl-to-girl hate, continuous judgment, with the list going on and on. No one can deny that this in itself is a public health issue. It affects a huge demographic, and it is no coincidence that this is the demographic that mainstream media and major advertisers focus on specifically. As someone who is anticipating a future career in the sector of public health, the effects these advertisements have on myself and all other women like me concern me a great deal.
Even worse still, these aforementioned women and girls are taught through these ads to believe that being over-sexualized and tremendously exploited is somehow their idea, and therefore, empowering. I agree completely with Jean Killbourne, the speaker of the film Killing Us Softly viewed in class this month, when she says that when girls and women degrade themselves for male attention and try to pass the act off as empowering, it is beyond cliché and absolutely only pulling the female population into a further downward spiral of passivity and demeaning behaviours.
In discussing these ideologies with peers in and outside of this gender studies course, I have found a major rebuttal to these claims to center around the clause that if the hyper-sexualized advertisements are so detrimental to certain demographics, these particular demographics should know not to listen to the ads, and shut them out completely. I argue that this is not possible. Mainstream media is successful because it is essentially unavoidable. Perhaps women and girls of the modern Western world can make notable changes throughout their day, it is true that no one is forcing them to buy the latest Cosmopolitan magazine or play into the newest crash diet. However, I find it highly unrealistic to tell every adolescent to middle aged girl and woman to cease watching her television, ban herself from internet access, and never go to the movies again.
It is the media that needs to change, not the inadvertent spectators. Messages need to be more positive, displaying real life, healthy and attainable images that do not force women into becoming self-critiquing specialists.