Why have women made so little gains since the feminist movement first launched decades ago? Everyday workplace issues are key, but at the root of the problem is one of our society’s most powerful institutions: the media.
In our first story on women in leadership, we shared a pretty extreme statistic: women hold only 3% of powerful positions in mainstream media, which encompasses film, TV, publishing, and advertising. That means that 97% of the messages we see and hear about how women should look, act and think (or not) are created by men.
What stories and messages is the average teen girl, who daily consumes 10 hours and 45 minutes of media (music, television, internet, etc.), seeing each day? She is seeing one version of beauty – a digitally-altered, humanly-impossible standard. And she has grown up in a society where advertisers spend billions each year giving her just one picture of what it means to be a girl – sparkly, pretty and nurturing.
At age 7, she probably wanted to be a leader, but by age 8 her leadership aspirations have peaked. Has she watched one too many Easy Bake Oven advertisements? Or is she simply listening to what media, like the clips below, teach her about a woman’s place in leadership, politics and everyday life?
For every negative portrayal of women in media, I hope there’s a healthy and positive one. For me, I find inspiration in characters like Liz Lemon and Mindy Lahiri, and in people like Geena Davis, Kate Winslet and Katie Couric.
In Miss Representation, the documentary that explores how women are represented in the media, Katie Couric explains where she finds hope in this broken media system: “The media can be an instrument of change. It can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of society, or it can awaken people and change minds. It depends on who’s piloting the plane.”