Gender and the Media
Let me preface this by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with the need for greater representation of women and women’s issues in the media. The growing media awareness of anti-female behaviour in countries such as India is nothing short of phenomenal and a great boon for gender equality worldwide. So when I say that I take issue with studies of ‘gender in the media’ that focus entirely on women, know that I do so without condemning the much-needed awareness of women’s issues and gender inequality that are being raised.
Western media and academia is quick to criticise gender inequality toward women (and rightfully so), though has failed to apply those same standards of criticism when presented with cases of gender inequality toward men.
A TV Show that presents certain female characters as incompetent in ‘male’ tasks is lambasted mercilessly by critics in news articles. Yet portrayals of male incompetence in ‘female’ tasks are the stuff of comedy gold. Advertisements that sexualise or objectify women are rightfully attacked by feminist media sources, and yet the same standard is rarely applied when the gender roles are reversed (O’Brien, 2013).
When workplace inequality toward women is uncovered, the media (both independent and commercial) immediately demands explanations and solutions. Obama’s push to eliminate the pay gap (Fram, 2014) between men and women has received staunch support from countless media sources, particularly the independent media in the US. Yet we dismiss as a fact of life, that 9/10 workplace deaths are male, or that the average male works up to 6 hours more per week than his female counterparts.
The media has blossomed in its willingness to discuss violence, discrimination and sexual abuse toward women. Yet media coverage of violence or sexual abuse towards males is significantly more lax. Worse still, there are cases in which media outlets have portrayed such stories as little more than idle curiosities or humorous, often under the category of “Weird News”.
Even in our entertainment, we’ve come a long way from laughing at the Pepe le Pew’s unwanted sexual advances, yet we still find it hilarious when our male characters are sexually assaulted or sexually blackmailed.
Yes, women have been, and continue to be, discriminated against in many facets of life. Yes, social issues affecting women do exist. Yes, it is fantastic that the media and academia study these issues and bring them to light. Yet when presented by the long list of male-specific issues in society today, men are told by the media and society to ‘be a man’ or ‘man up’ or that they deserve a bit of discrimination as payback for the years of discrimination women faced. And very rarely do we stop to ask “why?”
When studying ‘gender in the media’, we need to take a more holistic approach. Gender issues are not a binary Male/Female tug of war. When looking at gender issues, we should never take an “Us verse Them” attitude. We must recognise that different gender issues exist for both men and women, and not dismiss them entirely because of a “they did it first” attitude, as some journalists are want to do.
As students studying media and culture, we must recognise when the media takes action to address gender issues and also when it fails to act, for both men and women.
Fram, A. 2014. “Obama Signs Actions Taking Aim At Gender Pay Gap”, Huffington Post, 08 April, Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/obama-pay-equity_n_5112161.html
O’Brien, S. 2013. “Diet Coke: Sexist against men”, The Herald Sun¸ 09 February, Available at: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/seewhatsusiesays/index.php/heraldsun/comments/diet_coke_sexist_against_men