Women in the American Media: A Culture of Misperception (2023)

American culture is saturated with messages propagated by the mainstream media. What was originally created to encourage consumption is now being promoted to a society consumed by the embassies themselves. The mass media are especially harmful to women because they build and reinforce negative perceptions of women on a daily basis. The actions displayed by the media are not always what they seem, but act as catalysts with dangerous effects for women and society as a whole. This article analyzes the tools used by the media against women and analyzes the consequences of their use.

Mass media is a powerful tool for influencing your audience in a variety of ways, although most people would like to think that they are not influenced by advertising. Because "the impact of advertising is rapid, cumulative and for the most part unconscious" (kill us gently). The standard that advertising creates deeply affects women and is absolutely unavoidable. According to Rosalind Gill, “We live in an age of 360-degree branding” (75). Advertisements can be found on televisions, on buses, on the sides of buildings, and in the magazines that people read. Gill also explained that he was "concerned with the 'currency' of advertising: the way in which it allows the meaning of one thing to be expressed in relation to another" because it suggests a direct correlation between the value of a person and the value of a person that indicates having a certain product or having a certain appearance (49). Although "the media are hardly hypodermic needles injecting a passive and clueless culture" with messages that people openly and readily accept, they certainly help shape the most important aspects of being human, such as "our identities, our dreams, our…hopes, our ambitions, and our fears” (Douglas 18).The media affect all members of society because its reach is wide, its impact is rapid, and its message penetrates the fibers that intertwine to create a culture of misperceptions about women.

In fact, it is the effect that the mass media has most profoundly on a person's identity, because without identity, a person's value diminishes in a culture made up of consumers who serve as target audiences. The message that advertising literally sends is that people are satisfied with the products they buy. These products are "given an exchange value" and the descriptions of these products "translate into statements of who we are and who we aspire to become" (Gill 50). This makes a person's identity a product rather than a mix of thoughts and feelings in an attempt to translate human value into what can be found in a store. This has the effect of distorting a person's true identity and the way they are perceived by others. This puts people at risk because society sees these messages about who people are and what they should be as absolute truths and not as culturally constructed standards of what it means to be successful (Murray). Identity is the heart of humanity. When people are stripped of their identity or turned into a thing, they are subsequently stripped of their humanity.

While the media tries to target everyone, the level of exposure is determined by gender and most harmful messages tend to be directed at women. For example, in media such as magazines, where a person relies on an image to convey a feeling, girls are often made to appear inferior. Jean Kilbourne notes that "girls' body language is often passive, vulnerable, and very different from the body language of boys and men." This perpetuates the idea of ​​weakness in women, "while men are given dignity and strength" (kill us gently). More importantly, while the media is bigger for women, it seeks to diminish and diminish the value of women. Gill notes that "there are clear differences in the type of touch used by women and men in advertising." B. to achieve products or to build and create. However, the women's touch is "light and caressing, and often seems to serve no purpose" (79-80). Theresa de Lauretis refers to this type of media as “sex technologies”, understanding that “the representation of sex is its construction” (12). In other words, the way women are perceived is not necessarily truthful. They look a certain way because they are made to be seen that way (Mendible 7). This fallacy, perpetuated by gender-segregated media, hits women the hardest because women are portrayed in more damaging light than men.

Being a woman in media-obsessed American culture also means living up to the beauty standard set by advertisers. Being beautiful is the most important role a woman should play in American society. Naomi Wolf believes that "Beauty is a monetary system like the gold standard" (3). Products that once determined self-esteem are falling behind beauty products. This is incredibly problematic because "'beauty' is neither universal nor immutable, although the West claims that all ideals of female beauty descend from a Platonic ideal woman" (Wolf 4). In addition, the media couple the idea of ​​beauty with that of morality. The reason for this can be found in TV shows and movies. Sharon Hayes and Stacey Tantleff-Dunn noted that good characters are generally attractive and lovable, while the concept of evil is associated with "cruelty and general unattractiveness" (415). As a result, these beauty ideals are "internalized, rationalized, and socially legitimized." That is, women are simultaneously told that they are only valued for their beauty, "but beauty codes make it clear that most women are not aesthetically wrong" (Johnston and Taylor 954). Toni Raiten-D'Antonio states that "by adding these moral assumptions to the evaluation of a person's appearance, we reinforce the shame that we want them to feel" (111). Beauty is truly subjective, but the mainstream media builds and maintains a narrow standard of what it means to be beautiful. As a result, the media no longer attack only consumers' product choices, but also consumers themselves.

Instead of beauty being held in such high esteem, society expects women to live up to the beauty standard. When women do not naturally conform to the standard or constantly strive to conform to the standard, they are seen as failures and, in most cases, told to be ashamed. Although "no one is driven to electrolysis with the butt of a gun...the disciplinary practices of femininity produce a 'subdued and practiced' body, an inferiorized body. This system aims to make women docile and docile companions to men." ” (Bartky 75).However, there were “hate attacks against women in the press and magazines, which do not do justice to the increasingly stringent regulatory requirements for female appearance” (Gill 2). in turn, forces women to give up parts of themselves.Susan J Douglas writes:

We can play sports, excel in school, go to college, seek and get jobs that were previously reserved for men, be working mothers, etc. But instead we must obsess over our face, our weight, the size of our breasts, our clothing brands, please men and be the envy of other women. (sixteen)

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The standard is already so low that most women cannot meet the demands placed on them, and when they fail, they are ashamed to absolve themselves.

As these standards become more stringent, it is important to note that there is another category of women who are negatively influenced by the media. Says Jean Kilbourne, "It's an impossible ideal for almost everyone, but it's absolutely impossible for non-white women. Women of color are generally considered beautiful only if they conform to the white ideal, including 'domesticated hair', shade of lighter skin and "white" facial features (kill us gently). As this idea continues, there is a "permanent denial of one's own flesh." (Murray). Furthermore, women of color are stereotyped and portrayed as “not individuals; rather they are projected as characters and a mass of body parts for the consumption of men” (Stephens and Phillips 42). An example of this is the advertisement for cocoa drinks, in which "depictions of black women often play with themes of 'darkness' and sexuality...in which both the woman and the drink are referred to as 'hot chocolate'" . (Gill 79). There is also a trend among advertisers that women of color "are often seen in jungle settings wearing leopard skins as if they were exotic animals" (kill us gently). Instead of acknowledging the dignity and humanity of these women, the media presents them as dessert drinks and a very different species than they are. Mendible refers to this as a "comfy fiction" in which bodies of color "function within a social and cultural taxonomy that echoes only the noise, complexity, and diversity of the women they embody" (1). As a result, many women of color are denied the opportunity to be recognized by the media while telling the mentioned women of color that they are products, not people.

Another way that the media outright robs women of their humanity is that these women are a living embodiment of what the media considers ugly, disgusting, or wrong. Perhaps one of the most pertinent examples today is when a woman is fat. Fat is not only seen by the media as a direct criterion for ugliness, it is also the reason to get completely naked. "In short, the fat body is discursively constructed as a failed body project" (Murray). Being fat is stigmatizing for everyone, but it brings with it a new set of demands on women. The fat body is seen not only as "ugly", but also as something that needs to be controlled. Recounting a personal experience, Samantha Murray said, "The very name of the 'Control Top' panties suggested that it was, in fact, a disciplinary device, a reminder that the fat body needs to be closely watched and monitored" (156). . Furthermore, "the media constantly emphasizes that women are defined by [their] bodies" (Douglas). So the message is not just that fat itself needs to be tamed, but that fat women need to be disciplined and controlled. Consequently, society "learns this knowledge, internalizes it, and employs it at an almost preconscious level: [society] has a learned negative response to fat bodies and their aesthetic transgressions" (Murray). Because of this, the fat body is seen as deviant and strange, and "to give it personality it is expected that it be in a continual process of transformation" (Murray). Consequently, there is a fear that is equated with the fat body and any body that is simply not thin, leading to shame and disgust towards these people for living in bodies that the media finds unacceptable.

The most important truth about the media is that it is based on myth. "Advertising works by building myths to give meaning to products that seem natural and eternal" (Gill 49). The advertising myth is also used when considering the physical appearance of people. However, the products will eventually break and the "beauty" will inevitably fade as the standard continues to change. Wolf affirms that “modern women grow, move and express their individuality as the myth says; "Beauty" is by definition inert, timeless and generic. That this hallucination is necessary and intentional is shown by the fact that "beauty" so directly contradicts the real situation of women" (6). This is also evident because in the 1950s and 1960s the media myth was that women "didn't change when they did" and the current myth is that women's equality "is a fait accompli if they do" (Douglas 4).. If the "perfect lifestyle" is presented only in these elaborate fantasies built by the media, then it can be argued that the perfect lifestyle is unattainable because its foundation, like the media, is a myth.

Conflicting myths constructed by the media abound, but one of the most common is that the health and well-being of people is the top priority for advertisers. The media have created an environment that devalues ​​women and masks their concern for sales with feigned concern for women's happiness. This environment:

It is an environment in which we all swim like fish swim in water. And just as it is difficult to be healthy in a toxic physical environment, such as when we breathe polluted air, it is difficult to be healthy in a "toxic cultural environment" - an environment that surrounds us with unhealthy images and constantly sacrificing our health. for the sake of profit. (kill us gently)

Proof of this can be found in a study from the 1990s that “showed that the magazines most widely read by women contained ten times more advertisements and articles on weight and nutrition than the magazines read by men, and at the end of the century, between 1990 and 1990.” eighty-five percent of those with eating disorders were women” (Gourley 67). Based on these statistics, it could be argued that the media is actually based on creating unhealthy thoughts and habits in women in the hope of profit. If no woman is as perfect as her, then no woman is excluded from believing in the message. This in turn creates problems instead of solving them. "The obsession with thinness, the tyranny of the ideal of beauty... are public health problems that affect us all and can only be solved by changing the environment" (kill us gently). Therefore, as long as the damage that the media can do is not recognized, people's health will continue to be at stake for the sake of profit.

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Body modification has become a consumer solution to deal with the environment created by the media. The terrifying irony of this is that it actually adds to the problem and allows more damaging industries to emerge and prosper. One of the most common forms of body modification is dieting, especially weight loss pills. American culture has made it clear that all women are overweight and dieting has become the norm. The dangers of dieting include the fact that women have to fight their own physiology, diet products are often risky, "they can kill you and at best they don't work" (kill us gently). An even more dangerous and dramatic effect is the recent increase in cosmetic procedures. Of these, 91% are performed on women. In fact, between 1997 and 2007, the number of these procedures "increased 457% to nearly 12 million per year" (kill us gently). This creates a vicious circle between the media and the consumer.

As the consumer searches for a solution to non-existent problems created by the media, they are also helping to enable trends by making the media look like their myths are reasonable. Worse yet, the media knows exactly what role it is playing. Wolf calls this "deliberate market manipulation" because "powerful industries: the $33 billion diet industry, the $20 billion cosmetics industry, the $300 million cosmetic surgery industry" are moving because of perceived physical impairments and "unconscious fears" which "in turn, through their influence on mass culture, are capable of utilizing, stimulating, and amplifying hallucination in an upward economic spiral" (6). The dangers of body modification are that bodies are not recyclable, the beauty ideal is changeable and ephemeral, and trying to keep up is harmful and impossible.

As the media gains power, women inevitably lose it. “As women become more powerful over time, female identity must be based on our 'beauty' so that we remain vulnerable to external approval and the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem is exposed to the air” (Lobo 4). The irony of the media is that "confident expressions of girl power stand side by side with reports of epidemic anorexia nervosa among young women" (Gill 1). This is common in the media, and it must be remembered that although "stronger images of women have appeared in greater numbers, this does not imply a change in the dominant content of the product" (Raymond 36). The media instill a false sense of power in the products they sell in exchange for depriving people of the power they have. Gill asserts that "social relations based on domination, antagonism, and injustice are seen as natural, inevitable, and even desirable by those who benefit least from them" (54). While women are encouraged to proclaim independence and power, they are actually used as platforms for greater reach and results in the media.

Another tactic used by the media to further disempower women is objectification and dehumanization. The subject of sex is distorted and exploited among women in many ways, from using sex to sell products to being tabooed to overtaxing a woman's natural human sexual desire. Women are meant to be virginal and incredibly sexy, a balance that's impossible to achieve. There are also cases of "perceived neglect" when a woman is judged solely on her appearance based on her perceived sexual activity, which may be more associated with women deemed unattractive or girls whose bodies are developing early (Raiten-D' Antonio 111) . The danger of perceived sloppiness is that it is not based on fact but is rooted in hate. Carolyn Kitch writes about the "true woman" who is a virtuous woman and the "vampiress" who is sexual, powerful, and emasculating. She found that "the vampire was portrayed as the opposite of the True Woman. She is dark, she is sexual, she is ephemeral, and above all she lives alone, outside the realm of home and family'" (61). Women are caught between the balancing act of innocence and experience, and assumptions about their sexual activity can actually lead to the assumption that they are dangerous and unworthy of human interaction.

The media uses objectification to normalize misconceptions about women in advertising. Instead of being portrayed as different people, “women's bodies are dismembered in advertisements; cut" so that people only focus on certain parts at a time (kill us gently). Women's bodies are presented "simply as a composite of problems, each requiring a product solution," which is the most widespread but readily accepted form of media objectification (Gill 80). Fear of one's physical appearance must then be strongly balanced with fear of one's physiological desires. The media takes objectification far beyond simply equating a woman's body with a thing, instead turning women into objects that must undergo a rigorous routine of continual grooming.

Women's voices are constantly silenced by the media because they would rather be seen than heard. "The social order feels the need to defend itself by avoiding the faces of real women, our faces, voices and bodies, and reducing the meaning of women to these endlessly formulated and reproduced 'beautiful' images" (Wolf 7). This erases real women, their lived experiences and their value. When the media does not give space to women, they are told that they do not deserve recognition as human beings. However, women portrayed in the media are not given the dignity of a voice. Women, on the other hand, are afraid to speak in a culture that prefers their appearance to their words. This message is reinforced by ads in which girls put their hands over their mouths. Many of these ads have accompanying text with phrases like "Get high scores on non-verbal skills!". While similar ads showing pictures of girls who are "incredibly skinny" and have body language that makes it look like they're "trying to disappear" claim "the more you subtract, the more you add" (kill us gently). Then the media pushes the idea that the less a girl talks or the thinner she is, the more valuable she is. Therefore, the media not only silences women, but at the same time encourages them to silence and erase themselves.

The final wave of effects caused by all these problems is violence and finally death. Although "advertising does not directly induce violence", it "contributes to a state of terror", because "turning a person into a thing, into an object, is almost always the first step to justify violence against that person" and "the step has already been taken by women" (kill us gently). However, being portrayed negatively is not the only reason for violence. Being obliterated by the media and not getting any space certainly helps. Toni Raiten-D'Antonio says that "those who tend to be hostile and controlling" can sense when someone feels wiped out or has low self-esteem, and these people are more likely to be abused. "In many cases of sexual harassment or assault, the aggressor says that the victim is ugly and that she deserves what she received or even appreciates the attention because otherwise it would not arouse anyone's interest" (130). These types of events can be referred to as "female availability", which can also be found in headlines that "capture the sensational aspects of the serial murders of sex workers". Although these tabloids do bring the stories of these women to light, it is only to "paint them with a broad, dehumanizing brush" (Stillman 492). When the media denies women's personalities and instead equates a woman's worth with her physical appearance, violence or worse is inevitable. The seemingly harmless means that exist to monopolize the beauty of women become that woman's worst nightmare.

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Media is a people-based business, and like any business, its purpose is to create opportunities for profit. The problem lies in the way in which people, especially women, are treated by the media as products and not as human beings worthy of dignity, personality and respect. The media use discrimination, objectification and dehumanization to monitor the body of women. The result of this is increased low self-esteem, dangerous body modification procedures, violence, and sometimes the death of women. As long as women's bodies continue to be shunned by the media rather than celebrated, these negative effects will continue.


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