What I’m Writing For

I feel like I haven’t made very clear on my blog why media portrayals are so important to me. I talk about avatar images from games and gender issues in books and sometimes movies, but I don’t talk a lot about why it’s important. I realized that it doesn’t mean much if I don’t explain why it matters, so starting now I’m going to talk about that more.

Regardless of how equal our culture may pass itself off as, we still live in a pretty unequal world (and I’m generally only talking about gender, but issues of race, sexuality, age, social standing and much more are still big factors as well). Some statistics:

- a white woman makes about 78 cents for every dollar made by her male counterpart, black women make about 69 cents and Latinas just 59 cents.

- the 2000 census showed that just over 50% of the US population is female, but our representation does not reflect that
* there are currently only 17 female Senators (out of a total of 100)
* and 74 female members of the House of Representatives (out of a total of 435)
* and this more female members of Congress than there have ever been before
* there have only ever been 2 female Supreme Court Justices (hopefully there will be a third very soon)
* as yet there has never been a woman elected to the executive branch of the U.S. Government

- it is estimated that 1 in 3 women is sexually assaulted some time in her life
* 60% of rapes are never reported and the percentage is even lower when you look at other types of sexual assault
* only 6% of rapists ever spend even a day in jail

It’s the twenty-first century and we’re still fighting some of the same fights that women have been fighting for generations. Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for the presidency of the United States of America – it was 1872 and women couldn’t even vote yet. She knew she didn’t even have a fighting chance, but you have to think that she imagined her granddaughters would. We’re two generations or so beyond even that and still no woman has won the office. We have come a great distance. The world I grew up in is not the world my grandmothers grew up in and for that I am eternally grateful to all the women and men who fought to make it so. Still, I see far more than I’d like that is still all too painfully familiar in Matilda Joslyn Gage’s marvelous speech from the National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, NY in 1982.

And why hasn’t more changed? Well, like most things in history and sociology, it’s very complicated and I couldn’t begin to explain it adequately because I don’t have a complete understanding of it myself (I’m not sure anyone could really claim to). One of the things I do know, though, is that cultural images and stereotypes matter. Cultural images are very powerful. They get into our subconscious and affect our attitudes and beliefs in ways that we may not even consciously realize. That is generally understood when it comes to things like race (there are certain words and stereotypes that are just not permissible in general media anymore), but for some reason it is not understood at all when it comes to gender. There would be a huge outcry if someone published a videogame called “Nigger” where the player controls a white character beating up a black one who is portrayed as a dangerous predator. The game Cunt where the player controls a penis shooting a vagina that keeps spitting out STDs and pubic lice does exist, however, and was vociferously defended by many when the offensive nature of it was pointed out.

I believe strongly that this kind of imagery hurts our culture and materially damages attempts at moving towards a more equal society. Do I think that a man who plays that game is going to go out and rape a woman as a result? No. But I do think that the game combined with the many, many other portrayals of women as sex objects, dirty and generally there for the benefit of men adds up to a fundamental shift in the way our culture thinks about sex as a commodity sold by bad women. Do I think that a little girl watching Aladdin is going to start believing she’ll only be pretty if her waist is smaller around than her neck, like Jasmine’s is? No. But I do think that the constant proliferation of imagery of super thin women and the constant advertising aimed at women for diet programs and low-fat or fat-free food adds up to a fundamental shift in our cultural idea of female beauty.

And it’s frustrating. This isn’t the world I want to live in. So I’m calling it on it. I write and talk to these companies as well. I try to let them know when I like something as well as when I don’t. I also write about it here because I want other people to think about it. This affects more than just me. If I’m the only one complaining, I’m the crazy feminist. If other people are noticing and pointing it out too, then they stop to think about it. Nothing will change if it’s just me complaining and it isn’t – there are lots of other people pointing these things out as well, but there need to be more voices. And the more people notice, the more they will think about their own ways of thinking, even the subconscious ones. So that’s what I’m writing about and for. Thank you.

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