In 2006 Sarah Senghas, a mental health counselor, published an article on Yahoo Voices titled, Sexist Stereotypes in the Media. This article discusses the various ways television shows, movies, and magazines portray women as “airheads”. She discusses how these portrayals of women are supporting sexist stereotypes. Senghas believes that the media is having a massive and negative impact on young girls. The article ends with Senghas debating the different ways to protect children from these disabling views of women.
What struck me most about this article was its reference to the movie Clueless. I remember watching this movie when I was little and I won’t lie, I loved it. In her article, Senghas says, “Children are especially vulnerable to this [stereotypes], since their young minds are still developing and learning about the world around them.” Cher, the main character, was everything I thought a “cool” girl should be. She was pretty, popular, fashionable, and the crush of many boys. What more could a media influenced eight year old ask for! Of course, looking back on it now I realize how the whole movie played into sexist stereotypes. Even the name of the movie, Clueless, played into the belief that all women are ditsy and airheads.
However, as Senghas states in her article, “Nothing in biology labels behaviors as right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Any stereotypes we impose on children – and by extension, adults – are purely cultural, not biological.” I doubt that I was born thinking that girls are supposed to be passive, sweet and dreamy. Just think, if I had not been exposed to Clueless, and media similar to it, who knows what I would have considered womanly. Maybe it would have been based off of my own personal interests, and not those others told me I should have. Much of what I have subconsciously learned is a result of the media. But sometimes I think it could not have been helped. WRONG!
Senghas’s article gives plenty of plausible ways to inhibit the effect the media has on girls. Her first proposal is to simply stop buying magazines that sexualize women’s role in society. If a young girl is not exposed to these type of ad’s the chance that she will view herself as a sex object is lessened. Senghas’s second proposal is that parents should start teaching their children that, “men are not stronger or smarter than women”. At a young age children look up to their parents more than anyone else. If a child’s parent encourages gender equality the effect of the media may yet again be lessened. The last proposal she gives is for parents to encourage non-media related activities. As simple as this may sound, it could really help. The Girl Scouts, Sports and Physical Activity Statistics page, has research which proves that girls involved in sports have greater self-esteem. However, this is not the only benefit. Read the Girl Scouts page to find out more.
Throughout my women and gender studies class, stereotypes have been a re-occurring theme. We often discuss these stereotypes in depth. However, its not often that we can find a plausible way to stop them. That is another reason why I thought Senghas’s article was fascinating. She was able to give solutions to the problem, however small, that may help. If I had a daughter I would do whatever it takes to protect her from the insecurity I have felt, and continue to feel, while growing up.