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How Media Contributes to Violence against Women

Guest blogger, Marina DelVecchio

Misogyny is defined as “hatred of women.” Interestingly, miso in Greek not only means “hatred”, it also means “half.” If we apply this definition to the way women are presently being depicted in the media—in many movies, television shows, cartoons, music videos, and even comic books—it is clear that women are presented as half-human and objectified. If a woman is looked upon as an object, without feelings, life, soul, or thoughts, then it is easy to ingest images of her that defy her humanity. She is not a woman—a living creature with human attributes. She is merely a body, a vacant, empty, vessel intended to contain the needs of others—preferably men—and her body, which is the most desired aspect of her existence, perfect, lithe, smooth and hair-free, is open for interpretation and domination.

Because she is half a woman, the acceptable and eroticized parts of her—her eyes, her mouth, her breasts, her long legs, and her thighs and genitals—are coveted, defined, exploited, manipulated, and used to satiate men’s needs, while the rest of her—her mind, intelligence, thoughts, and voice are avoided, silenced, and virtually non-existent. In Where the Girls Are, Susan J. Douglas recounts the various methods used by the entertainment industry to exploit women and observes that we “continue to live with media images not of our making, so, on some level, we will always feel like outsiders looking in at a culture that regards us as unknowable, mysterious, laughable, other … wooed as consumers, yet rejected as people” (271).

Advertising is a 130 billion dollar industry that infuses our homes with sex. Not just any sex—the female kind. Abundant female breasts, sleek thighs, and pouty lips are used to sell anything from cars to sun glasses to beer for men. In any given commercial aimed at the male consumer, the female is presented to him in fragmented snippets so that the entire woman is reduced to erotic parts he can fantasize about—not the entire woman, but parts of her that are redeeming. The woman is made up of parts, but is never wholly whole. In Can’t Buy My Love, Jean Kilbourne claims that by “turning a human being into a thing, an object, is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person” (278). She contends that by using female sex to sell their products, advertising companies send the message that “all women, regardless of age, are really temptresses in disguise, nymphets, sexually instable and seductive” (281).

Advertising isn’t the only culprit, however, which inarguably demonstrates that this attitude towards women and their dislocated, dislodged, dismembered bodies is a rampant theme.

It is in reality television shows. In an article published at Women in Media and News, Jennifer L. Pozner criticizes misogynist representations in popular reality TV shows such as “America’s Next Top Model,” (aired in 2007), wherein the judges issued a challenge for their models to pretend they were dead and sexily clad:

This misogyny has been manifesting itself in print for years as advertising’s fetishization of images of beautifully beaten, raped, drugged, tortured and murdered girls… today, advertisers are advancing these same backwards notions in 3-D, in the name of “reality,” their product placement bucks allowing them to influence and sometimes even control the dialog, sets, themes and plotlines of primetime’s most popular “unscripted” programs.

Images of scantily clad and sexy women who are dead have become an artistic motif in music videos. Recently, Kanye West released his ‘Monster’ video for his new album titled “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” wherein images of beautiful but dead women are presented. And as the title of Kanye’s album points out, this is his “fantasy”—to be surrounded by the vacant bodies of sexy, fragmented and beheaded women who look good, but have nothing to say—their bodies/corpses to be used in any way the man deems necessary in having his pleasures and fantasies satiated. Her body exists for him—without her actually being present.

This image of eroticized corpses also saturates the artistic realms of fashion photography. The Society Pages posted an article by Gwen Sharp titled More Sexualized Violence in Fashion, which shows very graphic and violent photos of models portrayed as dead, a few of them depicting the images of Lindsay Lohan holding a gun, having a gun aimed at her face, and lying on the floor, wearing barely anything, and surrounded by blood.

Lohan and the photographer argue that this is creative expression, but it surely isn’t. And if it is, then what are they creatively expressing—that violence and brutality become women? That it is OK and commonplace to fantasize over dead or assaulted women? That they’re sexier and hotter when they’re dead, lying in a pool of their own blood?

This type of misogyny exists in our culture—our refined, free, and progressive American culture, and it is becoming a norm. According to Marilyn Yalom’s A History of the Breast, which chronicles the ways the female breast has been cyclically controlled by cultural edicts and prejudices throughout history, posits that “when a woman is represented in a sexual act that appears to have been forced upon her—when she is stripped nude, handcuffed, whipped, or raped—the face of pornography is unmistakable. When the rap lyrics of Ice-T describe the gang rape of a woman, with a flashlight to ‘make her tits light up’—that is pornography” (201). And this notion of degrading the value of women and their flesh, devaluing their potential as anything other than Simone de Beauvoir’s “other”—reducing them to victims and pornographic entities—has become a prevailing theme perpetuated by so called “artists” and corporations that dabble in pop culture’s music, movies, reality television shows, and commercials, using female sex to make tons of cash. Their pockets filling up with dough, women suffer the consequences of being dehumanized and objectified. They don’t care; they’re all getting paid. And everyone knows this is “entertainment,” they argue. What’s the harm?

Margaret Atwood sees a very real harm in terms of how these images play themselves out to our children. In her essay “Pornography,” she points out that it’s mostly boys between the ages of 16-21 who make up the market for all these eroticized images of women and young girls. They are learning that “all women secretly like to be raped … (and) in order to be normal, admirable and masculine they will have to be rapists.” Is she exaggerating? Is this notion too fear-based? Perhaps. But considering the vile images of women being abused, and how these negative and violent depictions of the female body are becoming normalized, so much so that we don’t even cringe with repulsion when we are exposed to them, imagine what it does to our impressionable children.

If you think your kids aren’t being subtly influenced by these stark and oppressive portrayals of female victimhood and male power, you are sadly mistaken. These images are everywhere. They’re in places parents don’t think to check, like on their cell phones, ipods, mp3′s, and the computers they do their homework on. They’re in the songs they listen to, the movies they see with their friends, the news that report gang rapes, rapes, murders of little girls, and pregnant women; they’re even in comic books, as illustrated by Gail Simone’s Women In Refrigerators, a blog that she created, which provides a lengthy list of female characters brutalized, raped, and/or murdered in order to drive the main male character in comic books to seek revenge for his beloved’s death.

Our kids are surrounded by these brutal representations of girls and women, and it is no wonder that women and young girls are the victims of male violence. No wonder that, according to the 2011 press release conducted by the US Department of Education, 20% of college girls will be sexually assaulted by guys they know in school. And it is no wonder that boys as young as 14 are capable of raping little girls as young as 11 without feeling remorse, like the case that occurred in Cleveland, Texas earlier this year in which 18 males ranging in ages from 14-27 gang raped an 11-year-old child (McKinley, 2011). How else are they to perceive girls if they are inundated daily with images of half-humans, half-living women, looking “sick and sexified,” as pop singer Kesha’s new song goes.

Atwood, Margaret (2006) “Pornography.” 80 Readings in Composition. Ed. Daving Munger. 2nd edition. New York: Pearson/Longman. Pp. 139-145.

Douglas, Susan J. (1995) Where the Girls Are. Toronto: Random House.

Kilbourne, Jean (2000) Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. New York: Free Press.

McKinley, James C. (2011) Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town, NYTimes.com [internet] 8 March 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/us/09assault.html?_r=4&hpl [accessed 4/08/2011].

Pozner, Jennifer L. (2007) “Top Model’s Beautiful Corpses: The Nexus of Reality, TV Misogyny, and Ad Industry Ideology” http://www.wimnonline.org/WIMNsVoicesBlog/2007/03/22/top-models-beautiful-corpses-the-nexus-of-reality-tv-misogyny-and-ad-industry-ideology/ (accessed 04/08/2010].

Sharp, Gwen (2010) “More Sexualized Violence in Fashion” http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/05/26/more-sexualized-violence-in-fashion-nsfw-trigger-warning/#more-23920 [accessed 4/08/2011].

U.S. Department of Education (2011) Vice President Biden Announces New Administration Effort to Help Nation’s Schools Address Sexual Violence
http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/vice-president-biden-announces-new-administration-effort-help-nations-schools-ad [accessed 4/08/2011].

Yalom, Marilyn (1997) A History of the Breast. New York: Ballantine Books.

Marina DelVecchio teaches composition and literature courses as an Adjunct at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina. The author of an agented book about the dark aspects of motherhood, she blogs about female agency and the necessary empowerment of our daughters at http://marinagraphy.com Her work can be found at the Huffington Post, The New Agenda, the WM Parenting Connection, and BlogHer.

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Marina DelVecchio
Marina DelVecchio is the author of The Prostitute's Daughter, a memoir in which she shows how she has used literature to combat a life of abuse and poverty. She blogs about female agency and the necessary empowerment of our daughters at http://marinagraphy.com. Her work can be found at the Huffington Post, The New Agenda, the WM Parenting Connection, and BlogHer. She teaches writing and literature on the college level.
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One Comment
  • Lalyne Lombardi

    It’s very sad that women are portrayed as objects. An individual cannot be divided in intellectualism and physical beauty. Women are intellectuals. They play a huge role in the upbringing of our society

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