Representation of Women

MS1 - Media Representation

Q) With reference to your own detailed examples, explore representations of women in the media today (16).
A) A 'representation' can be broken down into 're-presentation' which means to show a constructed view of reality. Media can be described as a representation of factors such as age, gender, political or social issues (e.g.; homosexuality, substance abuse, etc), national and international events and national/regional identity. Whilst some representations confront both sides of a factor, other representations are one-sided. It is this type of representation that causes the most controversy and criticism from the global audience.
One factor of representation that receives criticism for being one-sided is the representation of women in the media. The creation of new communicative technology has caused a significant increase in media texts portraying women as sexual objects. This is sometimes called 'sexual objectification'. There are also media texts, particularly adverts, that campaign for the removal of this general perception of women and the awareness of the importance of gender equality.
Some media texts purposely sexualise women for the 'male gaze' (male gaze being a persuasive technique used by the media that specifically targets the male audience through exploiting a woman sexually). An example of an text that is a heavily sexualised representation of women is the marketing trailer for the game Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude which was released in 2004. The trailer begins with a crowd of college students standing outside the campus, waiting for the arrival of the game's protagonist Larry Lovage. Amongst the crowd are women who we learn Larry is not attracted to. These women appear 'normal' and quite boring: they are flat-chested, their mannerisms are masculine and they are all wearing the same coordinated outfit of a plain t-shirt and a pair of trousers. This has been done to show that not every girl in this game is beautiful and not important to the game's plot. This makes the female audience feel quite insulted because the text has created this false perception that girls are only going to grab a person's attention if they are stunnning when, in fact, these 'plain' women could actually be the nicest.
The main storyline is about Larry Lovage, a sexually obsessed 'ladies man', who gets to choose which of the three most popular girls in his campus he would like to have sex with. This storyline represents women as second class and their only purpose is to please the man. This disgusts me - a member of a female audience - because this representation of women discards any aspirations of a sustainable future, such as a successful career or being able to settle down, that they have and, instead, replaces it with this idea that we want to sleep with men. This also makes me wonder if women, who actually dream of pursuing a life like those in this text, actually have respect for themselves.
The three main women, who are competing against each other to try and win Larry's 'love', are the archetypes of female sexualisation: their womanhood has been overexaggerated, their skimpy choice of outfits exploits their toned chests to everyone else, they are plastered in make-up and they are incredibly ditsy and coy towards Larry. This represents women as only being attractive to men if they have the 'perfect' figure. This makes curvacious girls feel even more self-conscious about their own figures and would feel pressured to lose weight in order to have a happy love life. This will also make mothers of the boys buying this game feel weary because they would be worried that the boys may admire the main protagonist to such an extent where they will actually copy his behaviour towards women and they may ignore or disassociate themselves from girls their age who are not size 6 or size 8 because 'Larry did not bother with them'.
At one point in the trailer, Larry suggests to a woman in underwear that they should have sex in a public area. Her response is a casual but upbeat, 'Oh ok'. This represents women as being people who lack the self-conscience to care about respecting themselves when it comes to fulfilling their love life. This not only insults women but it could also offend female victims of sexual abuse because they did not have a choice when they were attacked outside for the public to potentially witness the assault and to see that these women have a relaxed attitude towards prosmicuity may horrify them.
At the trailer's climax, Larry is surrounded with a woman at each shoulder. These women are wearing nothing but tiny underwear and dancing provocatively towards him. This represents all women as being suggestive or 'begging' for male attention. This annoys me because this representation of women is allowing boys, who could be playing this game, to assume that women only want to befriend men so that they could pursue a sexual relationship with them when, in fact, most women are not like that and view sex as a privilege or something that enhances a loving relationship rather than a hobby or a necessity.
This is a link for the Magna Cum Laude trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJO-qLbH1eo
Another example of a media text that is a sexualised representation of women is the trailer for the film Piranha 3D which was released in 2010. Despite it belonging in the horror film genre, one of the codes and conventions of horror films is to feature girls that are visually attractive so that they appeal to the targeted male audience.
When introducing the film's setting in the trailer, the cinematographer features young college students partying on a waterboat beach party. A medium close-up shot shows three young women, who look in their late teens to early twenties, dancing in nothing but their bikinis on one of the boats. One of the girls appears to be dancing in a suggestive manner as she combs her one hand through her hair and rubs her other hand over her breasts. This represents young women in particular as being people who exhibit themselves purposely to capture a man's attention. Whilst the male audience may like this type of dancing and will not be bothered by it, a female audience could possibly feel disgusted and ask why the woman would want to smoothe herself down in that manner whilst being surrounded by other people.
As the trailer progresses, a car of young women drives beside a man on a motorbike. At the start of this section, the women appear to be having fun in a harmless, flirtatious way. This is proved with the camera focusing on the man's bashful smile. However, one of the girls vigorously shakes her breasts in front of the motorcyclist, encouraging him to behave dangerously by driving faster and performing a wheelie in order to impress his admirers. This represents women as being irresponsible people and not willing to consider the consequences of their actions. Whilst some members of the audience may continue to believe that the girls are behaving in a harmless fashion, other members of the audience may question the reality behind this section and may even be put off from watching the film if they go on to believe that the rest of the trailer's events are influenced by the wreckless behaviour of the female characters.
One of the actresses that feature in this film is Kelly Brooks, an English model, who portrays one of the partygoers. She is not only wearing a bikini top that appears several sizes too small for her but is dancing in a way that allows even more focal attention to be drawn towards her breasts. This represents women as being eager to expose themselves in order to gain appeal from men. The fact that Kelly Brooks' womanhood has been exposed could be seen as a persuasive technique because her beauty will attract the male audience's attention and will force them to watch it in order to see what this actress has to offer. The female audience, however, may question the film's sincerity and wonder if this film is actually a parody of horror films which heavily emphasises female sexualisation.
At this point of the trailer, it is clear that the film does not feature any possible countertype of a young female character. In fact - apart from the female officer - none of the female cast members are portraying strong-minded women at all. This represents women as being less empowering and more vulnerable or weak compared to men. This may annoy feminists or female activists who campaign for gender equality and equal dominance due to the mass proportion of these stereotypical characters.
This is a link for the Piranha 3D Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdMO51GaTMs

An example of a text that defies sexual objectification is the front cover of the December 2009 issue of Glamour magazine. Glamour magazine is a printed media text that specifically targets a middle-aged female audience and this issue's cover featured the current First Lady of the US Government.
The area of the cover that captures attention straightaway is the medium shot of First Lady Michelle Obama. The choice of a long, red gown and a large, silver necklace which covers the neckline rightly portrays her as being a sophisticated and classy woman. This represents middle-aged women as still being visually attractive and still often appearing youthful and vibrant. The target audience will feel inspired by her because they see that her humble yet beaming smile reaps confidence and her appearance defines her natural beauty. Fans of the First Lady will also be attracted to this magazine when they see that their idol is not being represented in a sexualised way unlike most magazine covers nowadays. The caption that accompanies it ('Looks back on her big year - and answers your questions') also represents her as being friendly and willing to reach out to communities. This will not only be admired by her fans as well as an American female audience but it also intrigues a British female audience who may wish to know more about her private life as well as her speculated public life.
The issue honours 'the Women of the Year'. This represents women as being potentially inspirational figures in society and will provide middle-aged women with hope that, despite their age, they may still be able to pursue the career that they wish to have as well as fulfill their private lives. It also enlightens the female audience and restores their faith in women and their aspirations despite the majority of A-List celebrities being sexualised to a certain extent by the growing demands of the media.
The caption that is situated below the title says, '12 winners give you life advice'. This represents women as being willing to help and support other women. The audience may wish to know what this potentially rewarding advice could be and, as a result, are persuaded to buy the product and discover what this advice is.
One of the other topics that this particular issue raises questions the morals of a loving relationship. The issue provides the reader with a section listing '7 reasons guys love you just the way you are'. This represents women as being more than just a sexual object for men. By saying 'just the way you are', the quote suggests to the audience that they should not feel pressured to adapt themselves in any way in order to please the man. This pleases the target audience because this issue will help to highlight how important women are to men and it will help the reader to realise that, despite sexual objectification in the media, men actually cherish and care about the woman that they love.
This is the December 2009 Issue of Glamour magazine.
Whilst some critics argue that gender equality in media has now increased due to stricter regulations set by advertising agencies, the ratio of sexualised representations to non-sexualised representations of women that were raised in this essay alone proves that sexual objectification is still very much present in today's media. The increase of new communicative technologies has caused the enforcement of age restrictions to become more leniant (what with young children being able to purchase films and games or watch TV programmes that contain explicit content) and, therefore, has increased the casual audience response towards the sexualisation of women. On the one hand, I believe that exploiting a woman's dignity as a way of encouraging people to purchase a product is wrong. On the other hand, I feel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to remove yourself from sexualised media texts what with figures suggesting that, in 2011, every person consumed an average of five thousand adverts a day from the media. Three years on, technological advancements must mean that that figure is a small fraction of the number adverts that one person views in one day. Whilst I hope that female sexualisation in media may become less obvious and overpowering in the future, I am confident that this controversial issue in the media will continue to affect us - the consumers of the media - for years to come.

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