A small step for the media, a giant leap for feminism
It would seem that the media, especially the Internet, have become invaluable aids in disseminating the feminist cause. Consider this video, for example, that quickly went viral, of a young woman walking for ten hours in New York City while being filmed by a hidden camera. Verbally accosted a number of times by men seeking only to prove to themselves that they are capable of commenting on her physical appearance, the woman was even followed by a man who walked beside her for a while. This woman has become a symbol of the fight against sexual harassment in the United States. Her video reminds us, somewhat brutally, that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality.
A wave of feminism is sweeping through the media today. Every day, countless economic and political articles highlight gender inequality and encourage women to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ that all too often constitutes a barrier in the world of work. The same phenomenon is being seen in international institutions: as the UN’s goodwill ambassador for Women, Emma Watson invites men to join the fight for gender parity. The multinationals are also getting involved: tech giants like Apple and Facebook are offering women employees an opportunity to freeze their eggs so that women will no longer have to choose between a career and having children. This flood of information related to feminism is being accelerated by the Internet. Its speed and efficiency are essential for promoting the feminist message: that social and political equality of the sexes can only benefit society as a whole.
It is now up to the media to make smart choices that reflect the society they serve. Advertising, on which the media depend to operate, all too often resorts in its sales strategies to the “commodification” of the female body, thereby reducing women to their sexuality However, perhaps surprisingly, advertisement sometimes gives a prominent place to feminist themes. We could cite a number of brands that are using feminist arguments in their advertising, or even in their products. For example, the ‘Always’ brand, in its #LikeAGirl campaign, seeks to challenge the negative use of the expression “do something like a girl”.
Yet, one wonders whether using feminist ideas in advertising is not an example of “feminism-washing” insofar as these arguments may only be used to win the minds (and money) of consumers and not to lend legitimate support to the feminist cause. Companies that really want to promote gender equality must adopt measures that guarantee such equality. It is not enough for their marketing strategy to adopt a feminist approach, this policy must also play a prominent role at each and every stage of their product marketing.
Finally, there is a real quantitative divide with regard to women’s representation in the media. In the film industry, only one woman so far has won an Oscar for best director (Kathryn Begelow in 2010) and only one woman has won a César in this category (Tonie Marshall in 2000). This negative pattern is becoming more pronounced in the journalistic community: in 2010, the Global Media Monitoring Project reported that only 24% of people quoted in the press are women. Once the media adopt a feminist-oriented policy, reporting will be more complete, accurate, and thus inevitably more representative of reality. It is clear that media managers must imperatively give women their rightful place in this environment; which means not only talking about them, but also allowing them to speak for themselves.
Brónagh Carvill is a 22-year old native of Dublin, Ireland. She completed a double master's degree in comparative law in Paris, specializing in French Law and Common Law, and is a member of the European Youth Parliament. She is particularly interested in the study of international law, including human rights and gender equality.