F is for Feminism

| March 24, 2014

“to refer to feminist aesthetics is to identify a set of perspectives that pursue certain questions about philosophical theories and assumptions regarding art and aesthetic categories” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Feminist Aesthetics)

GQ's "Man of the Year" covers versus "Woman of the Year"

Feminist Aesthetics can cover a wide variety of areas and subjects; something that I have been very interested in as of late is how women are portrayed in the media and how that has contiuned to affect women’s roles socially and politically. The feminist movement has made large strides in the past 50 years, but it has certainly not reached a stopping point. Women in the media today are still incredibly objectified, dehumanized and used as props. The media sells women’s bodies to both men and women, as a ‘prize’ and a ‘goal’ respectively.

Women’s bodies are subject to extreme scrutiny by society and the media; it is the topic of daytime talk shows, magazine covers and news broadcasts across the nation. Women have been held to a homogeneous standard of “beauty” and in doing so are told that their worth is derived from their outward appearance.

This objectification is a sickening after effect of the Patriarchal system put in place by our forefathers (thanks guys). What is a patriarchy you say?

Patriarchy: “a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power” (Merriam-Webster)

I would love to say that the patriarchy has ended and that women are no longer subject to such ridiculous oppression. It’s the intuitive argument, isn’t it? Women vote! Women work! Why are we still complaining about equality? Because:

The way the media presents women affects how the populations treats women. The media continues to portray women as inferior of, and dependent on, men in our society. In nearly every action movie, a man is the hero who gets to save the day and receive recognition and admiration! In romantic comedies, women laugh at their inability to find a man until one happens to come into their life (preferably after a complete aesthetic makeover) and they live happily ever after! Feminism is not the rejection of either “story”, but it is the rejection of the prevalent message that men are the heroes of society, and women are the seekers of companionship and nothing more. Feminism asserts that media portrayals should not promote the superiority of any gender (or race, or sexual orientation), but rather work to empower both. If we continue to accept the messages the media presents us, we will continue to (knowingly or unknowingly) reproduce oppressive, traditional gender roles. In doing so, we continue to build a society that condones victim-blaming, objectification of women and continual street harassment. By not fighting against sexist systems now, we are passing on an oppressive system to our daughters and female students, one that not only hurts women, but men as well.

The structures of gender relations are much larger than what I have presented, but I argue that a place to begin our journey to equality is to critically examine the media we experience and to question the message it is sending about women*, gender roles and oppressive relationships in general. If we can begin by filtering what we watch/hear/see, we can begin to evaluate what oppressive structures are being reproduced, and how we can go about fighting against them.

Additional Resources:

Ted Talk by Caroline Heldman on the objectification of women, and how it hurts, rather than helps.

How the Media failed women in 2012: Clips from actual news broadcasts that are utterly demeaning to women in politics

How the Media failed women in 2013: (because we didn’t learn from 2012!)

Miss Representation: Documentary (available on Netflix) about the representation of Women in media. I highly recommend this as a starting point for anyone interested in the things I’ve been babbling about above.

*I would also like to recognize that many other groups (LGBTQ, racial and ethnic minorities and class minorities) are subject to similar oppression and their rights are equally important to fight for. For the sake of length, I have chosen to focus on women (and by which I mean anyone who identifies themselves as a woman).