The effects of communication messages on society

For a long, long time, I have been transfixed by stories.  When I was a small girl of six, I would get onto the bus that stopped right in front of our house in Bloemfontein, get off in the middle of the “city”, and walk about three blocks to the well-stocked library.  By age nine or ten I have read every book in the children’s library, and they gave me some extra cards.  That was no solution, so I was, long before 16 years of age, promoted to the adult library.  That was the very best place of my childhood and youth, that library.  The world was open for me to travel everywhere I wanted.

You will keep in mind that stories are just one way of communication (or sending messages), right? (This blog is mostly about communication and media messages.) So the main focus of interest, for me, is still how writers and producers of films, magazines, series, games and books perceive the differences in the journey of men and boys, as compared to the journeys of women and girls. It is about how the messages are constructed (“made up”) in society by the communicators of all these messages.

On the other hand, I am also fascinated by all the mass audiences and what meanings we attach to all these stories that are offered to us. After all, everything eventually contributes to our understanding of society, gender, the world at large and other people. It is a mere fact that we, on the basis of all the stimuli in society and our communities, begin to form culture. What are our habits, our rituals, our practices, our customs? And make no mistake – all of these cultural images prompt us to buy and live as consumers, who believe that what is advertised, WILL work for us as well.  After all, seeing is believing.

Now you may or may not have heard about the Bechdel Test.  This is a simple scale that was developed to measure or evaluate how women in Hollywood are portrayed.  It is also focusing on the larger question of how Hollywood and the film industry (which is VERY powerful in creating ideas in our minds) present men, and women.  It’s actually a very simple test: three short questions are asked.

(Many men will now just sigh and breathe deep and say: here goes the feminist on her propaganda again.  I don’t mind: sigh.)

The question is rather about sexism than feminism, however.  Any “-ism” is trouble.  Racism, sexism, commercialism, ageism, communism, classism – all “-ism’s) always exclude other members of the same society. It always supposes an us, and a them, who are not the same and should thus be treated differently.

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Why are women, for example, paid less for the same work they do as men? (Read about the very real pay-gap between men and women.) Why do they get promoted less in work? Why do women say “Im sorry” so often for nothing that they have done. Why can older male actors get wonderful parts in films, but women over 40 are too old for films? Why do they get paid less at all?

These three simple questions are:

  1. Are there more than two main female characters (or is there only one love interest, or enemy, or story of women?)
  2. Do those two characters, if there are two who have main roles, have a conversation by themselves?
  3. It that conversation about a man (in the movie) or about something else that is important to them?

Kelsey McKinney (at fusion.net) says that Almost half of 2015’s movies failed this simple test.  This means that half of all the movies that were produced in one year, can be labelled as sexist.  She bluntly says that this implies that women are dehumanized. Something that incidentally happened: as I searched for pictures of Superwoman on an images website, 40 pictures came up, and 37 were of men (less than 10%)! (Also please note how sexualized and stereotypical this one picture out of three are portrayed with boobs, waist, young face and hips!)

“Girls” are just not the same as boys, as we see in this wonderful advertisement for Always, on the stereotyping of girls: Throw like a girl.

I am currently deeply immersed in research about the differences in men and women’s journeys.  Not a single one person’s life is only happy, good, prosperous, healthy, successful.  We all encounter challenges, obstacles, heartbreak, sickness and loss.  How men and women are portrayed on these stories or journeys of our life, really intrigues me.

Watch this blog for more discussions on the role of men and women in society, and how the media shape these ideas in culture and in our minds.