Gender bias won't be so pervasive if enough people act

In today’s media, women are overwhelmingly represented in a more simplistic, unrealistic and negative way than men.

What we see in the media affects how we think as a society and as individuals, so when women are constantly fetishized in advertisements, for example, people begin to accept this portrayal as reality. They come to expect these behaviors, in fact, and alter their own behaviors in response to what they see represented in the media they consume.

The phenomenon exacerbates the issue of sexism existing in society today. Fictitious interactions between fictional people can be just as influential as real interactions and behaviors. In other words, the behavior you see on television affects your perception of what behaviors are acceptable in real life. Society’s norms and stereotypes are being written and subsequently propagated from the perspective of a relatively small and selective group of people, dominated by men.

Everyone else — more than half of the population — gets represented by outsiders’ perceptions of their lives and experiences, or not represented at all. People write what they know, right? It’s a recipe for disaster.

Take, for example, the Doritos Super Bowl commercial from 2009. In it, a man walks down a busy urban street, a bag of chips in hand. He’s about to eat one but spies a beautiful woman walking nearby. Operatic music begins to play as his jaw drops. Still staring, he takes an exaggerated bite of his chip and, at the sound of the crunch, the woman’s clothes are ripped off by an unseen force. She’s left in her underwear, shocked, embarrassed and trying to cover herself.

The camera cuts back to the man with the chips, who, instead of reacting with guilt or remorse or any sort of sympathy for a human being in a powerless situation, acts like he can’t believe his luck.

It seems that every product today is marketed on the assumption that sex sells — and that it sells so well, it’s the only smart promotional strategy out there. We see this trope in advertisements all around us — the idea that the ownership of a certain product, whether it’s food, cars or cologne, will instantly deliver sexual prowess, allure, conquests or opportunities for voyeurism to the male consumer.

There is a distinct objectification of women and a sexualization of objects in today’s marketing world. It’s a disturbing trend. Commercials often act as pithy vignettes of normative society, and this commercial, among others, show us a matching social trend of the acceptance of misogynistic views and the predominance of rape culture.

In other words, misrepresentations have consequences.

So what can we do? Write to companies who put out advertisements that concern you, point out what’s wrong, what you want done to fix it and why it’s important. The more negative feedback a company receives, the more likely it is to take it seriously.

Even a quick email can make a difference, so don’t wait around for change to happen on its own. Write now and make it happen yourself.

Olivia Clark is a North Portland resident who is a sophomore at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where she is majoring in media studies.

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