Media is a representation of reality. This means the media is composed of perceptions of what life is and then broadcast to viewers at home. The media can be used with good intentions, such as raising awareness and reaching networks of people, but a current problem that the media faces is misrepresentation.
Representation in the media is the way particular groups, communities, races, ideologies and topics are presented in a certain format. For example, Disney portrays different fantasy lands of princesses and princes and then its audience, mostly comprising of young children, watch what is perceived as Disney’s “reality.” This creates a spectrum of types of media presented, such as sci-fi to reality TV to cook books to TMZ. Most media outlets are used for entertainment or conveying a message to consumers, which is what our culture wants. But, the all-powerful tool of giving entertainment to the masses can have a negative effect when used incorrectly.
According to The Representation Project, women represent 28% of roles in top-grossing films in 2012. Also, only 6 percent of the top 100 films of 2012 had a balanced cast of women and men. These statistics are shocking, but many question why this is a problem, or how this could affect people’s minds. Marian Wright Elderman, founder and president of the Childrens Defense Fund, states, “You can’t believe what you can’t see.” This quote truly reflects the poorly portrayed “reality” in entertainment: white, good-looking men always playing the lead role while the supporting women act only as a love interest and always stay in the shadow of the lead male, women in roles that are shallow and not complex-characters, or women portrayed as “the bitch” and cold-hearted in positions of power.
Repeated exposures of these stereotypes create social norms. For example, seeing thinner models over and over again can portray a cultural opinion that skinny is normal, when the average woman is not like the model. One study mentioned by The Representation Project reflects this statement: repeated exposure to sexual video games and music videos is linked to men’s acceptance of rape myths and sexual harassment.
Recently, there have been organizations that are trying to break the media’s stereotypes and place minorities in the spotlight. One organization called Dames Making Games has a mission of, “providing free events, workshops, resources and services to women/trans*/queer folks interested in making, playing and critiquing video games,” according to dmg.org. Also, a webseries titled, “MisSpelled,” is aiming to include women of color in a fantasy series, which you can view here.
We consume hours upon hours of media everyday. When you take a step back, what do you see? Who is broadcasting the news, or playing the lead role, or posing on the cover of that magazine? Do you see your friends, your family, or yourself? Or is it portraying something else?
The media has the responsibility to portray a reality that accurately reflects all groups of people. Without this representation, young people will not have role models to look up to. Representation has the opportunity to reflect on who we are as a nation and celebrate who we are as a people.
Ohio University Women’s Center Volunteer