Sexist media and its effect on women.

Today I’m working on my final research project for one of my classes, Gendered Communication. As part of this project, I held a focus group where I screened this video and hosted a discussion.

Below is the transcription. I’m so amazed by my friends and their opinions.

To begin the focus group, I asked them to draw a politician.

LC: How many of you drew a woman?
BS: I drew someone gender neutral.
LC: What characteristics did you all come up with?
ML: I wrote smart, socially conscious, open-minded, assertive, advocate for visible minorities, adaptable, possesses power in or with media
AM: Smart, manipulative, eager to be known, dreamer, powerful
BC: Well-spoken, persuasive, opinionated, passionate
DM: Good public speaking skills, so has a good voice that people want to listen to, relatable, has a family, can look at them and see yourself, convincing, personable, knowledgeable on current events and such, open-minded, good experience, well-rounded
BS: Leader, ambitious, public speaker, goal-oriented, organized, unbiased, patriotic, caring, compassionate, selfless, and passionate
KDL: I didn’t write anything nice! Leader, business and money over family and community support, intelligent, deceitful, making promises they have no intention of keeping, smug, untrustworthy, remorseless
PD: Opinionated, honest, strong-willed, respectful, confident, open, optimist
KG: Charismatic, optimistic, enthusiastic, powerful, educated, good at delivering a message
LC: Do you think that we believe that women possess these characteristics? Why or why not?
KDL: This is what I think of when I think of Stephen Harper, not a real politician.
LC: Okay, so what about women who are running for office? Do we think they possess these characteristics?
DM: Yeah, they have more of the characteristics that we named.
ML: I think they’re the same, except for anything related to power. I would generalize and say they have a bit less. But anything social, like social consciousness, I would say it’s about the same.
KDL: I feel like women have more of a sober second thought, and that in the heat of the moment, decisions may be made differently.
LC: What do you mean? Can you expand on that?
KDL: Can I think about that?
AS: Why do you think that they have less of the bad parts and more of the good parts?
DM: I’m not saying they’re perfect in any way, they just have the sober second thought for sure. I think that it seems like men are a little more power hungry whereas women are a little more conscious of the people around them.
ML: I think that’s maybe been imposed on us as a society, I don’t know if that’s how we are necessarily. I think if you look at different societies, and I’m only saying this is something that’s been imposed on us. I think are portrayed as more nurturing, more thoughtful, but I don’t think that’s the case.
BS: But, I mean we’re biologically programmed to be more nurturing, but I think it’s a generalization –
ML: Towards our children
BS: I think in general we’re more sensitive, but that’s not to say that there aren’t women who are less sensitive than certain men are. Saying which gender encompasses these words, we should say which person. It’s not men or women, it’s people. It makes a good debate – is it that we’re meant to think women are more maternal or if they actually are. At the same time, since there’s less women politicians, you have to think they must have fought pretty damn hard to get where they are if they don’t just have the advantage of being a male.
LC: How did they have to fight? What would they have to do to earn a position:
BS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a lot of passing of power and stuff happens internally inside a cabinet. So until you have a public voting for you, you do have to play a man’s game because you are a minority. Women express that it’s harder for them to gain respect in the workplace. For instance, my mom is pretty high up in her company, and it was hard for her to get there. And still, she gets paid less than men in a lower position. So when women have to work harder in any business scenario, in a political scenario I can imagine it’s worse.
PD: It’s almost like you’re doing five times the work and getting five times less of the recognition.
AS: I’m wondering if women as politicians are appreciated and became politicians because they were different than most women, so they’re more sensitive and everything, so they became politicians because they are more like men, or because they are appreciated as a women for being more sensitive.
LC: Do women have to behave more like a man to achieve a political position?
AS: That’s what I’m wondering. Or if they have more male characteristics, so they became politicians and are more appreciated and successful.
Watched Video
LC: What did you learn about Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Like what she wanted to do as President if she were elected?
BS: Health care was her primary concern.
LC: Did you learn anything else from the footage or the commentary?
KDL: From that video? No.
LC: Do you think you would have learned more about Barack Obama if they were talking about his platform?
DM: Yeah, I think they would have talked about more things and not about his appearance.
KDL: Definitely not the appearance.
ML: More personal characteristics. This was an entire attack on her integrity, it had nothing to do with what she’s striving for.
LC: Would it change your vote? Would the coverage have changed your vote?
PD: Us specifically? Maybe not. Because you see our reaction to this, we know what’s going on. We know the media is portraying her in this specific way. So us here in this room, no, because we know what’s going on. But the general public? Definitely more likely.
BC: From that video you don’t know anything about her campaign. So even us in this room, if they’re not talking about her campaign, you have no reason to vote for her anyway. You’d still probably vote for Barack Obama if you know what he’s fighting for.
KDL: Yeah, cause just cause she’s a woman doesn’t mean I’d vote for her. I mean yes, I would like more women in any political situation but I wouldn’t vote for her because she’s a woman. Like blindly, without knowing what her campaign is about. If I’m already really comfortable for someone else’s campaign…
BS: It sounded like a bunch of boys in the locker room saying like, go beat up the fag. You meet so many guys who were homophobic in high school because of the social pressure and it just stems from such a big, scary populous because that’s what it was: big bullies trying to put pressure on men from keeping a woman from power because it’s deemed embarrassing, as if there’s no way they can manage their periods and rule the country.
KDL: And honestly, that was enough to turn me off from being in politics. So why aren’t there more women? Well that’s a really good reason. I don’t think that’s something I could have the power to go and fight every single day, those comments like that? That would wear me down, the burn out rate must be like, crazy.
LC: Why do you think female politicians are treated this way?
BS: I don’t want to say men are threatened, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
KDL: Because if they weren’t threatened, they would be coming up with a better argument as to why women – there’s no real argument.
BS: These are men who I’m sure pay women a lot of money at strip clubs on weekends and yet just can’t handle the fact that her tank top slips this low. Like I’m sorry, but that’s just…
BC: Like Michelle was saying, we’re taught to think of women as more nurturing and stuff, and it’s been seen as a weak thing. So all those power terms, no one would put them with women because we’re nurturing and sensitive and stuff, and that’s seen of as a bad thing in politics.
LC: What are the risks then in how women are represented? How does this affect society when female politicians are talked about like this?
ML: It just becomes a norm. Well, it already is and remains a norm.
KDL: And it encourages that kind of attitude from your leaders.
ML: It’s not even about encouraging, it’s about having people think that’s the way it is and not try to find an answer about why it’s like this. When you ask somebody why is it so unfair? They say, because it is. It’s never, well let’s look into this. It’s always like, well that’s the way the cookie crumbles and let’s stop talking about it immediately. And it just becomes a campaign of silence, and keep it like it is because it’s been working out okay. And that’s a risk.
BC: And Katie just said it discourages women from doing anything and from politics.
KDL: What I really hated in the video was that one of the guys brought up, well if women are 52% of the voters, then why are there not… like you guys need to vote for yourselves. Like you were saying earlier, you don’t have everyone voting for you from square one, you have to get in a position where you can be voted for. All the women in Canada can agree that from now on we’re only going to vote for women in politics, but unless the women are able to get to that situation, and get to that position-
BS: She wasn’t even in the running for President yet – she was just running to get a spot to run to get that. And what did they have to choose between? I mean, a half-Black male or a woman. What was the lesser of two waspy ideals?
DM: And she’s also got the ghosts of her past, like they mentioned in the video. She has to fight also the fact of what her husband did beforehand. Like that’s another added… it had nothing to do with her, really, it was her husband, you know? And that came into play. How did that have anything to do with politics whatsoever? And her platform personally? That’s frustrating, that was even brought up.
LC: Do you think that this kind of coverage or the reactions you guys just explained, contribute to any social issues and if so what do you think those are? Do you think the way we view women who try to get into positions of power, does that contribute to violence against women, the double-day?
DM: It adds to the continuation of how we perceive women and how women should be treated, and that we should be okay with that. It’s not going to change how it is, and I think that especially with how women are being treated in politics, that’s higher up. That’s like what people look up to, that’s what people are watching every day, that’s what people live their life by. So they’re being extremely influenced by comments and everything that’s portrayed in the media. Not just people who have been around this their whole lives, but people who are in school and studying this and watching this, that is still very influential to younger minds as well as the general population. It’s getting engraved from the get-go.
BS: It might be a pretty loaded statement to say that it contributes to violence against women, it’s hard for us to back that up without any substantial research, but I mean just from sitting here and watching that, and being a Hillary Clinton fan, you sit and watch that and I have just this tiny little waver in me where you consider the comments for a second. For a minute when they showed a flash of her talking, like I’ve always felt this power radiating out of her, but looking at her that first flash she looked vulnerable, and I’ve never felt that way about her before. I’ve just watched her speeches, I’ve never listened to commentary about her before. And like wow, if they can make one women who’ve fought so hard, she’s so incredible, than is there any social outcomes? I think it’s just social perception. It obviously encourages men to see a woman in power that way, it encourages women who are ambitious to be fearful of their ambition, it encourages young minds to think that women can’t do the things that the absolutely can do. Directly speaking, I don’t know if there’s physical actions in society, but I think it’s the mental and emotional sway.
LC: Do you think men receive these messages differently than women do?
KDL: I think it depends on the person. I wouldn’t say all women receive these messages the same way. You can have men watching it who are completely disgusted and feel hurt and sad when they see this, and then you can have men who go along with it, you know? I’d be more curious to see if a family’s watching it after dinner and the news comes on, what are the parents going to say? The commercials come on right after it, are you going to turn to your children? Are the dad and the brother going to start picking on the mom and the sister and bring them down? Or is the dad going to say ‘alright guys, that’s not right and that’s not okay.’ I think it’s more important… if we have change starting within the home. In a violent movie, you see parents going ‘okay kids, this isn’t real. It’s a movie, we don’t really do this.’
LC: What do you think are some of the steps we need to take to change the way women are represented in politics or the way that we view positions of power?
DM: I think just not listening to the media. Like basing your own opinions on your own… I don’t know, just not being susceptible.
ML: But what other hosts do we have besides the media?
DM: It’s true! But just the facts, like that’s their own personal opinion. Especially that one guy, I keep going back to that, but he kept talking about her appearance and like, that’s not what this is about. As a host, like your opinion seems to be important. And you watch the news and people subconsciously base their opinions on what news hosts deliver.
BS: The stuff on TV boggles my mind.
DM: They’re there to deliver the news and I don’t know if personal opinion should have a place there as much as it does. That’s a big thing to say, but perfect world news would deliver facts, not opinions.
KDL: I don’t think it’s realistic to say we can avoid the media. You can say that things are because of the media, but you don’t really know how much of the media affects you. But you don’t know. You could say we could avoid media, but I think if you should just look into it a little bit more. If you’re interested, don’t just look at one news clip, if you’re going to build a strong opinion, google it.
DM: Yeah, because you don’t actually know how much is filtered out. Don’t buy the first thing you hear, read into it.
AS: I think the media plays a role in continuing all the things we see, because the journalists, even if they’re women, to keep their job, they play along. I wish there was someone in front of the politicians asking the hard questions or have somebody on the other side saying it’s not okay, but represent the two parts.
BS: I think that’s possible, but I think the fact that these things are not only allowed on TV, but also seen as normally, they’re a generational issue. I can’t wait for future generations to take the place of those old men who think it’s okay to say stuff like that. Just how your grandfather may think it’s okay to say the word nigger, for instance. They’re passing away and newer generations like us are coming up who are more educated and socially aware of equality, are replacing them. So things like gay marriage or women politicians, we’re waiting. We know it’s going to happen, we’re just waiting and we need more modern mindsets in the future. It’s starting the domino effect of teaching young boys and girls in school… let’s say they had Obama and Hillary up in a school as heroes, equal heroes, planting those seeds leads to people like that not being cultivated and not being the voice of our media. I think, you know, instead of saying ‘let’s change the news right away,’ we have to change where it starts and then we’ll get there.
DM: I think that’s true, but I wish it would go faster than that, because at the same time our generation is being raised by previous generations. It’s a process, but a slow one.
BS: If he said nigger on his broadcast, would that be okay? No. Would it have been twenty years ago? Yes, it would have. Within those generations, while my father was raised with his father saying it all the time, did he raise me to say it? No, he taught me not to. It’s a slow process, it’ll happen.
BC: But the thing is in the media, I know this is the states and not Canada, but how many of those news anchors were women and how many of those news anchors were not white? None of them. And you have to be pretty to be on TV. You can’t be in journalism and expect to be on TV if you have anything physically wrong with you, if you’re not willing to go to work everyday looking great. You’re not going to be put on the air. So while you’re watching at home, this is the news but this isn’t okay, but you’re also always listening to a white male. And you have to be attractive to be on TV.
ML: That’s another part of how women are treated in the media. They’re always sexualized, no matter what your platform is. I mean you’re either the very feminine yet powerful woman and she’s portrayed as a dominatrix or somebody who’s sexy and promiscuous, but if she’s not then I’m sorry, but she’s portrayed as a lesbian, butch, something bad. That’s nothing new, that’s been going on forever, and I don’t see it changing radically in our generation at all because even now –
AS: I think we could see a change if on TV when we see those comments, if there was someone who would say something to them like right after who said it’s not okay, at least people who are not aware would see that there are different opinions.
BS: But at the same time when you think about it, even if that woman had to laugh off the sexualized comments towards her, maybe those younger men had to make those kind of comments about Hillary Clinton to keep their job.
KDL: Speaking of appearance, what really bothered me was when that woman said “she looked like 90, 92 years old,” because you know what? A lot of those men are pretty hideous and we don’t say anything about them. Look at the old guys that were talking, they were not good looking men. Point is, if you’ve got a woman who’s of the same age, and because we’re women and we look old, what? That makes her not a good politician, not a good leader, not a good person?
ML: Going back to the fact that men only see women as powerful when they can produce babies. And when they’re old, and if they’re gay, and if they can’t make a baby with a man then they’re not as useful to society. Whereas a man can make babies anytime they want, they can be 75, and it all goes backwards. A woman grows to be 75 and becomes useless, while the man just becomes more powerful. And that’s portrayed not only in media but in pretty much every aspect of our lives. You look at a woman when a woman reaches menopause, and I mean this is part of our culture, a lot of women cut their hair short, and that’s getting rid of part of their femininity and that makes them useless. When a woman is seen as 90, she’s seen in a different way. That’s just part of our culture and the way we’re raised.
LC: It’s interesting because, going back to what you said, if they had said the word nigger on TV that wouldn’t be okay. But because Obama was half-black and middle name is Hussein and thought to be a terrorist, they could call him that because that is this generation’s racism towards the Middle East.
BS: Didn’t they call her a bitch?
LC: Yeah, and a hoe.
BS: That would never fly in journalism.

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