This article was submitted by Jesse Game-Brown
Being feminist comes with certain responsibilities, at least I think so. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to sit idly by if the world is wounded and you, a part of the world, have the passion and power to heal it. At the same time, being tasked with changing the world is a teensy bit daunting, and sometimes it seems like one’s capacity for effecting social change is pretty negligible when confronted with the ferocity and salience of ignorance or apathy. What can you do?
I want to talk about “the media.” The phrase has taken on an almost super-villain connotation. People will refer to “the media” as the source of all social problems: “the media” are responsible for violence in our society; “the media” deceive the public obliquely and favor sensationalism over information; “the media” are corrupting our children and turning them into hooligans. To be fair, all of these things are somewhat true. In case you missed my thoughts on nature and nurture, I will restate that I think influences of a sociological sort are—well—influential when it comes to expectations, perceptions, and expressions of gender. I believe that sociological factors are significantly influential in most facets of our identities and perceptions. But I want to move away from framing activist efforts as in strict opposition to this ethereal “the media” antagonist, and I want to identify how appropriately to assign responsibility and decide how to act accordingly.
Firstly, “media” is the plural of “medium.” It seems obvious to me, but I didn’t always know that, and I don’t want to leave anyone behind here. When we talk about “the media,” we’re talking about every medium that informs or entertains us. We’re talking about television, magazines, the increasingly elusive newspaper, music, video games, movies, books, comic books, stage productions, fan art, paintings, advertisements, the internet, feminist blogs with handsome and articulate authors, everything. Patterns of representation that pervade the media have an impact on our psyches. The easiest example I can point to is female body representation: women consistently portrayed as thin, white, body hair–less supermodels. The homogeneity persists because it is everywhere in everything. No one medium is at fault, hence “the media.”
But in blaming “the media,” we are narrowing our lens to roughly one half of the equation. In a free market like ours, media respond to consumer demand. If people readily consume stereotypical tropes, sexism, male normativity, etc., then that kind of media and its producers will pervade the mainstream. In turn, people are sociologically influenced by the mainstream to demand stereotypical tropes, sexism, male normativity, etc. It is the perfect model of a vicious cycle.
Essentially, I place responsibility on everyone. People in public positions—public figures in addition to producers of media—have a responsibility to think critically, explore diversity, and deviate from destructive patterns of representation that reinforce negative socialization. We as consumers have the responsibility of rewarding these entities that break the paradigm and of challenging or ignoring the media that damage us.
If we really want to make a difference, as feminists, I think our responsibility is not limited to what we see and hear and produce and pay for; I think it also includes an attention paid to the words and actions of others. The people we meet and interact with have an impact on us and others directly, but collectively they also have an impact on sociological paradigms. The only way to challenge the system in its entirety is to challenge people and media alike.
Okay, still daunting. It seems like my personal philosophy is, in some sense, to fight every battle. If a comedian relies on sexism, I don’t listen to them, and I try to be vocal about not listening to them. If I hear someone at work slut-shaming, I try to respond. And I’m not encouraging trying to control people’s behavior or endorsing censorship, I’m talking about exercising consumer responsibility, speaking out, and planting seeds of critical thought.
I know there are limits to what a person can do. If I were to boycott all products with advertisements involving women in stereotypical roles, I would never buy any cleaning supplies, I would never wear deodorant, and I would never drink beer. Mentally and emotionally, it would be exhausting to debate every problematic statement made by the people around us. But where possible, I support and contribute to social awareness. I challenge the problematic. The only thing I can think to do is everything, because everything potentially contributes to the problem.