Co-authored with Scott Richardson, Ph.D., author of Gender Lessons: Patriarchy, Sextyping & Schools
Sadly, the mainstream media's laziness has yet again provided us with a long list of competitive material for our annual top 10 sexist media moments. Every year we write about the blatant sexism female politicians face, and this year is nothing new (uh, hello media, like we've asked before, can you please stop reporting on Hillary Clinton's clothing and hair?). We had some hope early on this year for improvements. It took DECADES for the media to take Bill Cosby's rape victims seriously. But finally, in 2015, for a hot minute, they did. And, well, then everything quickly went back to normal. Ugh. There's also been some old fashioned women bashing other women. The anti-feminist herself, Camille Paglia hit a new low when she attacked Taylor Swift, seemingly offended that she's blonde and has friends. What offends us is Paglia's casual use of the word "Nazi" in her description of Swift, although we did appreciate the irony of someone policing and demoralizing other women invoking fascism. Sadly, our top 10 is gloomier than ever because even with an ever growing presence of movements like Black Lives Matter and popularity of annual memorials like Transgender Day of Visibility that focuses on violence, the media continues to focus on other things (and it seems like Donald Trump mostly these days).
From innumerable possibilities, with an effort toward including choices from the realms of politics, social issues and entertainment, here's our pick for the top 10 sexist media moments of 2015:
1. Planned Parenthood. Perhaps if the media spent a proportionate amount of time covering all of the services Planned Parenthood provides, and educating the public about women's health, instead of focusing disproportionately on abortion, women's health care wouldn't constantly be jeopardized. If the media's job is to inform citizens, they failed.
2. Gun violence and hyper-masculinity is rarely explored in mainstream media, and it's not due to a lack of opportunity. This year alone, there have been over 50,000 shooting incidents, 350 of them classifying as "mass shootings"--involving four or more victims. The vast majority of these shootings were carried out by men, and mostly White men. Men, on average, support looser gun control regulations. In 2015, there have been over 50 school shootings, and numerous shootings at churches, community centers and other places where a disproportionate number of employees are women. When will the media begin to have an earnest conversation about the role of hyper-masculinity (which includes an examination of White patriarchal power) and gun violence?
3. Police brutality has been a theme in mainstream media, particularly as it has impacted African-American communities, but it hasn't been nearly enough. The majority of coverage has focused on the assault of African-American men by White police, and it has been shallow. The media should explore the sociocultural and historical roots of how Black masculinity in America has always been perceived a dangerous threat. Additionally, the media has squandered the opportunity to discuss how police brutality has impacted women of color. For example, while he was an Oklahoma City police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, preyed on African-American women. He was recently convicted on 18 counts of rape and other charges that involved attacks on 13 Black women. From 2009 to 2014 550 police officers were fired (though not all faced criminal charges) for sexual assault and a disproportionate number of the victims were African-American. This year, thankfully, the Black Lives Matter movement has become known to the general public, but the media has not clearly represented the movement. It would also be nice if the media would attend to the women activists, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, who are founders of this work.
4. Angelina Jolie's breasts received special attention from the media this year. While the media coverage immediately following her double mastectomy (a preventive measure against her genetic predisposition to develop breast cancer) was bad enough, it's recently gone to an all-time low. In their reviews of By the Sea movie critics wasted no time to say it was the first time post-mastectomy that the actress "showed off" her spectacular new breasts. Shame on those who jumped on this juvenile bandwagon. This is simply her body! While we're at it, you can critique her new film all you like, but stop calling it a "vanity project" unless you're going to do the same for Tom Cruise's last ten films.
5. Women's achievements are constantly overlooked by mainstream media. We're usually much more updated on the happenings of celebrities, but how about those of Elizabeth Holmes, Tracy Chou, Misty Copeland, Deena Varshavskaya, Drew Gilpin Faust, Marissa Mayer, Janet Yellen, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Jenny Lee, Diana Holland, Federica Mogherini...and on and on. These women have made considerable contributions to science, dance, technology, medicine, government, education and economics. We don't know about these women, and it's not largely our fault. Hey, maybe you should Google them (Ruth Porat would like that).
6. The tabloid media just loves the word "flaunt." Learn how to write. Every time a female celebrity leaves her house she isn't "flaunting" something... her legs, her "toned tummy," her body, her baby bump... she's just out in public!
7. Beauty pageants. Love them or hate them, they're entertaining, perhaps because it feels like gawking at a terrible road accident... or hoping something will go wrong (like Miss Carolina's infamous answer in 2007 about Americans and maps). This year, host Steve Harvey mistakenly crowned Miss Colombia (Ariadna Gutierrez) as Miss Universe 2015, only to apologize and correct that Miss Philippines (Pia Wurtzbach) had actually won. Surely it was an embarrassing moment for Steve Harvey, but part of the debacle was sensationalized by the media because Miss Colombia was dethroned immediately. Oh the drama! The media roasted Harvey, and called the mistake "cruel," "tragic," "sad" and "regretful," but c'mon... perhaps those words are best reserved for having an actual competition that judges human beings on their looks!
8. Pop star competition stories ruled the entertainment world this year. When Katy Perry shared her Super Bowl stage with Missy Elliott reporters across the county wrote about Perry allowing herself to be upstaged at her own show. Those headlines could have just as easily been about female solidarity-- about how Perry shared her platform with Elliott-- but the media chose to frame it negatively. Pitting women against each other is nothing new and if you think it's trivial, the consequences in our society are quite real. Later in the year when Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift had their infamous Twitter exchange, the media couldn't get enough. We get it. But what we don't get is why when the "bad blood" between the two was quickly cleared, the media didn't take up the real substance of Minaj's tweet, you know about how the entertainment industry glorifies a hyper-thin, White female body ideal. Why talk about real issues when you can report on a "cat fight?"
9. Caitlyn Jenner/transgender violence. No surprise but as soon as this world-class athlete transitioned from Bruce to Caitlyn, all media coverage focused on her physical appearance. While we applaud Vanity Fair and other outlets for giving her a platform, we'd be much more impressed if the media at large portrayed a more varied image of transgender people, many of whom don't conform to the over-the-top feminine style of Caitlyn Jenner, and most of whom do not have the deep pockets needed to undergo extensive surgeries. It is also devastating to note that over 80 transgender people, mostly women and of color, have been murdered worldwide this year. Over 20 of these murders happened in the U.S. Most of these murders have never been covered by mainstream media in any serious way. Trans erasure and trans invisibility are serious societal problems, and splashing Caitlyn Jenner's photograph everywhere isn't a proper solution, it's distraction.
10. Donald Trump. Let's face it, we could do a top ten list just on his sexist and racist comments. Our pick has to go to his remarks about reporter Megyn Kelly and "blood coming out of her wherever." Every journalist in the country should have taken a stand. This vile isn't about politics, it's about misogyny.
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