I can remember hiding sheepishly in the safety of my mother’s bosom as a young girl. I always found comfort in her strength. I was one of the lucky ones. I was a child who had a woman who represented independence and discipline, a woman who demanded respect. My mother was the epitome of womanhood in my world. She taught me, through her actions, that being a woman meant overcoming the powers that be, that it was just something that came with being female. She taught me never to give in to a man’s demands, whether at work or home. The message I received helped me differentiate between real life and television. What television fed me was the ideal superficial female: high heels, short skirts, and purposeless creatures without men. Little girls who have no role models like my mother are susceptible to this pervasive image, and it flourishes no matter where we go. The media is teaching girls to be aesthetically pleasing while also teaching boys that women exist only for sexual enjoyment. This problem is rooted far beyond MTV music videos, internet pornography, and even the film industry as a whole. This problem stems from the highest tiers of the ladder: the ruling elite.
The elite are the wealthiest one percent of the population. They are the people filtering information to the public. They control our food supply, the military, transportation, stocks, media, education, and many other aspects of our daily lives. They have been described as “the group that owns the leading worldwide means of production” (Carroll). For example, the Rockefellers and Morgans have had immense control in America since the Great Depression. These leading elite familes “plan, manipulate, and enforce policies that benefit their continued concentration of wealth and power” (Phillips/Soeiro). As if financial and educational control isn’t enough, they have found that television is another way to manipulate the public. For example, General Electric, founded by J.P. Morgan, now owns NBC, Universal Studios, The Weather Channel, A&E, the list goes on. This is just one example of the control that the few elite have over the media. It is important to reflect on the impact their control has had on the way America views and treats women.
Televisions purpose is to bring laughter, empathy, anger, patriotism, or romance, and most of the time, it truly does. Characters we saw were often our parents or best friends when we did not know where else to turn. They taught us how to put on make-up, how to kiss, and even how to be successful. They told us that you can achieve the impossible with a little magic, and they taught us distorted truths about the past. Television has parented many generations, and although we cherish its teachings, the negative effects of its upbringing are all too apparent. Women are one of the biggest victims of this industry, used not only to target the male audience, but also to act out womanhood for the female audience. Behind the scenes TV has always been an industry dominated by men, and that has not changed in nearly a century. Recent statistics have shown that “18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films” (Lauzen) were women. This means 82% of the images flooding our televisions and movie theaters are written, produced, and edited by men. Sexualizing, under representing, and misinforming women are direct results of this prejudice. What women are constantly receiving is a man’s idea of what they are or should be. This creates a society based on male imagination, and in turn it creates a glass ceiling that reflects this distorted image. This technique is not new, but television was an invention that made advertisements more evident.
Advertising on television was a new and useful tactic, especially for the elite. Major corporations, like General Electric, paid advertisers to broadcast their products directed towards the main consumers: women. If they could keep women at home, they would have a consistent and reliable consumer. She would know what the best dishwasher brand was, what the tastiest soda was, and all the stores that sold them cheapest. Advertisements not only reinforced their role in the family, it advertised all their needs to do so successfully. The television helped shape women as the consumer. Everything a woman could see around her reinstated her place at home and seldom anywhere else. There was no other way to learn how to be a woman than by a man behind a camera. Women became the target for two reasons. One was to construct them as the reliable consumer for benefit of the corporations, and two was to reinstate male power in post-WWII America.
At the dawn of television and during WWII, women finally had the opportunity to become “Rosy the Riveters” while the men were overseas. Women were beginning to endanger the traditional structure of the family. Since men were away at war, women were proving their work ethic in factories across the nation. This must have been horrifying for the powerful ruling class. Because traditional family structure had been broken, women were strong and unified, and they were capable of an effective and dangerous up rise against oppression. The elite corporate conglomerates were beginning to feel the weight on their shoulders to solidify their control. Keeping women in the confinements of their kitchens was “a mark of status for men” (Salam) and a fool-proof way to maintain a society ruled by men. Even with their brief taste of freedom, women were pushed back to cleaning, caring for the children, and cooking; only this time, it was done with a television. New shows were on the rise. Series like Ozzie and Harriet, The Honeymooners, and I Love Lucy were teaching women, effectively for a decade, to keep quiet and let the man bring home the bread; even if that meant going “to the moon” now and then. The post-war fifties were a vital time for men to maintain their control in society. While “16.1 million” men were overseas, the men still in the U.S. were outnumbered by women during the war. Women had taken over jobs and proved themselves to be a powerful force. Perhaps it came as a surprise that women could successfully chair hierarchal positions. Those in power knew they had to reestablish the roles by setting a very strict gender expectation. Gender is “the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women” (WHO). It is a fragile and flexible expectation. It can easily be manipulated or maintained, and television was a useful way to accomplish a desired standard. Broadcasting companies and their owners had discovered early on that media was influencing the behaviors of the public. After the war, the television had officially swept the nation under its wing, and by the mid-50’s “half of all U.S. homes had one” (Stephens). By 1963, that number jumped to 91.3% (TV History). Roughly 50 million Americans were now at the disposal of an elitist agenda. Mid-century, television companies had begun to experiment with political manipulation through broadcasting. It was believed that “a well-publicized campaign should change votes” (Graber). When it had been proven to work, the media officially discovered its role as the most influential power in the world. Without their knowledge, the growing media was calling to arms every woman who had felt the overwhelming pressures of falling short of perfection.
Despite the tireless attempts of television networks, women rebelled against their expected images, and the 1960’s came with a roaring vengeance. Women across the nation were leaving their kitchens and abandoning their bras in a desperate attempt to reshape the gender roles they were assigned. Women were using what was once used against them; publicity. Music, literature, and film had become a tool, rather than a hindrance as it was in the previous decade. Women were evolving in the media like never before. What it meant to be a woman went from seductive and submissive to authoritative and persistent. They had certainly become a distraction to the male-driven communities they occupied, and with the help of mainstream media, they were no longer easy to ignore. The “second wave” feminist movement had learned to utilize the still budding media to their advantage. Activists and their organizations, “emphasized the role of the media as a lever for social change” (Bradley) to those who followed them. Instead of accepting what the post-war media told them about themselves, women set out to change the standard. Unfortunately, however much progress women made, there was always someone with the upper hand keeping them down.
For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 lobbied against a wage difference for men and women. The pressure to act on the demands of American women overwhelmed even the presidential administration and “in a climate of social change, the president announced a campaign that would put fifty women into high federal offices” (Bradley). The men in America who had never faced such a threat were now in danger of losing their esteemed positions to women. Suddenly, the image of feminism had become tainted and the American culture had reinstated “media’s distaste for active, assertive women” (Beck). Female activists were being coined as lesbians, man-haters, over-sensitive, un-American, and immoral. Women in the movement became “the media’s favorite punching bag” (Valenti). These stereotypes of feminists haven’t changed to this day. Women, especially when working together, were too dangerous a force and they had to be tamed and controlled. The second-wave movement gave women a reason to stand up for themselves, and a reason to dismantle the small and fragile establishment. The elite, and the broadcasts they funded, had to ensure that the public knew how threatening feminists were to families and hardworking Americans. If they could achieve that delusion, they could again silence, or at least subdue, fifty-one percent of the American population. Media in the seventies, and even still, are giving women a reason to never want to be involved with the dirty, offensive “F-word”.
Although women had certainly made strides since the kitchens of the 50’s, there was an obvious stand-still in feminism in the 1980’s. Sociologist Kathleen Gerson considers the women’s movement an “unfinished revolution”. Gerson explains that women’s ideas about their roles in society have changed but men’s are “neo-traditional.” It is inconvenient for men to be running our country’s media when women are struggling to get the upper hand in society. Women cannot move forward when surrounded by the traditional idea of how a man believes women should act in society. This, unfortunately, hasn’t changed much in over fifty years of media-influenced culture. In today’s pop culture, women are more often portrayed in high ranking positions than they had been in the past. However, when women move up in positions of business, movies depict them as being the “bitchy” boss, or even having to sleep their way to the top. For example, in the movie The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays the stubborn, ungrateful, cold, and emotionless boss. It takes the attractive male role, Ryan Reynolds, to bring out her “feminine” and “caring” side. It is difficult to find a movie in which a female boss is portrayed as being successful and also happy. Even when women are the boss in female magazine companies they are unbearable to work with; such as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. She is literally being called the Devil. Today, women are shown as depthless without a man in their lives, but yet men are often considered successful bachelors when they are in the same positions. Women on television today are being given money to have a baby at sixteen so that MTV can cheaply film their lives for a large profit.
The Music Television network spends more time degrading women than playing music. Shows like Jersey Shore, The Real World, Bridezilla, etc., constantly show women negatively. If they’re not out scouting for a husband, they are tools used to show a man’s success. If not that, they are loud, drunk, and always in competition with another woman. MTV is a mastermind at creating female characters versus other female characters. It creates the illusion that women are not meant to get along. Shows like Rock of Love and The Real Housewives of… are perpetuating ideas that women cannot get along. If women believe that they cannot get along with other women because they are petty and deceiving, then women will never coalesce. Thus, a female-driven movement is probably never bound to happen again. The elite have a distinct control over MTV and its horrific portrayals of women. For one, MTV’s owner, Viacom, seems to specialize in shaping young Americans. Viacom owns MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr. (Viacom). An interesting line up of channels considering 63% of MTV viewers are ages 12-34 (Parent TV), and Nickelodeon is obviously targeted at young audiences. These channels have an important role in shaping young Americans it seems. Also, Viacom was spun off of CBS, a network that is affiliated with Time Warner. Time Warner was founded by Steve Ross, whose office now resides in The Rockefeller Center (Bloomberg). Truth of the matter is, there is an obvious lineage of networks that link directly to the Morgan’s and the Rockefellers, the leading elite families in the world.
Another perfect example of modern media’s influence is the porn industry. The age of technology makes this business the most profitable above all sports and television combined, bringing in about “57 billion dollars annually” (BYU). Some businesses profiting hugely off the porn industry are HBO, which is owned by Time Warner, and Comcast (DirecTV), which is owned by General Electric. Media consolidation is even evident in pornography, and this multi-billion dollar industry is incredibly harmful to the way that women are portrayed. Statistics show that the “largest consumer of internet pornography is 12-17” (BYU) in age. Boys are learning, younger than ever before, what it means to be a man and what women are created to do for them. Pornography is an easily accessible tutorial for young men, where they learn that all women want is sex. Porn reinforces the notion that dumb women are attractive, and her body is her value. “Women are commoditized and objectified in porn, which puts them on an unequal footing with men […] this leads men to regard women as subordinate. ‘He sees breasts and genitalia’” (Shmuley). Porn shapes fragile and young female minds into believing their worth is in their genitalia, and for young boys, women are there for entertainment. The goal of porn is to maintain a strict social order while reaping obscene profits.
Even though some simple research will show otherwise, some citizens still believe in the “American Dream”. Some still see America as an equal opportunity to make it in the world. Sadly, they may even claim that the glass ceiling has been broken and there is equality in today’s society. However, it is ignorance that helps keeps American culture in a brain freeze and an intellectual stand-still. For those who aren’t searching, it would appear that men and women have the same chances of becoming whatever they aspire to be. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so. There is still a gap in the work force and “Women currently hold 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.5 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions” (Catalyst). Women make up approximately 51% of the population, so if equality existed, it would reflect in the numbers. Still, the media portrays the incredibly small number as some sort of proof that women have made it in society: that the fight is over. Complacency has always been the enemy of activism, and it would appear this nation has found comfort in inactivity. Fortunately, we simply do not live in a world where there is no refuge from corporate controlled media consumption. Women have not fought the good fight and lost. Americans will one day realize the extent of their cultural brainwashing. There is still time for change and revolution. The first step, of course, is realizing that what we are being taught isn’t without consequence. The information we receive is for the purpose of serving an agenda: profit and conformity. When we realize this, we are taking the first step to raising action against the cultural brainwashing.
Women have hardly achieved equality and fair representation in our capitalistic media, but there is still hope in this dark generation. There is a very blatant reason to keep women down, because they threaten male agenda. Flip through your hundreds upon hundreds of DirecTV channels and analyze how effective the media has been in shaping your idea of the world, and yourself. Have the artificially generated stereotypes pressured you into believing something about your surroundings? It isn’t coincidence. The era of technology has only made things easier for the elite to structure society. Gender expectation and ideals of femininity are just results of capitalistic globalization. When we open our eyes and rediscover the information we have been receiving, will be the time when true improvement will be made possible. Carl Sagan, a renowned scientist and author, spoke about media and government corruption in his book The Demon-Haunted World. He said, “It’s disheartening to discover government corruption and incompetence, for example; but is it better not to know about it? Whose interest does ignorance serve?” (Sagan). When we choose to close our eyes and cover our ears to the real issues, we are benefiting no one but the establishment who attempts to hide them in the first place. A nation of wide awake, informed, and angry people is the largest threat to the powers that be, and thus there is no wonder why women are held hostage in our culture.
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