WHAT’S GOING ON? It might be easy to look at men and women and what they do in some music clips, games, ads… heaps of stuff really, and think, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that.’ Australian young people consume an average of 34 hours of media messages per week which desensitises us to what we are seeing and hearing – it makes it all become normal. Its only when someone goes ‘really far’ that we notice something is wrong, but then we usually just blame that artist or the product the ad is for. But, if you take a closer look at all of the ‘normal’ stuff you start to see a few things that are, to put it mildly, messed up.
Males are often shown clothed, for a start. They are strong, aggressive, violent, and powerful and have half naked women dancing around them (which is good, because apparently all guys want and can think about is sex). ‘Real Men’ in games, in music videos and in advertising don’t show their feelings (unless its anger, of course) and if they break any of these rules it’s because they happen to be the ‘loser guy’ who lives out his shameful life in the ‘friendzone’ (because, ‘Real Men’ can’t have female friends either – women are just there to be rescued, shagged or made to cook).
Women are shown as one of two things (but definitely things). They are either shown as ‘s-l-u-t-s that are half naked, shaking their skinny, tanned, surgically enhanced, photo-shopped bodies around the nearest man/ pole/ piece of furniture in a way that suggests they are performing some sex act. Sometimes they aren’t even a whole woman. Sometimes they are just a body part – a photo of boobs, bum, open legs.
The other option women have is to be the young, innocent, victim that needs rescuing. Though she may be clever, she certainly doesn’t have the strength of character to look after herself without the help of a ‘Real Man’. And worse… women sometimes have to be both of these things which is quite a balancing act.
SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH ALL THIS? It’s rubbish – that’s what. These extremely narrow representations of men and women are so flipping small and two dimensional that a normal, real life human doesn’t stand a chance of fitting into them. Regardless of your sex, regardless of your gender you have so much more to offer the world than these stupid images suggest. But that’s where the problem is, see. Because these representations have become ‘normal’ we start to think they are normal. We start to think that those representations are what real men and women are like and if you don’t fit then you’re the weirdo. Men and boys are being encouraged to turn themselves into these muscled, aggressive and violent men, who try to assert power over women and other men. They aren’t allowed to acknowledge that they feel sad sometimes, silly or embarrassed, weak, excited, in need of help or really in love with their partner – things that a real life human (of any sex) experiences. Women are being encouraged to become objects whose sole merit is sex appeal. She has to do what she is told, even if it conflicts with her values, feelings, wants or needs. Men and women, boys and girls are being encouraged to all become a disconnected and hollow two dimensional cut-out of these media representations and that doesn’t give you the room to be the exciting, challenging, intelligent, colourful individual that humans are built to be.
HOW DOES THIS ALL FIT INTO ‘RAPE CULTURE’? Well, if everyone is trying to change to fit into an image that we are told is ‘normal’, let’s have another look at what these images are turning us into. These images make it appear ‘normal’ for women to be looked at like an object and treated as a sexual conquest. They make it seem inevitable for men to be violent, to solve all of their problems with force. They also make it seem ‘right’ for men to have power over women. The media industry takes Gender Stereotypes to a whole other level, bombarding us all with images that normalise inequality and violence to the point that these values and beliefs have jumped out of our screens to construct our reality.