Teaching about the media

There are many people talking loudly about how over-sexualized, inappropriate, highly suggestive the media is at all times and in all places.  This outreach tends to focus specifically on women and female representations.  There is currently a video making the rounds on Facebook and in other places stressing just these things, along with a discussion of how female politicians are represented in the media:

While I agree with these messages, I also think they are somewhat problematic because 1. They tend to focus exclusively on women, potentially leaving the viewers with the erroneous belief that the way men are portrayed is just dandy, and 2. They don’t provide any sort of solution to the problem other than yelling at the media to cut it the heck out.

First, we are fooling ourselves if we think that men aren’t suffering from inappropriate media images along side women.  Men suffer from eating disorders, are bombarded with unattainable images, and have strict stereotypes perpetrated about them just as women do.  Yes, stereotypical images of women are degrading and sex-focused while stereotypical images of men tend to be based on things like strength and personality, and I would rather than strength and personality than be degraded and sex-focused.  But a narrow stereotype is a narrow stereotype and by ignoring the negative impact of the media on men we are perpetuating that stereotype.

Second, why all the hate with no real suggestion for action or movement forward.  The trailer above says, basically, “Waaaa!  The media is yucky and should stop being yucky!”  Folks, that’s just not going to happen any time soon.  The media – advertisements, music lyrics and videos, movies, YouTube, etc. – it all responds to us.  What we pay attention to and follow up with dollars is what is going to be produced.  Rather than crying about the mean-old-media-machine, we need to take a look at ourselves, and we need to ask our young people to do the same.

Systematically teaching children, teenagers, and young adults how to analyze the messages they are being sent is the first step.  We need to teach our children how to analyze the media they consume (or gets blasted at them regardless of their choice) in the same way that we teach them to analyze literature.  This isn’t hard, but it needs to be done by someone who knows pop culture and isn’t afraid of it.  The teacher should even enjoy pop culture so that students don’t feel like their tastes are being degraded or looked down on.

I hope that Miss Representation, when it comes out, will suggest something like this and have concrete suggestions for how we can respond and support our young people in identifying their own values rather than passively accepting the ones handed to them by the mass media.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.