• Violence Against Women in Mass Media

    Images of women in mass media have been under scrutiny in recent
    decades. At one end of the continuum is print advertisement, brief, often
    single-paged combinations of text and imagery to sell a product. At the
    other end is pornography, sexually explicit imagery created to arouse in
    print, television, film, and the Internet. Where does power fit in between
    these? Women in both these forms of mass media are repeatedly
    depicted in submissive, silenced, and even victimized roles.
    Advertising
    is a much more benign means of conveying power over women than
    pornography. However, the average American is exposed too much
    more gendered advertising than pornography in any given day.
    In both,
    women are not often autonomous beings but passive and objectified.

    The power of imagery is well known. As visual imagery is nonverbal, its
    messages are often multilayered and contradictory (Kang 1997). As a
    socializing agent, the visual imagery provided by the media can have a
    powerful impact on our attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors, since it
    can contribute meanings and associations entirely apart and of much
    greater significance (ibid). Advertisements are everywhere, from
    television, in print, on billboards, and so on. Yet decoding each one we
    see is near impossible due to the number of ads we encounter every
    day.

    Feminists have been concerned with the media’s representation of
    women for some time, particularly the use of their bodies. Many images
    that depict women in sexual positions or just displaying a portion of the
    female body may aid in objectifying it. The woman is often the object of a
    male’s gaze, and thus assuming heterosexuality (Duggan and Hunter
    51). Moreover, she is an object for the viewer’s imagination. This is one
    of the ways that power differences are created. There is a clear
    distinction in this equation between who has control and who is
    receiving it.

    Turning someone into an object not only dehumanizes, but it can lead to
    justifying violence (communicating gender). It is much easier on most
    people’s conscience to hit a punching bag than a person. Images of
    women as objects and as the recipients of aggressive behavior do
    cause a desensitization of violence (Barker 38). Despite this, very little
    violent crime is a deliberate replica of one in the media, not a particular
    image. Much of crimes against women mirror many of the messages that
    are sent in the media. Oftentimes, these images in advertisements are
    glamorizing the gender power relations discussed earlier.

    Figure 1 is an advertisement from Sisley retrieved from [http://www.about-]
    face.org. Sisley’s advertisements are marketed toward young white,
    middle to upper class females reading fashion magazines. The first
    thing the viewer notices is the model’s face, bearing a fearful and
    frustrated expression. It is well lit in the foreground turning around, with
    barely a glimpse of the man behind her. Her hair is in her face as if she
    had quickly turned around to see him. The position of her body is clearly
    submissive, her hands held behind her back as she lies on the couch.
    Her elbow is obstructing the view of the man’s face, thus giving the view
    the impression that the man’s intentions are unknown- we cannot see
    the expression on his face. While it is not clear what exactly is
    happening in this scene, a sense of uneasiness arises.

    A power
    struggle is used here to sell a name, a name that sells clothing, which is
    barely visible here. This hierarchy may help facilitate the perception of
    women as targets for violence and aggression. This advertisement
    reinforces the stereotype that women can be used as objects not just for
    their bodies, but also for their willingness to use those bodies in
    demeaning and sometimes humiliating imagery. The look on her face,
    the position of her body, and the faceless perpetrator in this
    advertisement almost encapsulates the entire notion of the
    powerlessness of women as objects.

    Katz writes, “the reduction of women to body parts for men’s
    consumption can significantly damage a woman’s self-respect” (qt in
    Muarianne et al 250). He goes on further than men are not born to
    objectify women, but it is a learned behavior, primarily from images of
    passive women. Perhaps this lack of self-respect exacerbates the
    acceptance of such material. There is no more rampant use of
    aggressive imagery than in the pornography industry. Barron et al
    examined sexual violence in print media, videos, and the Internet, and
    found that the Internet contained a significant portion of graphic and
    antagonistic imagery. However, as the violence became more intense,
    fewer scenes contained it (259).

    Much of the heterosexual pornography in circulation draws on the
    conventions of the woman as the object of the male gaze (Duggan 54).
    Duggan and Hunter’s book, Sex Wars, critically examines pornography
    from both sides of the argument that addresses the nature of the
    medium. It must be noted that my interest here lies in violent
    pornography and its effects exclusively. The images of women in this
    form of mass media are a more intense mutation of the print
    advertisements discussed above. “Sexually explicit” often becomes
    identified and equated with “violent”. Critically examining pornography
    must be done with as much analysis as that of socially acceptable forms
    of imagery. Those that contain nudity, nonviolent and non-degrading
    material are another discussion.

    Although most of pornography is directed towards men, it cannot be
    assumed that this is due to greater intrinsic male interest in sex. More
    than likely, it is due to the industry’s extreme slant towards the traditional
    male perspective. The Internet is the most often used way of accessing
    porn, with 12% of all its websites devoted to it
    (www.porndestroyswomen.org/). The effect of this form of the media is
    ambiguous. Donnerstein found in one study in the “Journal of
    Personality and Social Psychology” that erotic materials facilitate
    aggression while he found in another study that it inhibits it (qt in Bryant
    et al 289). The resolution of this issue apparently concerns the nature of
    the material. Sexual violence and unpleasant themes typically facilitate
    aggression, whereas, nonviolent, more loving and pleasant "soft-core"
    explicit materials may hinder it (ibid). Thus, the topic of censorship is a
    hotly debated one with limited research on its effects.

    Themes of female subordination, bondage, sado-masochism, and rape
    became increasingly prevalent in porn since the 1980’s (Sapolsky). The
    rape myth scenario has become rampant. It typically presents the female
    in distress but later shows her being aroused. Sapolsky also quotes
    research showing that men, who are exposed to pornography
    containing rape in which a female victim eventually expresses positive
    reactions to the rape, are more likely to accept rape myths (e.g., women
    secretly desire to be raped), be sexually aroused to rape, self-report the
    possibility of committing rape, see the victim as responsible, and show
    less sensitivity to rape (ibid).

    Although sado- masochism, bondage, and
    rape fantasies are valid and typically innocuous means of sexual
    arousal in practice, in print, video, and the Internet, it dehumanizes the
    submissive member of the sexual act winwick media.