Thursday, April 2, 2009


Rape. One of the scariest, most threatening words known to women. My post this week deals with an issue most recently in the media concerning Michael Philbin, the 18-year-old son of Green Bay Packers Coach Joe Philbin.
Judge Sue Bischel called Philbin a good person who simply made a horrible decision and “took advantage” of two intoxicated girls. Bischel decided Philbin didn’t have to register as a sex offender because it was “not appropriate” and “excessive punishment in the long term.”
He was sentenced to six months in jail — with work and school release privileges— and could be released after four and a half months for good behavior. Philbin can petition to have the two misdemeanors removed from his record upon completing probation.
The fact of the matter is that Philbin is not a “good person who made a bad decision”; he is a rapist. “Excessive punishment”? Really? Registering as a sex-offender when a legal adult after committing a CRIME is excessive punishment? Hm. Amazing what rapists can get away with these days.
University of South Florida’s Oracle, their school newspaper, featured an article by Renee Sessions who brought up an antifeminist author by the name of Katie Roiphe. Roiphe published a book which shocked readers and feminists alike. She wrote, “Today’s definition [of rape] has stretched beyond bruises and knives, threats of death or violence to include emotional pressure and the influence of alcohol...Why aren’t college women responsible for their own intake of alcohol or drugs? The so-called rape epidemic on campuses is more a way of interpreting, a way of seeing, than a physical phenomenon.”
Here we have a main problem in the media. That is the victim being blamed for the rape. Whether it’s commenting on the clothing the woman was wearing (tops showing too much cleavage, shorts showing too much leg), the amount of alcohol in her system, or even the way she looked at her attacker, all are reasons used against rape victims. Why? Why can’t the news report or article just tell report the facts. Why add bias and commentary?
This can also go the other way. In the case of the Duke Lacrosse issue, the “accuser” (as she has so come to be called) was made out to be the victim without any comments or evidence proving the “accused” to be guilty. The media made the accuser out to be innocent; a single mother of two, stripping to make ends meet. News played up her story, all the while letting biased rumors soar through to the public tarnishing the Duke players, and Duke Lacrosse as a whole, for a lifetime.
The problem here is that when and where rape is the center of a journalistic reporting piece, it’s difficult to report it properly. You need to think ethically and morally, protecting your loyalties to each, and also protecting your credibility as a journalist. The media grabs at big rape stories and twists and turns them to a) create blame on the victim, or b) creates biased assumptions before any truth can even be announced. In the Duke case, Michael Nilfong, the DA at the time, brutally ruined the reputations of the three accused players without hesitation. Before the true story of the accuser came out, Nilfong had the public hating the accused players and wanting to see them go down in the courtroom. They were found innocent, as the truth behind the tall tale came out, and no evidence was found to convict the boys.
In the case of Michael Philbin, it’s not even a matter of the media. It’s a matter of our judiciary system proving that when you have money, or fame, you can get off the hook. It’s asking for a copy-cat, another boy to take a stab at a girl while she’s passed out, helpless, trying to sleep off a long night, and can’t utter the word “no”. Where’s the consent in that?

(Thanks to Renee’s article! And for making me aware of the Philbin case!!)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

While in Vegas...

I couldn't help but snap shots of ridiculous advertisements around Las Vegas. I can't get over them!

This advertisement was for TAO, a restaurant in the Bellagio.

Women in the Paper

Something that has been gaining the interest of fellow students has come to my attention. Have you ever stopped to consider the amount of “face-time” women get in newspapers? Pick up a newspaper, and you may see where I’m about to go with this…
I found this study that was done in 2004 which actually tracks the progress of newspapers and their photographs of women since the first study in 1974. It also takes into account the photo’s cutline, therefore not only observing the implicit message of the photo, but the explicit as well. Despite the thirty-year time difference between studies, the facts remain the same.
I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear this (Can you sense the sarcasm?), but after studying 184 issues of four Connecticut newspapers which provided 8960 images, “in most pages and in most roles, photos of men far outnumbered those of women...It is also clear that the roles in which women and men are portrayed are clustered stereotypically professional and sports for men and spouse for women.”
SPOUSE for women? That’s what gets women in newspapers? Marrying a successful man? There it is, ladies! You want publicity? Become a spouse!
The real problem here is that the media plays a leading role in our formation and even our maintenance of social and, sadly, stereotypical roles. Only 6% of papers studied featured women as main characters. If a newspaper is to provide the “news,” why are women being left out of lead but placed in supporting roles?
Straight from the study..Important!
“Stories about women has smaller headlines and were shorter, there were eight times more front=page news stories about men than women, men appeared in sports stories 14 times more often than women…In business news, women were rarely quoted…Stories about women tend to be soft news…Women often identified by their spouse’s name rather than their own first name…Women made the news in subordinate, and sex-object roles more than men, who were in the news because of occupation or sports.” (122)
In the area of professional sports we find the same problem. (*Remember that the study only focuses on adults, so high school sports are left out of the findings.) Photographs of men appeared 14 to one.
Another ridiculous thing that was said in the study was this: “Men are most likely to make page one because they are doing serious, important things. Women make page one because they are interesting.” Take it for what it is, the study’s director was the one who said this quote…She’s a woman.
The study, completed by Barbara Luebke of the University of Hartford, mentioned that the news media is there to answer a very general question to its public. That question being “What’s new?” “If in practice that answer generally overlooks women or treats them stereotypically, then the media help perpetuate negative images of women” (122). Bingo! There’s a start.
If we’re not looking at magazines or other medium geared towards women’s issues, empowerment, health, beauty or any of the other aspects that come with being a woman, than the images of women in positive light are few and far between. It just doesn’t seem fair that women don’t make the final edit in newspapers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just a little extra...

Thanks to (Jessica Valenti (RUTGERS GRAD!) and her sister Vanessa run the site), this advertisement has been brought to my attention!

This is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Check out and see what Jessica had to say...

Portrayals of women in the media- NOT always good. This advertisement LOOKS pretty, but really, it's SEXIST and gross.

It's a you swallow it. But, come on! Really?

check out for more information on their products. (if you care...)

Women as "Victims" in the Print Media

This week, my post is going to be dealing with my favorite medium- newspapers!

I've recently read a study that was conducted in 2004 by Phyllis Anastasio and Diana Costa. These women,using college students and big newspapers (Think New York Times, The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer...), researched to see how the newspaper's representations covering "victims" of domestic violence, rape, harassment and murders effected victim blame and victim harassment. After reading 148 articles collected over a 7 week period pertaining to cases of violence, students were asked to give their reactions. Anastasio and Costa's findings were interesting...but require some background to full understand.

Being a Women's and Gender Studies major, the issue of rape victims being identified in the media comes up often in debates and discussion. Recently, in my Media Ethics and Law class, this issue arose. Typically, newspapers and other forms of media keep names out when the victims are female, but identify male victims regardless of the situation. Now, there's two arguments that can be made regarding this.

The first can be made supporting the depersonalization of victims. Some will argue that leaving a victim's (talking about women)name out of the press can help curb future harassment and alienation. In some cases, the victim may be concerned with being embarrassed or shamed.

The counter argument, which Anastasio and Costa's findings prove, is that when names are omitted, the victim is then "dehumanized" and seen as an "object" (Not Sally Jones, a 16-year-old white middle class female, but "victim"). This prevents personal connections from being made between victim and audience therefore causing a lack of empathy for the victim, which often leads to victim blame. Just as advertisements "objectify" and "dehumanize" women, newspapers tend to do the same- and it's usually not a conscious effort.
"As history has taught us, accepting and even engaging in violence is made much easier when the victims are dehumanized, depersonalized, and objectified. Lack of personal information about victims in general, and about female victims in particular, may help to "normalize" violence against women and impede progress towards reducing such violence" (Anastasio and Costa 541).
This is part of the desensitized society in which we live. It takes far too much to even influence a reaction in people especially concerning women's issues. Rape and violence against women has become so common, even the media is enforcing this notion of "normalcy".

In the study, after college students (who were women, by the way) read the articles, a majority of those surveyed laid blame on the female victim (especially in cases of rape and domestic violence). Blame was placed due to the "clothing" the victim wore insisting the victim was "asking for it" or "said something to upset her husband" in a domestic violence case. These statements were made when the victims personal information was omitted from the articles. However, it should be clarified that as long as the victims personal information was included, regardless of gender, victim blame was not placed and all experienced increased empathy for the victim.

Let's focus on the cultural aspects for a minute. Culture, society, it's all influenced by the media in different ways. Whether it's acknowledged or not, it happens. As mentioned earlier, statements were made blaming the victims.If certain information is omitted, but some description is given, people assume their own biases using what stereotypes and cultural myths they may have learned. This is big problem that most reporters don't even realize they're assisting in. "The news may inadvertently support cultural myths about female victims. For example, a description of the attire of a rape victim may imply that she provoked the attack. Mention of the years of abuse endured by a woman who was murdered by her husband may engender blame for failure to leave the situation earlier. Even the mention of a woman's height and weight, if not within the slender dictates of contemporary attractiveness, may serve to trivialize the horror of victimization" (Anastasio and Costa 536). What may seem like pertinent information to a reporter leaves plenty of room for stereotyping and cultural "norms" to slither in...

So, what should be done? The answer isn't a clear one. The media may be doing it's best to present victims in the best light possible, but not all women want to be known as victims. It's not powerful, it's not liberating. It's smothering. To be known as a victim, for some women, is just plain rude. This is a big reason for keeping names out of the print media. Despite findings in experiments and case studies, ultimately, it comes down to what the woman herself wants people to know. As reporters, I think we have a job, a loyalty, to the victim. This could be debated, but that's what we're all studying in Media Ethics and Law, no? :)

Women are enduring gender violence all the time, and yet it's not always presented in the media. Not even rape cases make it to the news unless someone pertinent is involved, and certainly not every case of domestic violence is documented in the New York Times or on CNN. The representations women get in the media aren't always on their side, or for good cause. Usually, because our society is so desensitized to violence against women, their cases are left out while cases against men seem to be "rare" and make the cuts for articles and news briefs. The fact of the matter is, women need to get out there and let their voices be heard!

There's an event Rutgers hosts each year. Take Back the Night! It's on April 23, 2009 and starts at 7PM in front of Cooper Greens (aka the grass of the FORMER Cooper Dining Hall) and then off to Brower Commons!

Check out the Facebook group for updates!

In the meantime, I'll try to search for some POSITIVE stories about women taking a stand against gender violence in the media!

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's this all about?

Representations of women in the media have shifted drastically over time. Or have they? Just because women are no longer being shown wearing aprons and mopping a kitchen floor does not at all mean things have improved. Studies have shown that even before the time of the 1950's housewife, women had been portrayed as helpless, hopeless romantics constantly on the prowl to find their dream man and would do anything to satisfy (in whatever terms) his needs. Today, it's prevalent in most Women's Studies courses to learn that women are still being objectified and, now, hyper-sexualized through the media.

Jean Kilbourne, social theorist and an expert at deciphering advertisement's representations of women, has even written a book "Can't Buy My Love" which openly displays the stereotypes of women that have been taken to the extreme. Her documentary, Killing us Softly, does the same, but through the use of video. These forms of media help to alleviate some of the stereotypes persuasive influence and bring the truth of the matter into the light for consumers and your average magazine reader or television viewer.

It should be said, however, that there are two sides to every story. some women find these representations (that being sexy and dominating) liberating and powerful. A majority, however, find them even more so oppressive and enforce the idea that women are sex-crazed.

Being sexy isn't a crime, and it shouldn't have to be! Just because the media is portraying women as being "sexy" doesn't mean we have a problem. The issue lies in the heart of the advertisement, film, or commercial. What is the over all message that the medium is trying to display?? Is there a need for a Maybelline advertisement promoting foundation to show a woman wearing a bra, only her face is left out of the ad? Isn't make-up, especially foundation, applied to one's face? It can boggle the mind, if you stop and think about it, how the images of women can be perceived. There are varied opinions, of course, but more and more feminists (and even NON-feminists) are starting to speak up against the ridiculous ways women are made to seem passive and oppressed in the media.

The media likes to emphasize certain parts of women's bodies, making them appear to be overtly sexual. The over all effect is younger generations of women, and even older women, feeling as if they need to live up to a certain standard and beauty type in order to be acceptable in society. It's here that we find the emeragence of eating and body disorders.

It would be wrong to place blame solely on advertising agencies and other forms of media because women are giving in to these representations which reinforce the binaries. The problem is, however, that represenations of women are usually biased and based off impossible standards. Computerized images and digital enhancements have made taking a picture far too easy. Any flaws can be fixed right on a computer screen with a click of a button and this creates problems for the real women.

The fact of the matter is that with all the changing and emerging technology, it's getting harder to decipher what's real and what's digitally enhanced. Even digital hand-held cameras have multiple settings to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. What's next?

I highly recommend that anyone even slightly interested in this topic check out Jean Kilbourne's site: