Monday, March 14, 2016

A 21st Century Perception of Women

If men and women work together, our current digital society can be a force to empower women.
My wife has always planned on becoming a speech pathologist. Her older sister had speech impediments as a young girl, and my wife saw the benefits of the therapy her sister received. When she came to Brigham Young University, other girls thought her desire to graduate quickly and pursue her masters degree was odd and unconventional. "Don't you want to get married and have kids?" Obviously she did, but why do women feel the need to choose one or the other? The answer is not so simple.

The Effects of Media - The Bad

The 21st century digital media we consume today - movies, TV shows, music, social networks, video games - conveys a specific message as to how women should behave and are perceived. Both men and women have been influenced for centuries by the various forms of media that declared what the gender roles and norms were. During the mid 1900's, women were depicted as only fit to be a housewife and companion to the hard working man. The national government and other educational agencies produced movies, like the below featured "The Problem With Women," highlighting the personality problems, absenteeism, and marriage interference that made women terrible employees. 

Movies like these made men change their perception of women, seeing them as employees who made their work-space their bathroom countertop, who needed to be explained things 10 times over to get it through their heads. During the time when these movies were being produced, one female author in particular stepped forward and posed "the question that had no name." Betty Friedan writes about the way that thousands of wives and mothers are feeling across America in her 1963 Feminine Mystique. Women feel they are going through the motions, expected to be a domestic housemaid who does everything the men expect. Those who are in the workplace are treated as second-rate employees, receiving less pay for the same work. These conditions, believe it or not, still exist here in America.

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"In the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series, which has repeatedly broken video game sales records, women are typically depicted as prostitutes and men as violent thugs. A male character can have sex with a prostitute, then kill her and take his money back."

In the 21st century, video games in particular highlight the problematic gender perceptions that dominate our digital culture today. Women are over-sexualized, while men are shown as forces of violence and power. The article "Video Game Characters and the Socialization of GenderRoles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions" discusses the way video shape the way young people perceive the opposite gender, creating problematic sexist perceptions. The author writes that  "those who played more violent video games also endorsed more traditional views of sex roles, such as the idea that men are more capable as leaders and professionals, while women deserve less freedom than men and are subservient to men." Women are seen as sex objects, not just in the video games, but in real life.

In 2011 the government performed a study, revealing that one in five women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Man is not understanding something crucial: women are not objects that can be used and disposed of at his pleasure. Socially acceptable jargon only aggravates this problem. Feminine terms are often used pejoratively to describe weak people, such as "pussy," "don't be a girl," and "you hit like a girl." Conversely, masculine terms are associated with strength and fortitude, like "man up" and "grow a pair." The media has influenced the deprecating way we address the opposite gender.

Can This Change?

Colin Stokes gave a TED talk in November 2012 entitled "How movies teach manhood." wherein he highlights two movies, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. In the former, Dorothy saves the world through making friends and having influence for good. In the latter, Princess Leia waits around to be saved, scantily clad, in the end awarding the men with medals and a wink. I side with Stoke when he poses the probing question: "Why is there so much Force ... in the movies we have for our kids, and so little yellow brick road?" Movies don't need to have violence and force, like GTA and Star Wars. Instead, the movies can have female protagonists who solve problems using their talents, intelligence, and ingenuity.

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In 2014 LEGO released their "Research Institute" line of female LEGO characters in response to high demand. These toys are helping boys and girls understand that women are professionals and they can build LEGO toys just as much as boys can. A Huffington Post article highlights an interview with one of the directors of a recent LEGO documentary entitled "Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary." In this interview the director says, "for me, if my daughter is building, I'm happy. Any way to get her into LEGO, which I feel is a gateway to engineering and to science and to art, I'm happy no matter what." LEGO recognized that their toys were being primarily used by boys, so they made a change. The above featured female scientist line is evidence that the toys our children play with mold and change their perceptions about gender.

We Can Change

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We all have women in our lives who are tremendous examples of power, intelligence, ambition and virtue. The forms of media we consume can be used to help mold the minds of younger and older generations alike to understand the real value women contribute to our society. Our movies and TV shows need more protagonists like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Merida from Brave. We need less video games like Grand Theft Auto. We need forms of media that empower men and women to see the possibilities we can achieve by working together. The digital age we live in has limitless opportunity for these types of changes to occur. Just like with LEGO, as we as digital consumers demand products that show the real side of women, we will see them appear before our eyes.


  1. I have really enjoyed seeing your idea evolve and change. I really like how well you made this topic of feminism fit with digital use. It is a strong argument and is written really well. it is an interesting read.

  2. Solid evolution of your idea. I love how started off your post with a picture of your wife and yourself--it personalized it and helped me immediately see your personal investment. I've actually seen the Ted Talk you mentioned--the one by Colin Stokes. It was incredible! I feel like you do a pretty good job of mixing your personal stance with data and references to back it up. Way to establish ethos.


    It is important to consider both sides of an argument. The hard thing with statistics is you need to really understand your data and how it was obtained to be able to properly make conclusions. Or you can take some data and just run with it and completely distort the facts. I disagree with the assessment of Princess Leia. In the first movie she waited around to be saved, but she was not scantily clad, she was fully covered. She wasn't just helpless in her rescue either. She actually shot a storm trooper who was trying to capture her (he wasn't even trying to kill her. They clearly set their weapons to stun! lol). Then, during her rescue she took the blaster from Luke and shot a few storm troopers. In the final movie, yes, she was in the slave outfit, yeah it was immodest. But again, not helpless. She killed her captor with her chains.

    Women aren't typically depicted as heroes in superhero or sci-fi movies because they aren't warriors. Women are built differently than men. Men are physically larger. Why don't women play against men in tennis? Why don't women compete against the men in the NBA? Why aren't there women in football, and when there are, it typically ends badly for them. If you were out with your wife and were physically assaulted, would you not be the one to step up to defend her? I say teach men to be men and women to be women! Why is it ok to say "men need to start acting like men and treating women right," yet its not ok to say women should act like women? When I was in a single adult ward, in elders quorum we were lectured by the bishopric about how the women were complaining about the men not asking them out on dates. One of the guys responded "then tell the women to say yes when we ask them!" How can you expect the man to act like gentleman if the woman refuses to be a lady?

    My favorite movie was Cinderella Man. Yes, the man is the main focus and he is the "hero" of the film. But it is such a beautiful depiction of what a proper relationship should be. The father respected his wife, was faithful to her, and did everything he could to provide for his family. But it wasn't just about him. She played a very important role as well. She cared for the welfare of the children. His wife supported him. It was hard, life was hard. But she loved him. They were both faithful to each other. THAT is what we should be pushing for. Proper relationships between men and women. Woman is not complete without the man. It's true. Before you assume I am sexist, man is not complete without the woman. To deny that is to not understand a partnership. If you were already complete, there is no need for the partnership.

    Are there some video games/movies that are terrible and portray women as sex objects? Yes, it is deplorable. Porn is a huge market. Fight that. I'd say that is the root cause of the problem.