Friday, January 27, 2012

The Gaps Between Groups

Beginning at a very young age, media representations of men and women and masculinity and femininity construct social norms of gender roles and create our perceptions of what is 'masculine' and what is 'feminine'.  In Van Zoonen's chapter, "A 'New' Paradigm?" she calls this idea, 'socialization', which is the way in which "individuals become social subjects".  This is a process that begins in childhood and is continuous throughout adult life; it shapes the way in which we view what is considered 'normal' social behavior.  Van Zoonen focuses on some of the gaps that exist in the representation of women in the media.  'Distortion' is the idea that the media does not represent reality, seeing as women make up over 50% of the population in the United States, yet only make up a small percentage of what is represented in the media.  Though it is impossible to use one group of women to define what a "realistic woman" would be, the small percentage of women who are shown in the media are not seen to represent "reality" according to the concept of 'distortion'. Something that Van Zoonen mentioned was the gap between feminist media critics and ordinary female audiences.  She brings up soap operas, romance novels, and women's magazines, which made me think of Radway's "Women Read the Romance".  It is difficult for me to decide the right way for well-educated feminists to approach the 'ordinary woman', because who is to say that ordinary women don't know what is best for them or why they consume certain media, just as well as a feminist media critic would?  At the same time, women who study feminism and create scholarly works should have more qualified ideas.  This creates two separate groups of women, so how can one group represent the other?

In the section of Gill's book for today, she mainly focuses on the complete lack of the representation of certain groups of women in feminism throughout its history.  During the early stages of feminism, only white, middle-class, first world women and their experiences were considered, and black feminists criticized feminism for completely disregarding the experiences of black women.  Gill points out the dangers of not representing certain groups.  For example, while feminists were campaigning for abortion, black women's views of abortion were disregarded.  Many black women during the time would have argued for their right to not have abortions that were forced on them because of racist policies.  There were clearly large differences between black feminists and white feminists, and it is apparent that grouping them together and calling it 'feminism' had harmful effects.  These effects caused feminism to focus on not only 'race' and ethnicity, but also on "class, age and disability", which, as Gill points out, were all factors that were completely ignored.  Just as white, middle-class women were the only group originally represented in feminism, male experience was treated as human experience until the 1990's when the idea of men as a "gendered group" came about.  Having gendered groups has changed the idea that only women in the media were studied and gender itself was studied in the media.  Different groups of men exist, just as there are many different groups of women.

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