Thursday, January 26, 2012

Van Zoonen, Women in the media, Gender

After completing Friday’s (1/27) readings, two main ideas stuck with me: the topic of gender as a binary concept and van Zoonen’s discussion of distortion of women by the media. We live in a society that labels and categorizes constantly and often in a binary manner – man vs. woman, masculine vs. feminine, democrat vs. republican, etc. I am currently taking Intro to Queer Studies and we just had a class discussion about the tendency to view gender in a binary manner. Just as van Zoonen talked about how (although it may be difficult to imagine) it is possible to conceive of a situation in which gender and discussion of binary gender categories is “relatively unimportant” (van Zoonen pp. 33). Such a place does exist! Egalia Preschool in Sweden is a gender neutral preschool. Girls are not expected to be girly and pretty and boys are not expected to be manly and rough. Here, children are allowed to be whoever they are, play with whatever type of toys they choose, and remain unrestrained by gender stereotypes.

An interesting point made by van Zoonen and one that we have touched upon in class was that many things about the portrayal of women and their lives are not reflected accurately in the media.Van Zoonen gives the examples that many more women work than are typically portrayed in the media, many real-life women are not the femme fatales that are presented, and many women have other wants than hearth and home. Van Zoonen also talked about distortion which refers to the idea that women are underrepresented in the media when compared to the 50% of the population which they actually make up. An example that I think illustrates this idea very nicely is the portrayal of women in the movie The Social Network. In this film, the women that are presented to the audience surely are not an appropriate or accurate portrayal of the actual women of Harvard. Stephen Colbert interviewed writer Aaron Sorkin. Starting 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the interview, Colbert confronts Sorkin with the question of why all of the women in this movie are either drunk, high, or otherwise "occupied" in a bathroom somewhere. While the question never really gets answered (other than a statement about the women in this movie being "prizes"?), Colbert gives us something to think about. Is this how all Harvard women are? Is this how all college women are? Is this how all young women are? The distortion of women in this film is a widely talked about topic and as the author of this link points out -- it may not be of interest that the writers of The Social Network altered the reality behind the story, but it definitely is interesting to look at how they changed the story and why and the link above addresses some of the changes. 

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