1.1 Modern Pursuit of Gender Equality and Misogyny in Mass Media
Gender discrimination problem, which came up when the world was turning into the modern ages, has been being spotlighted since the start of the 21st century. When it comes to Korea, was quite behind the Western countries in the area of gender equality. However, getting through last ten years, the interest of people on this issue has incredibly increased. Nowadays, the fact that achieving gender equality is indispensable in order to make a better world is already widely admitted.
People shouted for the improvement of women’s rights, and their effort started to pay off. Now this society is surprisingly awake about gender discrimination. People fighting for women’s rights are winning success, and awareness on misogyny has been spreading out throughout the globe. Many people recognize how misogyny is buried underneath almost every aspect of our daily lives, and why is that a serious problem to the world. Above all, some parts of misogynistic culture and behaviors are starting to decrease. Although we are still in the middle of the process toward gender equality and there are still lots of barriers we should overcome, further development is certainly anticipated.
Nevertheless, there is one field that is particularly complicated and challenging: the mass media. Despite the awareness on the equality of man and woman has been significantly improved, that equality doesn’t work in mass media.
Media is a highly significant factor that forms the overall atmosphere of a society, and even decide the civic consciousness. It is simply because it reaches many and unspecified. Mass media includes all kind of media that can’t be defined with a certain medium. Things included in mass media share one specific trait in common, that they all reach millions of people all around the world, having a great influence on the people and the society. Contents such as movies, radio, all kinds of TV programs, news, commercials are easily accessed and opened to any person. Mass media is more than just a type of entertainment or a method of acquiring information. However, there is something always missing in the mass media: women. In mass media of the modern society, women always can’t be the main character. Mass media still portrays women as passive, weak, and impotent beings, and objectifies them.
1.2 Introduction to This Project
Once again, gender equality is something that we, in common, must achieve in order to take a step forward to a better world. Therefore, the discriminating aspects appearing in mass media these days are the biggest obstacles that hinders the humanity to make their world better than it is now. That is why I designed this project. Through this project, I expect people around the world to recognize how mass media is created in a misogynistic point of view, and make an issue of it. If more and more people, hopefully, have frequent debates about how mass media should be changed, and seek for the right direction toward development, the world we live in will be a better, more peaceful world.
Before diving right into the examples of misogyny shown in mass media, I would like to briefly introduce the whole project. This project will be generally dealing with all kinds of misogyny in mass media, especially objectification. “Gender discrimination” and “Gender equality” discussed in the entire projects will be focusing on women rather than man, because the issue is more about women getting less respected and improperly treated.
Starting point is always defining what exactly is misogyny. Everyone can have a different definition of misogyny. Among countless definitions, one of the most representative and widely accepted one is said by Ueno Chizuko, the author of the book “Women-hating Japan’s Misogyny (Onnagirai: Nippon No Misojini).” She defines misogyny as “Objectification of women that doesn’t accept the fact that women are sexually equal to men, and they have their own rights. Speaking in blunter way, despising women.” (Ueno) I personally define misogyny as “The act of not accepting and respecting women as equal beings with men.” This comes from my definition of feminism, which is “The belief that women should be accepted as equal beings with men.”
Finally, when it comes to gender discrimination and misogyny, the points of view can be very different that it is impossible to define or limit as a unit of society or a country. Therefore, the whole project will be elaborated mostly within my own perspective which was formed through research and investigation, but I will also introduce some of the opposite opinions in order to see the problem in a more objective view.
- Misogyny in Mass Media
2.1 About “Objectification”
Misogyny can be expressed in many ways. Indiscriminate violence against women, humiliating women with sexual jokes in daily lives, judging them in the perspective of a man, denigrating their ability based on the fact that they are female, discrimination in any kinds of situations, giving disadvantages just because they are women, or having prejudice on the fact that they are women. Sometimes, misogyny is shown in our lives in more numerical ways. Payment difference in make and female workers shown in statistics every year, the crime rate against women compare to men, shorter years of marriageable age for women, or numbers of empty seats for women in specialized and regular jobs. In the middle of that, misogyny in mass media is mostly converged on the side of objectification.
What exactly is “Objectification?” This is where we begin. Dictionary definition of objectification is “The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.” (Objectification) Then we can see that “Sexual objectification” particularly means treating women as objects just for the fulfilling of one’s sexual desire. In a simpler way, treating women as they are made only for sexual purpose. This is something not so familiar, but not necessarily unseen at the same time. Why did this notion emerge as a crucial issue all of a sudden?
There are two kinds of objectification of women; degrading and worshipping. Degrading of women usually includes any kinds of act of treating them in biased view with the prejudices based on gender. When someone says a certain woman is not qualified, good enough, appropriate, or capable just because she is a woman, that becomes degrading of women. The person is not seeing her as one complete human being, but as an object that can be represented by all the prejudices and frames we have about women. Referring to women as they are possessions is also included in degrading. Even though women are the same humankind with men, some people tend to talk as women are possessions of men. A man doesn’t have to point at a woman and directly say “You are my possession, I own you.” The common image of a successful man surrounded with multiple girls hanging or leaning on him, implies that women are one of the possessions that successful man has. These are all categorized as degrading of women.
Worshipping of women is a bit different from that. Thinking of women as flowers, goddess, or beings that need to be protected by men is included in worshipping of women. This is the most controversial part. Some people say worshipping of women is already an act of framing and caging them, which discounts the free will of women to choose how they behave and what kinds of personal images they form. Other people argue that things we included in worshipping of women is simply complimenting and praising them. Words like “You look like a flower” is nothing but a compliment to the beauty a woman has, and there is nothing to be interpreted as a bad intention. I personally want to mention that these kinds of behaviors are ambiguous and complicated to categorize, but still misogyny. Korean branch of Amnesty International most accurately and briefly explains this. “In advance, misogyny corresponds to every expressions and actions that objectifies women. When a close person says something like “You look like a princess, a flower, you look so beautiful,” it will be a compliment. However, if someone who is not so close says the same thing, it can be an insult to a woman, for the person is evaluating the woman based on a general prejudice about gender. Even if the person said it as a compliment, it is just an uncomfortable meddling for the woman, regardless of the original intention. “I don’t want to be graded and judged by the outward characteristics of my gender.” (Amnesty)
These two types of objectification of women are very new. It hasn’t been that long that people found these situations and thoughts uncomfortable and misogynistic. The reason for that is here: these kinds of behaviors are performed in our daily lives, but nobody recognizes it because they are already pervaded in every aspect of our society. This also becomes the reason why this issue is so important. Objectification of women is one of the most basic and daily thought underlying in our society, so people don’t even know it’s a problem.
When a woman is objectified, she is no longer taken as herself. Objectification is done in the point of view of someone, mostly man, who objectifies woman, and there is no place for the woman’s feelings, thoughts, will, or choice. In the place of objectification, she is just an object, and the subject is the viewpoint that is watching her. It is an act of portraying her as a passive, incapable thing, and excluding her free will and rights. In other words, which is how people describe objectification these days, it is “Other-rization” of her. Objectified women are put into the frames made my man, and are consumed. (Kang) When this concept is shown in the mass media, it is most likely to affect people in their lives. Children will grow up TV programs and advertisements consuming women as a product, and these thoughts may unconsciously affect their behaviors to women in real lives.
2.2 About “Mansplain”
Objectification of women leads to wrong awareness of women. The most common one is thinking that women are immature and not capable of everything, and men should teach and help them. There is a word for this: “Mansplain.” It is a compound word of “Man” and “Explain,” made by Rebecca Solnit. (Solnit) This word was registered on the Oxford Dictionaries in 2014. Oxford defines mansplain as “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” (Mansplain)
- 3. Real Life Examples of Misogyny in Mass Media
There are millions of examples of misogyny shown in mass media. I would like to introduce some of them. There are different kinds of contents in mass media, and I organized three most widely known areas; movies, TV, and advertisements.
Magazine M had a statistical analysis on the female characters in 22 Korean films that recorded a million audience last year. The number of names of actresses and female characters that appeared on the very top of the ending credit was only three. The number of movies that passed the Bechdel test was eight. The Bechdel test is a method of testing the gender equality in a film, devised by Alison Bechdel in her cartoon “Dykes to Watch Out For.” In order to pass this test, the film has to have two or more female characters with name, the two females have to talk to each other about something that is not about a man. Furthermore, there was only one film that contains a scene where two main female characters have a conversation. There is another kind of test called Maco Mori test. A film has to include at least on female character who has her own narrative and story that is not about supporting a man’s story.
Not only a scene of a man slapping a woman in her face is regarded as misogyny. Not only romance films that depicts women as weak, dependent beings are called misogynistic. As seen in the statistics above, there is no place for female main characters in movies these days. It is obvious, given that we call male main characters just “main characters,” but we don’t remove “female” when we talk about female main characters. By main character, I am not talking about how many minute the character has in the movie. There is no strong, independent female character. Female characters are mostly consumed as ornaments or props that make the male characters look better, or as a position that the audience can laugh about. If neither, the female character is framed by misconception and bias that the society has toward women. It doesn’t matter whether the female character is submissive or confident. Female characters can never escape from the roles of supporter and helper of male characters, and the judging eyes of male directors and audiences.
One of the most popular fantasy adventure film, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” is an example. Elizabeth Swann is a powerful female character, who fights the enemies for the entire movie, successfully defending herself and even her companies. However, in the post-credit scenes (or cookies), she ends up finding herself at home, taking care of children, and only getting to see her husband once in ten years. Of course, being a housewife is not a bad thing. It is a matter of choice, and the value of being one’s wife or mother can never be disparaged. The problem is that the character is unlikely to choose that kind of life. Two people got married on a ship, but the husband remain in the ship continuing his life sailing, and the wife becomes a stay-at-home mom. They both were good at their lives at the sea—actually she might me better than her husband in fighting—and enjoyed it. Why would she have to make that kind of choice, abandoning everything she has established and enjoyed until now? Who is he to force Elizabeth to choose the life of a wife and a mother, even giving up on her identities, and not demanding the same thing for the male character?
“Grease!” has been love throughout the world for a long time, but it is not an exception. Danny is attracted by Sandy’s innocent and upright personality, and they fall in love. However, in the end of the movie, their relationship doesn’t go well and she wants to make things right with him. What she chooses is to change everything about her, from appearance to behaviors. She dresses up in black tight outfit made of leather, instead of white dress and skirt, and she puts on accessories that she had never tried. She even starts to smoke. I admit that giving up one’s own principle of live for love can be romantic, but once again, Sandy’s choice isn’t consistent with the plot and the characters. (Rhiannon)
What these movies have in common is that the female characters seem like they chose the way they are depicted in the movies. Elizabeth and Sandy seem like they made a noble sacrifice for their lovers. However, we have to think about who is making them choose that. In the minds of the director, script writers, and the audience, there might be the social conceptions of objectified women.
TV drama is where the drawbacks of patriarchy are best shown in our society. Kim Seonyeong, a pop culture critic, said “Pushing a woman against the wall, a sudden, unwanted kiss, and breaking stuff were depicted as romantic things in the 1990s Cinderella romance.” (Cho)
“Game of Thrones” is one of the most successful TV shows these days. Last year, there was a huge controversy over an episode in season five. There was a scene where Sansa Stark was getting raped by Ramsay Bolton. Rape scenes, although it should not be misused or overused just for entertainment, is something that can be used in media for different good purposes. However, the problem was that while Sansa was getting raped, there was Theon Greyjoy, another male character who grew up with Sansa, in the room. The camera only shows Theon watching them, and the audience can only here Sansa’s painful voice. This scene is focused on the feeling of Theon watching Sans getting raped, and female character Sansa was consumed for that. This is a typical case of female character being sexually objectified.
Korean dramas, for they usually have stricter limitations and restrictions than American TV shows, contains more daily misogynistic ideas that might not appear to be that misogynistic. tvN drama “Oh Haeyoung again! (또! 오해영)” was very popular and many people watched at that time it was being broadcasted, but there were also many people pointing out that it is highly misogynistic. It is a type of drama that has all the Korean frames of objectifying women. There is a scene where the main character Haeyoung is kissed by a male character. They had a fight, and Haeyoung doesn’t want to talk to him, but he violently grabs her and pushed her against the wall. As every Korean drama is, Haeyoung does kiss him back in the end, but still the scene was rather a dating abuse. Also, there is another scene where a male boss and a young female employee are at a flower shop. The boss says “Flowers look very fresh. Still, you (pointing at the female employee) are the freshest one here.” This line includes the ‘Woman is flower’ concept, which is clearly an objectification of women, and also referring to a young woman ‘fresh’ is absolutely discriminating and insulting.
(Photo Credit: http://www.nocutnews.co.kr/news/4627335)
Drama is not the only area that shows misogyny. Many TV programs in Korea has a very discriminative point of view. Famous KBS entertainment program “Two Days One Night(1박 2일)” had an episode where the cast members visited Ewha Womans University, one of the best universities in Korea. They were very excited to visit “woman’s” university, and ne of the cast referred to the students there as “talking flowers.” Also, they had to complete missions such as “Try tying hair in the powder room” and “taking a photo with students,” and these missions show how Korean society view woman’s university, when contrasted with an episode where they visit Seoul National University, where the missions were “finding someone who got a perfect score in Sooneung (national college entrance test)” and “solving math problems with students.”
TV commercials and advertising posters are not safe from misogyny. Advertisements, if they are not for public service, has the purpose of making people remember and buy their products. One of the themes commercial makers frequently use is “man buying something for woman.” There is a word called “Kimchinyeo” and “Doenjangnyeo” in Korea. “Kimchinyeo” refers to all Korean women, and “Doenjangnyeo” is a word used to scoff women who spends too much on expensive food and clothing, just to make herself look good to others. These two words are now both used for groundless ridicule and disparagement of women. Deciding how much to spend and where to spend money is totally a matter of choice, and the thought of every woman pursuing luxury without rational spending plan is clearly misconception and wrong prejudice. However, this kind of thoughts are constantly used in advertisement even until now.
KFC, a famous fast food chain, has been an issue because of their commercials. The newly came out burger had a concept of a strong, wild man. The phrase they used was a woman saying “Honey, I feel down today. Buy me a bag so that I feel better.” Then there is a picture of fire burning, with the phrase “Um…What about my feelings?” This advertisement is made in the viewpoint of a man, based on the baseless bias that all women asks their boyfriends to buy them something they want. This frame is very common in Korea, and people still think in the frame.
(Photo Credit: http://media.daum.net/m/channel/view/media/20151005142900035)
Many more advertisements contain the same frame with the above. Haneulbori and Cheoumchereom, a kind of beverage and alcohol in Korea, have similar advertisements. Hanulbori’s poster is written in the perspective of a woman complaining about the fact that her boyfriend doesn’t have a car in the burning hot summer. The fact that the number of driving women has significantly increased over last few decades, and many of the women these days can afford to buy cars doesn’t matter to the person who designed this poster. Poster of Cheoumchereom is saying that the similarity between alcohol and girlfriend is that they both take a lot of money to stay together for a long time. These advertisements all seem like they don’t understand the fact the women can afford to buy what they plan to these days. They still think all women depends on men to spend money for themselves, and men should be the one who buys things for women.
(Photo Credit: http://m.blog.naver.com/mornigbreeze/20159499327)
(Photo Credit: http://www.womennews.co.kr/news/87384)
This kind of misogyny and framing of women is not only limited to commercial advertisements. A poster made by the Ministry of Health and Welfare had caused another huge controversy. It is a poster about birth control, and there is a couple standing. The man is showing his back and carrying multiple paper bags that appears to be from shopping. Over the two of them, there is a phrase “Have him carry everything but birth control.” Small letters in the bottom of the poster say that birth control is not a duty of a man or a woman, both of them has to work for it. However, the big letters on the upper side and the image clearly makes an impression that what they are trying to say through the poster is that birth control is the duty of a woman. Besides, the image itself is framing a woman in a negative way. It is a scientific fact that men are usually stronger in physical strength than women, so man carrying bags instead of woman is not a strange thing. What becomes a problem is that the woman in the image is even making her boyfriend carry her pouch, and she doesn’t have anything in her hands. This kind of groundless negative frame of women is of course made by men. When we think of it, it is kind of ridiculous. How many women will actually do that, even making their lover carry her small little pouch, when she has nothing to carry? Is all woman that weak and lacking strength? It is just too anachronistic.
(Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.kr/2015/08/21/story_n_8018890.html)
- Opposing Arguments About Misogyny in Mass Media
Some people oppose to the idea of misogyny in mass media. One of the most controversial part is the worshipping of women. There are people who don’t feel uncomfortable about the statements such as “Women are flower.” The biggest reason they think that kind of comments are not misogynistic is the original intention. Saying someone looks like a flower is a compliment, and that doesn’t include any bad intention. They propose that the common plot in movies or TV shows, which contains men protecting women, is also not included in misogyny. They argue that everyone wants their lovers to feel safe, and there is nothing wrong with women to expect their boyfriends or husbands to protect them.
- Why is Misogyny in Mass Media a Critical Problem?
To properly analyze and solve the problem, we have to first understand these kinds of why objectification of women becomes a problem. Objectification blurs the woman’s independence and views a woman in a way men want to see her. The primary catchphrase of feminism is that woman is an equal being with a man. However, objectification of women doesn’t regard a woman as an individual who possesses the equal amount of value and freedom with those of a man, but rather an object that can be freely used by a man. Objectification has the premise of the objectifying subject is superior to the objectified object, and women can never be respected under objectification.
Also, misogynistic depict of women found in mass media makes improper remarks in people. Those works containing misogyny emphasize the passivity and inability of women. Children who grew up watching that kinds of mass media might think that every woman is passive and has to be submissive to men, or woman is incapable of everything. This type of thoughts will lead to discriminating statements and treatment of women, even before he realizes that he has that kind of thought. Another problem is beautification of violence against women. Some TV shows, especially Korean drama, romanticize non-consensual hug or kiss or any other kinds of compulsory touch. Looking at the “Kabedon” culture, which was started from Japan and widely spread out to whole East Asia, we can see women, exposed to those kinds of media, think that a man grabbing her wrist and pushing her against the wall is romantic. We can’t say individual taste of ideal type is right or wrong but actually, those kinds of fantasy about women expecting men to be oppressive and bossy might lead to some dating abuse or even date rape cases.
Mass media, full of misogyny and especially objectification of women, will continue to spread out and have an influence on the world citizens, Children who grew up watching these kinds of misogynistic media will accept the thought that women are inferior to men, and can be consumed by men. Those passive and powerless awareness of women will be the underlying base of one’s thoughts when they grow up, and this may lead to minor discriminations toward women in daily lives, to even crimes against women in extreme cases. This is the reason why misogyny in mass media is surely a worldwide social problem, and should be more people reporting this problem so that every single one of the world citizens can care for it.
Then what should be do to deal with misogyny in mass media? We should make more strong, independent female characters in movies and TV shows, and get rid of TV commercials that consume women as an image or a product. Directors, script and book writers, producers and actors should be extra careful not to depict characters and organize plots with a discriminating point of view, and the audience should be able to properly criticize the media. It sounds simple, but is actually quite difficult to practice. Misogyny is like a (). Until we don’t try to find and keep thinking of it, we can’t even recognize that it is inside ourselves. The only way to get rid of misogyny in media is not to consume them without thinking of misogynistic code included in them. Roxane Gay, the author of the book “Bad Feminist,” has said in her book that she can’t stop listening to the songs like “Blurred Lines” even thought she knows the lyrics are misogynistic and she feel uncomfortable for that. (Gay) In my case, I love the movies I used as examples. I don’t want to say to turn away from all kinds of mass media and don’t watch or listen to any kinds of movies, TV programs, and music. That will be impossible. The point is that we have to know that there are problems in the mass media we face everyday. We have to admit that many of the greatest works of human include misogynistic ideas, and we have to able to say it is wrong. We must be able to raise our voices of demanding changes in mass media.
Despite of the hard work, misogyny is still dominating all over the world, and there are many obstacles that are hindering the humanity to achieve gender equality. Even in this moment, mass media is spreading out misogynistic ideas. If this continues, objectification of women will never diminish on our planet, and inequality will grow bigger and bigger. We can’t let mass media justify and encourage discrimination over women anymore. Equality is one of the most significant values we have to achieve, in order to make a better world. Hatred and sanity are something that can never stand together. Gathering together to remove inequality and accomplishing sanity is true global citizenship, and world peace.
(Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.kr/amnesty-korea/story_b_7457378.html)
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Kang, Pureum. “Women is Flower, That is Misogyny (여자는 꽃, 그게 바로 “여혐”입니다)” No-cut News. Ha Geunchan, 25 July 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
“Mansplain.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016. <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/>.
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Rhiannon, Alexis. “10 Surprisingly Sexist Movies That You Still Love to Watch.” Bustle. N.p., 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. Print.
Solnit, Rebecca, and Ana Teresa Fernandez. Men Explain Things to Me. Chicago, IL: Haymarket, 2014. Print.
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