The media are an incredibly effective tool for manipulating perceptions and promulgating bias. (Metzl: A Womb of Her Own, Routledge, 2017) Dr. Metzl points out the subtle and not so subtle ways in which the media portrays women. She highlights the emphasis on being thin and, I would add, being beautiful. Female newscasters on conservative news media are almost invariably blonde and beautiful. The media has a huge influence on our perceptions of ourselves and, at this point, it is a view to which most of us can only aspire. The lives and times of ordinary women are left unexplored. I am happy to say that the Emmys of 2017 were a breath of fresh air. The Handmaids’ Tale and other programs about women’s stories were given the accolades they deserve.
Dr. Metzl writes: While 80 percent of all purchasing decisions are made by women (Forbes), only 3 percent of clout positions in the mainstream media – telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising– are held by women. A mere 3 percent of creative directors within ad agencies are women (Advertising Age).
The media’s portrayal of female images, the cult of the “thin” culture, negatively impacts girls and women, contributing to self-esteem issues and to eating disorders. According to Dove Self-Esteem Fund (2004), 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends.
Television is a highly influential method of propaganda. Many smart and confident female characters have paraded onto the small screen over the past few years. But the more astute and capable the character, the more likely she is also emotionally disturbed. Women are not necessarily portrayed as complicated, difficult, thorny or complex, but rather as volcanoes that could blow at any minute. Worse, the very abilities and skills that make them singular and interesting come coupled with some hideous deficiency. Many shows suggest that a female character’s flaws are inextricably linked to her strengths.
According to the Women’s Media Center, co-founded by Gloria Steinem, even Hollywood has waged a war on women. In its third annual Status of Women in the U.S. Media, 2014, the Women’s Media Center revealed that women represented just 28.8 percent of speaking characters in the top grossing films of 2012, had just 16 percent of the top executive movie jobs in 2013, and of the 16 biggest paychecks for actors per film, not one went to a female actress. (Bedard ,Washington Examiner, February 19, 2014)
THe influence of the media is enormous in the way that it colors how we feel about ourselves.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.