History is Still Driving Woman’s Roles

I wanted to use this blog post to expand on a thought I had during yesterday’s class discussion: that body image is an issue in the media due to lasting effects of woman’s roles in history.

The following is an excerpt from PBS on woman’s roles in history:

The “M.R.S.” Degree
In the 1950s, women felt tremendous societal pressure to focus their aspirations on a wedding ring. The U.S. marriage rate was at an all-time high and couples were tying the knot, on average, younger than ever before. Getting married right out of high school or while in college was considered the norm. A common stereotype was that women went to college to get a “Mrs.” (pronounced M.R.S.) degree, meaning a husband. Although women had other aspirations in life, the dominant theme promoted in the culture and media at the time was that a husband was far more important for a young woman than a college degree. Despite the fact that employment rates also rose for women during this period, the media tended to focus on a woman’s role in the home. If a woman wasn’t engaged or married by her early twenties, she was in danger of becoming an “old maid.”

This was over 50 years ago.

The following is an excerpt from Shari Graydon’s How the Media Keeps Us Hung Up on Body Image

The rap sheet gets longer every year-spend five minutes in the slow line at your local supermarket checkout and you can’t avoid being reminded of the heinous nature of crimes against “women’s body image.

“Janet Jackson’s shocking “weight gain!” scream the headlines; “Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s butt is enormous!” and “Posh has dimpled legs!”

Fortunately, help is at hand, often within the very same publications. Not coincidentally, they promise “Foods that erase belly fat!” and “Professional trainer’s tips to get bikini-ready!”

After decades of feminist activism and enlightenment, how is it “we’re still here? Strange, but true, the cautionary “words of Dwight Elsenhower provide an instructive parallel. In 1960, “with a perceptiveness that eluded him in office, the outgoing U.S. president “warned, “”we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Substitute “makeover-industry culture” for “military industrial complex” and you get the same “disastrous rise of misplaced power” Elsenhower cautioned against. And, just as America’s dedication of resources to military operations has grown significantly in recent decades, so has there been a veritable explosion in the number of commercial enterprises with a vested financial interest in ensuring that “women and girls are more at “war with their bodies than ever before.

So what’s the biggest difference between the then and now? 50 years ago, media was pressuring woman to conform their bodies to become the most idealistic wife, limiting their aspirations to the goal of being a stay-at-home mom. Today, the media is pressuring woman to conform their bodies to become the most idealistic woman in general. There is no end goal for woman now, other than to achieve the impossible: to look exactly the same as the woman on the covers of magazines. Sure, now there is a reason for woman to go to school, it’s slightly less taboo to stay single if that’s what pleases you, and society has a stronger belief that woman can actually support themselves. But if the media had really progressed towards an equal society, there wouldn’t be any talk of goals on how to look other than what makes you comfortable.

Pat mitchell, the former president and CEO of PBS, stated that “media is both the message and the messenger.” Media needs to use its power as the messenger to change the message of society. It is the most powerful tool we have in today’s world, and if it dropped the pages of “fake versus real,” body issues would become a lot less prevalent. Media needs to start addressing woman for what they are: people who have more to their character than their appearances.

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