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Media Violence

by Leti Boniol
(this article first appeared in “Women in Action? No.1, 1998)

It is a never-ending story, like a refrain that is played again and again. Through the decades, in so many survey reports, conference proceedings, books and newspaper articles, both in developed and developing countries, feminists have documented and decried commercial media’s treatment of women and stories that have perpetrated violence against them. It seems that their battles have not yet been won.

Two Canadian women said, “very calculated decisions are made at every stage of construction of media violence.” Shari Graydon and Elizabeth Verrall, president of Media Watch in Canada and Canadian English teacher, respectively, in a curriculum kit released by the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario, wrote, “violence is made to seem appealing, often linking it with power and pleasure. In the electronic media, violence is a quick way to resolve conflict within a given time-slot.? They said that violence through the media can be verbal, physical, psychological, and/or sexual. Aid violence against women, subtle or overt, is often portrayed in the media. Take a look at how Asian media practitioners and experts see the violence against women perpetrated in the media. Reports collated from papers presented at the Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy held in the Philippines in July 1997 give the following sampling.

Similar litanies can be gleaned from reports from the Philippines and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Changes in the Coverage

But while the litanies may be long, there have also been positive developments.

Sylvia Spring, a feminist connected with Media Watch-Canada, said during the Asian Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy that gender and media-related issues have not changed. What is changing is how the issues are being played out. There is more subtlety. While there may be no more naked women in the media, the stereotypical portrayal of women remains “insulting”?

In the Philippines, a feminist journalist says that Philippines media’s coverage of women has improved in the 1990s with more journalists conscious of their handling of sexual harassment and rape cases. However, at least eight tabloids churn out hundreds of thousands of copies daily with semi-naked women splashed on their front and inside pages and lewd stories. And more are joining the pack.
“The media does not just reflect reality, it operates at a far more fundamental level to legitimize existing social relations, indeed, to create a reality,” Allison Gillwald, lecturer at a South African university, in a 1994 article, “Women, Democracy and Media in South Africa” (Media Development, 2/94).

Gaps between Policy and Practice

There may be media policies but these are unclear, inconsistent, or lacking in gender-specific provisions. They are also largely ignored.

“The women-media relationship can only be analyzed, and successful strategies for changing it can only be developed, if we can take into account the entire cultural, political and ideological spectrum and study the economic context in which this particular relation (media-women) is created and takes shape”. Gillwald said.

Meena Shivadas of the Asia-Pacific Development Center says that “While it is important to strategize and pressure for changes to the women and media situation with our reading and understanding of portrayal and representation, it is equally important to understand the implications of global processes of deregulation and developments in new technology. This is in order for us to locate the strategies within the framework of globalisation and new technology which have given new dimensions to freedom of expression.”

With all the media experts and practitioners doing their share, will change be far behind?

  1. Bathusha, Zohara Gany. “Women and Media: Malaysia Country Report.” Paper presented at the Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy, Manila, 30 July - 2 August 1997.
  2. Federation of Women Teachers’ Association of Ontario (FWTAO). Curriculum Insert. Curriculum (Vol. 13, No.1, 1994)
  3. Lee, Kyung-Ja. “Women and Media in Korea: Some Issues and Policies.” Paper presented at the Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy, Manila, 30 July - 2 August 1997.
  4. “Antipolo Declaration on Women and Media.” Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy.
  5. Shivadas, Meena. “From Here to There to Everywhere? The Effects of Globalisation on Women’s Traditional Roles and Media Images.” Paper presented at the Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy.
  6. Undarya, Tumursuh. “Country Report: Mongolia.” Paper presented at the Regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy.
  7. World Association of Christian Communications Background Report on the regional Conference on Gender and Communication Policy.