The Big Lie

Jennifer Pozner’s articles “The ‘Big Lie’: False Feminism Death Syndrome, Profit, and the Media” and “Reclaiming the Media for a Progressive Feminist Future” both deal with how badly the mainstream media portrays feminism, feminists, women in general, and women’s issues, resulting in enforcing the negative stereotypes of feminists, as well as maintaining the status quo of the feminism movement. Mainstream media is the culprit, and in Pozner’s articles, she writes about this in much greater detail with examples from many media platforms with a span over 30 years, to show how (and why) the media has managed to accomplish this, and what we can do to change it.

In “The ‘Big Lie’,” Pozner discusses how the mainstream media such as newspapers, magazines and television are ruled by profit and not by the pubic interest (the “big lie”) when deciding how to frame a story (or what story to tell in the first place), and thus excluding many feminist-centric stories and perspectives, and instead falsely portraying the movement as “dead”. Another important aspect that Pozner takes up in this article is that most of the journalists are men, and also that most of the “experts” they interview are men, so it is no wonder that women’s issues and women appear less in the news when the media is dominated by men. In “Reclaiming the Media,” Pozner writes about a specific example of how mainstream media turned one of the (if not the) biggest activist events, the March for Women’s Lives in April 2004 with more than one million protesters, into a joke. However, the rest of the article focuses on how we can make changes when it comes to mainstream media, however big or small, to get a more equal and fair portrayal of women, women’s issues and feminism. Women are after all half the population, so doesn’t it seem reasonable that we get half the representation in, and behind, the mainstream media too?

After reading Pozner’s articles, I have gotten a much more wider and deeper knowledge of how the media actually works, and so while I did find it extremely useful to read about the many things and ideas in “Reclaiming the Media” that we can do to change it and, yeah, basically “reclaim the media,” I found it even more interesting to read “The ‘Big Lie’” and actually learn why our media is so androcentric in the first place, and why so few have even “noticed” it. I for one never really thought much about the lacking representation of women in news for example, that so few “experts” are women etc, and I haven’t really taken much note of who actually wrote those articles/presented those news, until now. I have however noted, as an avid TV-watcher, that the shows I like the best (usually the ones with one or more compelling, interesting and complex female character that I can relate to) are the ones where the writer/creator is a woman (for example The Good Wife, Grey’s Anatomy), whereas the ones I find the most problems in are the ones with mostly male writers, (in the female-centric Once Upon A Time for example). Of course, there are exceptions to this, but I think that it isn’t so strange that women write women characters/stories the best, and this should then be acknowledged even more when writing about real women’s stories in media like news and magazines, because there the stakes are even higher. I think that reading “The ‘Big Lie’” would be of great importance for every person who uses media (so basically everyone..) to see how biased most of it actually is. I guess even I, before I read this article, knew something about this, having words like “don’t believe everything you hear/read,” imprinted in my mind since middle school, but still, I never thought it was quite this bad – which could only mean I have been so used to this kind of media for so long that I thought it was the norm. I definitely think that increasing media literacy and making people aware of the current situation is the first step in making a change, and then, of course to make these changes, we can apply the ideas and take note from Pozner’s second article “Reclaiming the Media” as further action.

However, as I stated before, the underlying cause for why our media is so androcentric and why people rarely question it, is a way more interesting question to me. Pozner mentions in “The ‘Big Lie’” that “[w]e are constantly told that sensationalistic, sexist and stupefying media fodder exists because ‘That’s what the public wants.’” and while I find it highly unlikely that the public (half of which are women) believe so, apparently that is what the media thinks will make the most profit. But since we live in a patriarchal society, maybe it comes as a surprise to no one that this is the way media is built; male-centred society equals male-centred media, and with a male-dominated society, no wonder that the media is male-dominated too! I really wish the media would be more objective in its portrayal, because I can see now how skewed my world view really is from being used to this kind of media all my life. It is sad that I only now have come to see this, and I hope that many more will come to read these articles and come to realise the same. Lastly, I just want to mention a quote from Allan Johnson’s “Where are we?” because I thought it was very relevant to this issue: “As difficult as it is to change overtly sexist sensibilities and behavior, it is much harder to raise critical questions about how sexism is embedded in major institutions such as the economy, politics, religion, and the family. It is easier to allow women to assimilate into patriarchal society than to question society itself.” And as we all know, in this day and age, in order to change society, you need the media! So hopefully, if women and feminists can succeed in getting equal representation in the mainstream media and not being overlooked or demeaned, maybe, eventually, even our society can come to change too.

(Originally posted on 2014/09/22 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

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