By Lauren Friesen
As our culture and media evolve, so does their audience. And as the third wave of feminism evolves into a full-out tsunami, and young people are forming new mindsets about this movement.
From early development onward, my generation has been saturated in media. I grew up with TV screens, computers, and Game Boys galore at my disposal, as did most of my friends.
Although this was often a great way for me to explore the world around me (you have not lived until you’ve visited the National Geographic Kids site), it also imposed negative and sexualized images of women on my nine-year-old brain. Plastered around me on the web were advertisements reinforcing the idea that women are objects to be displayed.
Girls in ads get younger and thinner
This is even more apparent in media today, as the girls in these ads get younger and thinner. In 2011, controversy broke out over Vogue Enfant’s 10-year-old cover model, Thylane Blondeau. Oversexualized images of the French girl caused controversy worldwide.
From childhood, girls are constrained by gender roles that can cause lasting damage to their psyche. From the TV they watch to the clothes designed for them, girls’ identities develop through their society’s media.
Sexualized toy marketing
Even toys targeted toward the eight- to 12-year-old demographic are damaging. Mattel’s Lingerie Barbie appeared on toy-store shelves in 2000. Accompanied by eyebrow-raising lingerie sets, this doll had a sultry-looking face, slicked back ponytail, and sky-high heels. Mattel later discontinued the product for children, but it remains up for grabs on Amazon for “the adult collector”.
The problem with this exposure is that it influences how young girls view themselves and their sexuality without giving them the chance to form their own identity first.
Not only do media and product marketing create a need for a girl to be sexy and satisfying to those around her, but they provide unrealistic body ideals—an abundance of them. In all types of media, you will find images of “beautiful” women telling you to buy certain products: you, too, can be as glamorous!
False perfection idealized
Repeatedly, this theme reinforces a false perfection that girls often end up striving for. This can lead to low self-esteem and (too often) eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Sexist advertising also perpetuates the idea that beauty stems from material possessions and appearances rather than a woman’s (seemingly irrelevant) intellect or personality.
As many male readers might be thinking, yes, this does affect you as well. Males are just as subject to gender roles. The typical “macho man” image is also brought to life in, for example, the endless stream of hunky Calvin Klein models. Pressures on young men include constant reminders to stay strong, be powerful, and, of course, never make your own sandwich. These messages and images preserve misogyny in our culture, along with fostering negative body image in boys.
But media can also be a platform for empowering women. With the ongoing growth of the Internet, it is easier than ever to obtain information about gender studies. This is an important tool for young people, and it definitely was for me.
Social media a gateway to knowledge
In my early teens, I didn’t know what feminism meant. Was it a religion? A mindset? A movement? No one ever really taught me what a feminist was. This changed when I gained access to social media. By perusing the forums, facebook pages, and blogs at my disposal, I finally came across a label to attach to the thing I had wanted for my whole girlhood: to have the same opportunities as boys.
My understanding of the feminist movement grew slowly but surely, and by 13 I was telling my dad the definition of misgoyny. Because I was an argumentative yougster, this sparked a few household debates, which only furthered my passion.
This isn’t just my story. It’s the same tale that lots of adolescent females are starting to tell. Many 21st-century feminists can recount their story of gaining awareness through media. Perhaps they were scrolling through their favourite social-media platform one day and happened upon this whole gender-equality thing. Maybe it piqued their interest and they decided to learn more. Thus began their journeys into the wonderful world of feminism!
Feminism's third wave has advantages
In previous waves of feminism—notably the suffragette movement and the radical feminism of the sixties—it was much more difficult to both learn more about the movement and spread the word. Today, all it takes to get involved is the click of a mouse. The women’s movement and the term feminism can be regularly heard and discussed in my high school, where, miraculously, even teenagers can be passionate about a cause.
Awareness of gender inequality seems to be spreading rapidly between girls in the western world, as it is a cause most teens can get behind. Young-feminist blogs have begun to surface all over the web, such as thefbomb.org, a “community created by and for teen and college-aged women and men who care about their rights and want to be heard”.
And it really is that simple: readers are encouraged to submit their writing, commentary, and “feminist musings” for a chance to voice their ideas. The enthusiasm of young women who want to share their opinions so freely in a media landscape that once would have silenced them is revolutionary.
Local media group empowers women
Besides blogging, there are other outlets for the loud-and-proud feminist. WAM! Women, Action, & the Media is an American organization that started its first Canadian chapter in Vancouver in 2011. I spoke with Natalie Hill, a WAM! representative. Her organization—made up of what she calls a “small but mighty” core of volunteers—works to create a “just” media landscape for all genders.
WAM! events attract enthusiastic people, according to Hill. The group hosts affairs such as Media Mutiny Mondays, Fierce Voices gatherings, and an organization-wide celebration called WAM-It-Yourself week, which encourages participants to “dive right in” to the cause and start their own WAM! chapter.
Hill voiced her desire to have “media represent the true spectrum of gender identity”, and to hear from more diverse voices, faces, and bodies. “Have a truly open mind, approach issues with curiousity…seek the truth but never be convinced that you’ve always found it,” Natalie advises young feminists. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘What I’m seeing here isn’t okay.’ ”
Public invited to get involved
The local WAM! chapter encourages Vancouverites to take part in their online community, along with upcoming public events such as the Fierce Voices conference for young women (May 23), co-organized by Women Transforming Cities and rabble.ca, or WAM!’s workshop on producing social justice/feminist journalism (May 28). Visit womenactionmedia.org to learn more.
Being oversexualized and defined from a young age has made many teen girls from my generation unhealthy, self-conscious, and feeling subordinate in day-to-day life. But the ability to become informed about why this happens and what we can do to stop it has empowered us. All we need to do is use that power.
The teenage feminists are here—get ready.