MEDIA MATTERS: REPRESENTATION OF GIRLS AND WOMEN IN NEW MEDIA


Featuring Females: Feminist Analyses of Media . ELLENCOLE & JESSICAHENDERSON DANIELS ( EDS .). Washington , DC : American Psychological Association , 2005 . 231 pp ., $69.95 (hardcover) ISBN : 978-1-5914-7278-0 .

The premise of Ellen Cole and Jessica Henderson Daniel's edited volume is that mass media and other forms of media both reflect and reinforce American culture's norms and beliefs about gender and the place of women and girls in society. In this book's 14 chapters, the various authors tackle the complex relationships among psychology, feminism, and the media, providing powerful and incisive analyses of the intersections of gender with race, aging, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, and violence. Overall, this volume offers new evidence for the impact of these images on the development of girls and women in a multiplicity of media formats. The authors also present strong arguments for the importance of improving media literacy for girls and women in particular, and society as a whole.

Featuring Females is organized effectively into four sections: (a) the impact of the media on girls' gender-role beliefs, body image, and beliefs about sex and sexual relationships; (b) the role of television, film, and magazine advertisements in defining societal and cultural perceptions of girls and women; (c) the intersections of gender, race, and violence in film, print news, and television; and (d) media images of women with a focus on race and age. A clear strength of this volume is that it includes discussion and investigation of newer media, such as reality television shows and video games. Another strength is its focus on images of women of color and older women in print media, television, and film.

The first chapter, “The Impact of Media Use on Girls' Beliefs About Gender Roles, Their Bodies, and Sexual Relationship: A Research Synthesis,” succinctly reviews the recent literature in this area. This review summarizes evidence that exposure to particular gender-role attitudes, stereotypes, and behavior in the media are related to and likely contribute to shaping girls' own views about themselves, their satisfaction with their bodies, and their gender-role–related eating and sexual behaviors. Notably, greater media exposure and more frequent media use are related to girls' more traditional beliefs about women's roles and greater likelihood of aspiring to traditionally feminine careers. Based on their review of 120 empirical studies, the authors argue convincingly that “media serve as powerful agents of gender and sexual socialization” (p.14), setting the stage for how to read the rest of this volume.

All chapters offer a feminist analysis of the impact of a multiplicity of media formats on the societal perceptions of women and girls, and, ultimately, the effects of these images on the well-being of women and girls. Chapter 3 reviews and updates the role of media in girls’ body image and manifestation of disordered eating behaviors. Chapters 8 and 11 extend our understanding of the relationship of media and violence by exploring the reinforcement of sex-role stereotypes in violent video games and of the portrayal of direct and indirect aggression in television. Chapter 12 examines the intersections of power and privilege, gender, and racial identity in African American women characters in films by Spike Lee.

A potential shortcoming of this volume is that it addresses in a necessarily limited space a broad and wide-ranging topic area: intersections of gender, media, and psychology. It would have benefited from deliberate efforts to locate its analyses in the specific cultural and historical context of early 21st-century American society and culture. In addition, although Chapter 4, “Clash of Cultures: Women and Girls on TV and in Real Life,” offers a brief historical review of images of women on TV programs, the volume as a whole would benefit from additional historical perspective on representations of women over the past century and a half with the emergence of mass media (e.g., print, radio, film, television). The latter would more clearly situate this volume's recent studies within a larger context provided by women's historians, women's studies, and the sociology of gender.

Finally, although the preface hints at the future evolution of various forms of media, the editors and authors may not have anticipated the even newer and possibly more pervasive media sources accessible through the Internet in 2007 and the availability of ubiquitous picture and video recording offered by cell phone cameras. Examinations of media are inherently difficult because once published, they immediately become dated. This is especially true given the ever expanding reach of technology into every aspect of American society and the accelerating advances in technology that allow picture and video images to be transmitted instantly around the world. These advances have fueled a recent proliferation of user-generated Internet content, including social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, which have allowed a generation of youth to create and produce their own images as a reflection of their real and online identities. How are young women perceiving themselves and identifying themselves to others on these Web sites? The Web site YouTube allows users around the world to share their own videos with a mass market of other users beyond even the control of corporations producing traditional mass media. What are the effects of these video images on their viewers? What cultural material and meanings about gender are being produced? Fortunately, this volume also provides examples of and a guide to various methodologies to examine new media technologies, such as surveys, content analyses, and sample coding, and correlations of intensity and frequency of media exposure to various outcome variables.

Featuring Females will appeal to academicians and students of popular culture from various disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, history, women's studies) and interdisciplinary studies, as well as practice psychologists, educators, and public policy advocates. Because “reality is, to a large extent, socially constructed” (p. 201), it is imperative to teach girls and women, in particular, how to understand and deconstruct media images and the messages they convey. This volume can contribute to the development of media literacy programs that can ameliorate the negative effects of mass media images on girls and women and promote healthier development. It concludes with an imperative that calls for psychologists to become more involved with both how media images are created and produced. This challenge includes working with the media to change how women and girls are represented, as well as using the media to disseminate accurate information about mental health, mental illness, and developments in the field of psychology through Web sites, print, television, news, and documentaries. As newer forms of media reach us faster, Featuring Females makes the case that the media reflect and can influence the parameters of gender and gender-related beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and that it is essential that psychology helps to change those parameters.

Jeanette Hsu is a staff psychologist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and the Training Director for the VA Palo Alto psychology internship and postdoctoral training programs. She has professional interests in behavioral medicine/health psychology, developmental psychopathology, clinical supervision and training, and multicultural competence.

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