Media’s Toxic Content Continues to Brew a Gendered Contempt Toward Women
On Oscar night The Onion took an extremely ugly, misogynistic potshot at Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-year-old nominee for Best Actress, simply just for Twitter LOLs using the c-word. It is perhaps the most toxic, gendered slur in the English language; a profoundly vulgar, shocking and offensive thing to say, particularly about a child. For this reason alone the public’s outrage is obvious. But it is also far more complicated than that.
The offensive tweet is yet another example of how the media talks about women, which is often quite shocking, distorted and ugly. Its toxic content continues to brew a gendered contempt toward women.
The Onion‘s tweet is especially troubling because it courts a largely white, male, and affluent audience. It has built its audience on razor-sharp satire that is both relentlessly progressive and unwilling to pull punches but of late has turned its content into tiresome gimmick of comedy shock tactics. Thankfully its followers and tweeters were not amused by the tweet and unleashed their displeasure. The tweet was deleted within an hour of posting it and an apology was issued the next day. The Onion’s own apology admitted that tweet was in fact not funny and that “No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”
The relationship between the media and women is complicated. It is at once the instrument of choice to voice and highlight women’s achievements and yet it is the very thing that objectifies, sexualizes and marginalizes them. A sure recipe for a very bad relationship.
Now before you go all crazy about me being overly sensitive about taking issue with The Onion’s tweet, I suggest you look at the women who you love in your life and imagine them at age nine and “jokingly” call them the offensive word named here in public. Can you do it? If we accept such jokes as being part of our culture, I dare say we are raising a future generation that sees people as body parts and ultimately fostering apathy.
If marketing and advertising does not influence people it would be a dead industry. Today’s teens spend an average of 10 hours a day using media; girls ages 11 to 14 are bombarded by some 500 advertisements each day. This is a generation that’s been reared on reality TV—watching makeover and body transformation shows. Women of all ages are constantly being bombarded by what the perfect body looks like, the media and all kinds of companies repeatedly use a “sex sells” strategy despite its harmful effects on body image. This boils down to our culture, particularly one that is media centered, relentlessly teaching young girls and women that their worth lies in their youth, looks and sexuality.
People may tell women to ignore tasteless tweets, language, images and other content, that it’s no big deal, don’t get involved, etc., but this is a pitiable response to derision and in fact a way to mute their voices. Silence is not valuable in this case. Take a look at its impact – it appears complacent; not meaning to cause harm is an unsatisfactory explanation. Hiding behind Twitter handles, avatars and pseudonyms to further spew harmful comments and troll the web is cowardly and reprehensive.
We have to hold ourselves accountable for what we put to the public, what we say, and how we say it and realize that it has real consequences. When you are the media don’t turn free speech to hate speech. Media freedom is not a green light to do harm.