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Are Your Brains Falling Out?

If I learned anything in graduate school (and let’s all PRAY I learned at least something), it’s that research or journalism is best supported by a lengthy, multi-source literature review. Finding out who has researched your topic before, understanding the trends of that concept, and extrapolating theories onto where that concept is going, create an interesting roadmap to contextualize your own specific article or topic.

Now, take that idea and let’s look at in a more “real world” view.

People. Not everything you read on Facebook is real.

In this digital world, where headlines rule and content is king, the content machine churns out thousands of articles a day, all with that sound-bite headline meant to draw readers in and increase that news source’s click-thru rate. One gem recently included a headline promising to expose celebrities’ “arm-pit fat.”

Now, I’m part of that machine. I’m a marketer, a content creator and someone whose job depends on proving marketing and advertising offer ROI. But in my personal world, I find it really, really troublesome this epidemic of assuming and believing content on the Internet without personal research.

We all have our beliefs, and we all have our ways of thinking, understanding and just “being” in this world. Creating our do’s and don’ts, building our understanding of our world from our families and friends, and living within our comfort zones are all ways we create social norms and learn how to survive in this crazy world. But borrowing a term from my master’s public opinion class, I suggest we all need to have more “cross-cutting” conversations.

Now, in political communication speak “cross-cutting” is more about having conversations about differing political views. Say a Republican has a conversation about abortion with a Democrat and both walk away from the conversation learning something from the other. That’s cross-cutting. Being exposed to something different and learning from it.

In our lives, I think it’s critical to have cross-cutting conversations about everything (well except the superiority of chocolate milk over regular milk, that’s just a given). Religion. Pop culture. Politics. How to make the best gumbo. Baby raising. You name it. Understanding different points of view, seeing how other people see the world and not being afraid to hear others out, I believe, allows for a deeper formation and solidification of our own morals and values.

I heard a quote the other day: “Be open minded, but not so open minded that your brains fall out.” And I love how it alludes to the healthy idea that it’s important to learn about your world, but not be so gullible or scared that you lose yourself. For me, this is an ongoing process. I have very solid and stable beliefs in my faith, in God and how I want to operate in my social paradigm, but I’m also open to hearing about how others live, what others think about the issues I believe strongly in, and how others live in their own paradigms. It helps give me perspective, a way to speak to my beliefs, and I often walk away learning something new.

So, hopefully the next time you see that article on Facebook claiming something absurd, whether it be politically, religiously or pop culturally, take a moment to research the topic, learn from it and THEN get on your soap box to state your opinion. Then, the world (edit: Facebook) will be a much smarter place.

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Half the Sky

“Up to 107 million women are missing from the globe today.”

“Every year, 2 million girls disappear because of gender discrimination.”

“More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.”

“More girls are killed in…”gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

These statistics are startling. And only the beginning of a global human rights issues that spans from the depths of India to small town Baton Rouge. Whether the topic be sex discrimination, human trafficking, gender-based violence or education, the idea that women are still being treated as property, objects, lesser-than or inferior is startling.

I recently watched a portion of Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” a multimedia documentary based on the book by the same name that emphasizes the global issues of women’s rights and, thankfully, what is being done to combat the issue.

My sister gave me this book a few months ago, and though I have yet to read it, the documentary was powerful enough to create a deep sense of sorrow and renewed passion for this topic for me.

I focus my research and writing about women in American media, or a young girl’s social development, but the larger women’s rights issues lay heavy on my heart. It doesn’t take a trip to Cambodian brothels for one to see discrimination or violence against women and girls. And one doesn’t have to travel to Vietnam to research education initiatives that encourage girls to stay in school, rather than dropping out at the average age of 14. You see it everyday, in more subtle forms, existing in even the most free and developed countries. But, the authors of this book did make those trips, and are sharing these stories to help raise awareness. I hope you’ll take a look at the trailer, understand the cause and maybe take part.

People may disagree about how or what a woman should be, but no one should disagree that a woman has a right to be.

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Writing Update!

As you’ve seen here, one of my research interests is the representation of women in the media. This past semester I conducted an original research project to examine how popular feminist discourses are used throughout teen or tween media. It was a fascinating study, and one I hope to expand further. But, for now, the original introduction to the paper has been added to my writing page! This is a very relevant and important topic to today’s media landscape, and I hope research like this can help improve the media texts offered to women and young girls. Enjoy!


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Book Review: Girl Land

As I’m making my way through the literature on the representation of women and girls in the media, I encounter very different views, opinions, suggestions and theories on why adolescence is so difficult to understand. I’ve read about those who advocate for attachment parenting to closely monitor a young girl’s media usage, and also studied those who suggest censorship is the devil. I’m learning that you’ve got to draw your own conclusions from the bevy of information available, or you’ll go crazy trying to apply it all to your own life.

One book that skews to the more conservative side, is Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan.

girl land

Girl Land is about, you guessed it, adolescent girls and how they are impacted by so many factors surrounding them. This book deviates from a media effects focus, and more historically covers the ins and outs of growing up as a girl, and how society’s fascination with all things sexual is silently killing their innocence.

The New York Times wrote a review of the book, calling it “hyperbolic, incoherent, sometimes smart and occasionally maddening.” Now, I think this is a bit much, and probably stems from the fact that Flanagan promotes more conservative types of values, actions and processes for raising strong, powerful girls.

But, what I found most intriguing about the book was its historical references. Each chapter is divided into different areas of “Girl Land” or the “girl anticipating her first period, nursing her first crush, brooding and withdrawing… coming to terms with her emergence as a sexual creature, with everything good and everything frightening that accompanies this transformation.” The chapters ranged from dating to diary keeping.

And the references to the growth of these activities (dating, diaries, sexuality, etc.) showed a historical and societal context I had not considered before. For example, she covers the emergence of “dating,” grown out of a rebellion against courtship and in the development of the teenage culture we know today that started in the 1920s.

There were parts that left me thinking “that’s a little harsh” and the book does draw sweeping generalizations about how a young girl should be treated. But it did make several good points about how girls will endure this time in their lives, but often emerge from the other side more vibrant and energized than when they entered. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the historical context of adolescence, but it was lacking in the implications of the media on this age group, which would have made her argument a bit stronger. Warning through: it does include some graphic descriptions of sexuality and menstruation, not usually suggested for light beach reading 🙂

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You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Everyone knows the media is in every part of our lives. Recent statistics show that teenagers consume up to 10 hours PER DAY of media. That includes music, television, radio, Internet, etc. What’s even more interesting is the power the media has in shaping the messages we see. Advertising, reality television, news broadcasts, you name it, all have the power to frame messages that make you, the consumer, more apt to believe, buy or internalize.

So what happens when these teenagers that consume so much media, are only exposed to a limited number of roles, stereotypes and definitions of what they can be? Specific to young girls, what does it say for our society that girls are exposed to unlimited amounts of reality television where the women are fighting, spitting on each other, openly having sex with their male counterparts, yet, often can’t name one woman senator or representative? What are the effects of this perpetual regurgitating of limited models of femininity?

“Miss Representation” – a documentary about the inequality of women in the media addresses this very issue. It focuses on the limited roles available to women in the media, the metaphorical boxes the media like to put women in and the effects this can have on young girls. It discusses how limited, positive examples of strong women in media can disrupt a young girls construction of identity. It even covers how young boys are socialized in specific ways that hinder their full emotional and behavioral growth. I would recommend this film to anyone interested in this topic.

Watch the trailer here:

From the film’s website: “In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.”

While explaining the film to Jason, he (politely) asked me last night “when will it be enough? what will it take for women to say ‘we’ve succeeded?'” And I don’t think I know the answer. But I think education about these statistics and the inequalities that exist is the first step. I think for me, success will be when women do not feel limited in any opportunities they want to pursue, nor feel judged for their actions. But that’s easy to say. How can we put it in action?

What do you think? Do you think the media incorrectly portrays women? And how would like to see it resolved?