Damned if we do, damned if we don’t: The Scrutiny of the Female Body in Today’s Media – A Blog by Chloé Grier
The representation of women in the public sphere has always been an issue of concern, dating back to the 1920s when suffragettes argued that women deserved the right to take part in the making of laws and demanded the right to vote. While these days we see increased numbers of women in politics, there is still an outrageous double standard set for how they are expected to behave and present themselves. All my life (while I admit twenty-one years is not a particularly long time) I have been criticised for my loquacity. I have never been good at keeping my opinions to myself. So it is safe to assume that the way in which women are represented by the media would be of particular interest to me, especially since as a child, I had often dreamed of being in the public eye. I wish now to discuss how professional women are represented in the media, by considering some prominent women such as Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey, as well as the all-woman astronaut team from Russia. These women are often held at a double standard to their male counterparts; they are expected to be the best at what they do, while at the same time maintaining their feminine charm.
Within the topic of the media representation of women, it is important to maintain an understanding of intersectionality within the feminist discourse. While all the women I wish to discuss face the same biases pertaining to their biological sex, some of them face other types of discrimination based on their race, class background, religion, etc. For now, I want to focus more on body-related issues that I feel affect all women. I come from a privileged background, never having to worry about my race, sexuality or religion, and therefore do not wish to pretend to know how marginalised women feel about their representation in the media.
I have always been interested in the way women are treated by the media. Being an avid film-lover, I pay close attention to the types of questions female actors and their male counterparts are asked. I finally chose to research it after reading about the six female Russian astronauts who were interviewed a couple weeks ago in regard to their upcoming mission into space. In the last week of October, they were embarking on an eight-day isolation experiment to run psychological tests and were asked some questions beforehand. Most of the reporters wanted to know how the women would survive without men and without make up, or even how they would manage their hair; Yelena Serova, one of the female astronauts, argued that male cosmonauts were not subject to same types of irrelevant questions (AFP 2015). The director of the space institute, Igor Ushakov, where the experiment is taking place, even said: “I’d like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together” (AFP 2015). Somehow, even committing yourself to space travel for however many years is not enough for you to be respected as a scientist; Ushakov’s use of this phrase is way to undermine the achievements and bravery of these women, by diminishing their abilities to cooperate as a team based on their gender.
I won’t lie, I love reality television. I think it is incredibly addictive and I could honestly spend a whole day in bed watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”. And like Kaiser (2013) who said: “Kim’s empire is a house of cards built on attention, famewhoring and pandering to the least common denominator”, I too, spent many years thinking Kim Kardashian was a no-talent slut. I was, and many still are, wrong. It takes an unimaginable amount of courage and talent to turn a leaked sex-tape into a multi-billion dollar industry and long-running television programme. The Kardashian’s are accomplished models and entrepreneurs, with their own clothing store, on top of two of them being mothers. But the real question is, why should we care what people say about Kim Kardashian? Who cares if she’s called fat on every magazine while she’s pregnant? The answer is: everyone should care, because in Western society we eat the media up. Adolescent girls, like my younger self, will read these tabloids and will consume the representation of women’s bodies and the negative representation will soon reflect on their own choices. Gloria Steinem told US Weekly that: “criticising people’s bodies […] devalues both their brains and ours” (Takeda, 2013). It’s easy to criticise Kim Kardashian for her selfies or for her sex tape and then completely disregard her prowess in business and marketing. In regard to Kim Kardashian, she seems to be completely aware of power and politics. Her sex tape was leaked without her consent; there was a moment when Kardashian had a complete lack of power, but I am impressed with the way she took that power back and turned it into an empire. As a body-positive feminist, I have come to admire Kardashian, especially when she explains why she is eager to overshare on social media, explaining that: “there’s power in that and I think I have control to put out what I want so even if I’m objectifying myself, I feel good about it.” (Foley, 2015). Not all women in the media are as overtly sexual as Kim Kardashian though, yet they are still criticised in the same way by the media.
The world of sports has been largely male-dominated, through socialisation of young boys and media persistence. Because of this, Creedon (1994) argues that there has been a process of ‘gatekeeping’ against women from becoming heavily involved in the athletic sphere. Gatekeeping, Creedon explains, is a process in which information is selected, produced, transmitted and shaped (1994). This process is what influences girls to become cheerleaders and boys to become football players. It’s what protects footballers who are accused of sexual violence and what punishes girls for being “too masculine”.
Serena Williams has been cited as being the best female tennis player, ever. She holds the record for second most Grand Slam wins at 21. In the same vein, Ronda Rousey has become a prominent and impressive figure in the world of UFC fighting, being known for her quick take down of opponents. Aside from them both being female athletes, these women are also connected in how they affected by media representation of them. While they are hailed for their athletic accomplishments, they are also bombarded with the same types of questions interviewers might ask say… Kim Kardashian (not exactly known for her athletic prowess). Rousey, who has admitted to suffering from eating disorders in the past, has been harassed by the media in regard to her weight. She is regularly called fat, despite her weight being composed mainly of muscle, which she uses to continue to be an undefeated bantamweight champion. However, like Kim Kardashian, Rousey has turned media discrimination against itself, posing provocatively for magazines, such as Sports Illustrated. She told Fortune magazine: “If I can represent that body type of women that isn’t represented so much in media, then I’d be happy to do that” (Zarya, 2015). As I mentioned before, it is not my intention to discuss a certain type of woman; the homely woman, the model, etc. What I find appealing about Rousey is that she represents a more uncommon female body type which has long been associated with men, the muscle.
Serena Williams has faced similar body-related scrutiny. Recently Twitter-users have been criticising her manly physique; one user @diegtristan8 commented saying: “ironic then that main reason for her success is that she built like a man” (2015). In other words, Williams’s accomplishments have nothing to do with her dedication, but rather because she’s built like the hegemonic male idea of a man; furthermore assuming that the only way to be an accomplished athlete is to disregard femininity. Blogger Teresa Jusino (2015) summed it up well when she exclaimed: “THE WOMAN WON WIMBLEDON SIX TIMES! Praise her freaking achievements […] or start writing articles about how her male Wimbledon counterpart, Novak Djokovic, looked like a freaking Disney Prince at the Wimbledon Ball”. The point Jusino is trying to make is that it shouldn’t even matter what Williams’s looks like; Neither Williams nor Rousey need their body type validated in order for them to be accomplished athletes.
The tabloid has a section in which female celebrities are criticised for their bodies: photos depicting cellulite, dark circles under eyes, unflattering poses. It’s not conducive to society for people to dismiss these horrendous reports, by saying that these women deserve to be scrutinised because they allow themselves to be in the public eye. We need to realise that both men and women are in the public eye, but men are not nearly as scrutinised for their fashion choices, their physique or even how much sleep they’re getting. The problem is the more media dwindles a woman’s accomplishments down to being just about her looks, the less likely young girls are going to see themselves as anything more than just a pretty face. By all means, wear lipstick and a false lashes on your days off, but don’t let the media stop you from wiping it off and getting dirty in your professional life.
I. AFP (2015) ‘All-female Russian Crew Starts Moon Mission’, Bangkok Post, 29 October. Available at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/world/746764/all-female-russian-crew-startsmoon-mission-test [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
II. Creedon, P. J. (Ed.). (1994) Women, Media and Sport: Challenging Gender Values. Sage Publications.
III. Foley, L. (2015) ‘Kim Kardashian on how Women are Treated in the Media: ‘By Objectifying Myself as a Woman, I Hold the Power’, Sugarscape, 1 July. Available at: http:// http://www.sugarscape.com/celebs/news/a1079450/kim-kardashian-sexism-objectification/ [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
IV. Jusino, T. (2015) ‘Women’s Sports and Sexism: Isn’t Serena Williams Winning Wimbledon Enough?’ The Mary Sue, 13 July. Available at: http://www.themarysue.com/sports-sexismserena-williams-wimbledon/ [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
V. Kaiser (2006/2015) ‘Should We Feel Any Feminist Outrage with the Media’s Treatment of Kim Kardashian?’, Celebitchy, April 12. Available at: http://www.celebitchy.com/291510/ should_we_feel_any_feminist_outrage_with_the_medias_treatment_of_kim_kardashian/ [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
VI. Rob, @diegtristan8 (2015) 11 July 2015. Available at: https://twitter.com/jk_rowling/status/ 619886370081869824?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
VII.Takeda, A. (2013) ‘Gloria Steinem Says Criticism of Kim Kardashian’s Pregnant Body is Wrong ‘Under Any Circumstance’’, US Weekly, 11 April. Available at: http:// http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/gloria-steinem-says-criticism-of-kim-kardashianspregnant-body-is-wrong-under-any-circumstance-2013114#ixzz2QAdmRguQ [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
VIII.Zarya, V. (2015) ‘Ronda Rousey’s Biggest Fight is Against Body Shamers’, Fortune, 9 October. Available at: http://fortune.com/2015/10/09/ronda-rouseys-body-shaming/ [Accessed on: 9 November 2015].
My name is Chloé Grier and I’m 21 years old. I was born and raised in New York City to a French-Armenian mother and American father. I attended the United Nations International School until 2012 when I moved to Ireland to begin studying at UCD. In college, I’m majoring in Politics and Sociology, with a keen interest in feminism and intersectionality in politics. After college I hope to continue my studies at graduate school in pursuit of a Masters degree in conflict resolution. My main academic interests include women in conflict, as well as women in peace-keeping operation.
More generally, I’m interested in the study of violence and terrorism and security measures. On a less academic note, I enjoy cooking, watching films and exercising.