Tucked away in a corner classroom of Gasson, students discussed women’s representation in the media over pizza and popcorn on Monday night.
Kiara Casiano, MCAS '17, Xiomara Munoz, MCAS '18, Juliani Vidal, MCAS '19, and Elizabeth Merlo, MCAS '19, organized the event as an activism project required for the course "Women and the Body" taught by Professor Sharlene Hesse-Biber. The sociology course “addresses the socio-cultural construction of the female body and addresses the issue of ‘anatomy as destiny’ through an examination of biological and sociological literature on this topic.” Class discussions and readings range from issues of body image, violence against women and media literacy.
To promote action in response to the issues taught and discussed in class, the course mandates the execution of an activism project. The project must target a specific policy or practice that negatively affects the relationship women have with their bodies.
Following a class on media literacy, which challenged the students to dissect the details of advertisements' portrayals of women—everything from their positioning to the focus of their eyes—compared to the characterization of males in the same advertisements, the event organizers decided to focus their project on the negative effects of media on women.
At the event, the group showed clips of the documentary Miss Representation, which argues that the lack of influential positions in the media industry held by women facilitates the negative, inaccurate and often demeaning portrayal of women. This depiction of women then perpetuates females' underrepresentation in positions of power and influence both in the media and beyond. After every clip, the group posed questions to the students attending the event. In response, students shared their own thoughts, experiences and opinions.
Rather than focus on an issue that is already widely discussed, the organizers wanted to bring awareness to an equally harmful but lesser discussed problem affecting women.
Munoz claimed that because the media constantly bombards viewers with the same images of women, viewers become desensitized. “When we saw the last clip with the ad that played in the clip, the woman went to the passenger seat and the guy went to the driver's seat,” Munoz explained. “Being aware by watching the [Miss Representation] clips helps you to notice other examples in the future.”
Raising awareness about the portrayal of women in media—whether it be advertisements shown before Youtube clips or the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—was the group’s primary goal. “The more people talk about this issue,” Merlo argued, “the more likely things are to change.”
At the end of the event, the group members urged the students in attendance to take action by signing the group’s petition against Skyy Vodka’s ads, which sexualize and objectify women. The group plans to send the petition, along with a letter of protest, to Umberto Luchini, the Vice President of Marketing at Campari America, LLC. So far, 80 students have signed the petition, but the group’s goal is to have 100 signatures by next week.
The group members welcome and encourage anyone and everyone to take action against the sexist and objectifying portrayal of women in Skyy Vodka’s ad.