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Will Media Portray Women and Girls More Realistically in 60 Years?
Since I began my internship in July, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the celebrations, new initiatives, and campaigns surrounding IPPF’s 60th anniversary. This is a major accomplishment. Over the span of 60 years, IPPF has become the world's largest organization in the field of sexual and reproductive rights and services, with six Regional Offices and 152 Member Associations in 172 countries. In 2011, IPPF provided over 89 million sexual and reproductive health services worldwide.
Learning about the impact of the organization’s work has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what successes have occurred in the field of sexual and reproductive rights and in the world in the last 60 years, what issues remain unsolved today, and what I want the world to look like 60 years from now.
My first exposure to gender issues and social justice was when I was just eight years old. I began reading New Moon, an independent magazine for young girls featuring content written by girls on a variety of topics including the arts, health, women’s history, and friendship. As I became increasingly aware of basic (yet still very real and often disappointing) implications of gender and social dynamics, New Moon kept me believing that girls rock, there is such a thing as inner beauty, and that girls can and will change the world.
Fourteen years later, at the age of 21, I find myself wondering: Why doesn’t a publication like New Moon exist for women and girls at every stage in their lives? The majority of popular magazines for female audiences today send women degrading and confusing—rather than empowering—messages. They fail to reflect the realities of women’s lives and too often ignore issues surrounding race, body image, sexuality, sexual and reproductive rights, and socioeconomic status, to name a few.
On average, today’s teens spend ten hours each day using media, and girls ages 11 to 14 see about 500 advertisements daily. This fact, coupled with the stereotyped, sexualized, racially biased, and unequal representation of women in media, conditions women and girls to believe that the images they have been served are what they should aspire to be. A lack of investment in comprehensive sexuality education—which teaches girls their rights, how to access sexual and reproductive health services, and how to build healthy, consensual relationships—along with these objectifying images can impact women and girls in all aspects of their lives. Today’s young women have higher rates of eating disorders, depression, and self-destructive behavior than ever before. Subsequently, these ideas and behaviors affect the life decisions women and girls make, and in many cases, may limit them from achieving their full potential—including fully exercising their sexual and reproductive rights.
While there have been efforts to expose the negative representation of women and girls in the media and its adverse effects on women and girls, a lot of work remains to be done. The effects of mass media are pervasive, and countering these effects requires a progressive and holistic strategy to ensure a diverse and accurate representation of women and girls in the media. In the next 60 years, I want to live in a world that is free of unrealistic and negative images of women and girls, a world that has more female leaders than ever before, and a world that refuses to allow a small group of people to prescribe a certain image for any person regardless of gender, class, race, or sexual orientation.
What changes do you want to see in the world in the next 60 years?