View article posted at Evie Magazine HERE:
Remember when you were a kid and mom would say you were not allowed to watch certain movies? She would say it was because you were not old enough to watch such a scary/violent/inappropriate/(fill in the blank) movie, and that you had to wait until you were older. Up until a certain age mom and dad pretty much monitored whatever it was you were watching on TV or listening to on your Walkman (I am an adult millennial okay?). You probably tried to get away with watching an R rated movie or listening to that one 50 Cent song your mom would always turn off when it was on the radio. Then one day you were free! Somewhere between age 13 and 18, depending on how strict your parents were, the world of entertainment was your oyster! You could read all the Cosmo’s you wanted and watch any movie and listen to any unedited version of a song you wanted! In retrospect your fragile, malleable, pre-pubescent brain was not mature enough to engage with certain content. But as you got older and wised up the assumption became that you were mature and responsible enough to watch scary movies without having to lose a week’s sleep, or you could watch a TV show with sexual content and not be traumatized.
Yet as we have grown up how often do we ask ourselves whether the media we engage with is toxic to us? The assumption is that we are mature and responsible enough to make good choices about what we listen to, read and watch, and yet most adults rarely question their own media engagement or call into discussion it’s toxicity.
I teach dance classes to young children and the other day I played the song “7 Rings” By Arianna Grande for my class to warm up to. One of the girls informed me that while it was one of her favorite songs she was no longer allowed to listen to it. I apologized, turned it off and asked if it was inappropriate, because to my knowledge there was only the muffled use of a bad word or two. She told me that her parents said they did not want her listening to the song because it gloried money and told listeners that money could solve their problems. My initial reaction to her explanation was that yeah she was right and that kids were too malleable to listen to certain messages even if it was just a fun, catchy tune. Adults, on the other hand are discerning enough to recognize that it is just a fun song and that Arianna is not reallyinsisting that materialism is a solution to our problems or that money can substitute therapy. Right?! And yet as I thought more about the short interaction I began to realize that perhaps the 8 year old girl was imparting a wisdom that most adults were prone to shrug off and ignore because they were over calculating their own maturity.
The reality is that even though we are supposedly educated, mature adults who have the ability to discern what is good for us and what is toxic, we rarely do it. We often put ourselves in the position as passive consumers of media rather than active ones. All too often we allow ourselves to succumb to the mind-numbing, almost comatose state of turning our brains off and passively absorbing the subliminal messaging all around. How often do we stop and ask ourselves what the messages are in the songs we listen to and the TV shows we watch? And how often do we ask whether they are uplifting, truthful, and/or helpful to us?
Back in the day most ads with hypnotic charms were aimed at kids, like sugary cereal ads where the kids would watch TV and then beg their parents for the same cereal at the super market. The media got in trouble for trying to manipulate and target kids who were not mature or intelligent enough to discern that the messages were meant to manipulate and beguile them. And while most people feel that was a triumph against the pervasive messaging of the omnipotent, omnipresent media, that same tactic regularly influences bona fide adults as they too shut their brains off and allow subliminal messaging to trigger deeply rooted emotions like a need to be liked/loved or to feel worthy and valued.
When asked, most people are quick to admit that the “media” in general is “bad” for us. We are constantly coming into contact with “Fake News” and advertising that over-sexualizes and objectifies women. We continually bemoan the toxicity of mainstream news outlets like Fox and CNN that sensationalize news into a “he said she said” battle where correspondents and commentators see who can talk over one another the loudest about issues that are meant to keep us bickering rather than seek out solutions. We know that social media has a correlation to depression and that most rap songs have horrible messages and yet when do we actually say, “this is bad for me” and turn it off? How often do we truly recognize the intent of the media around us? That is often aimed at getting us to dislike something about ourselves that we are told can be fixed with a purchase. The media’s constant goal is keep us dissatisfied and until we recognize that and take steps to reduce our engagement we remain under it’s stronghold.
So what types of media should we start analyzing more deeply? What kinds of messages are being perpetuated? There is a huge difference between screening out messages we KNOW are bad for us, and toxic messages that are disguised as empowering, positive messages.
Everybody knows that most modern, popular music is garbage and yet we listen to it because we are “here for the beats and the not lyrics.” However, what we fails to recognize is that subliminal, subconscious messaging is a very potent form of communication. It is an effective form of propaganda that is often even more powerful because we too callously brush it off as “just a good song.” But how often do we actually analyze the lyrics of our favorite jams as we sing along on our way to work?
While we are aware that most rap music is misogynist and objectifying to women, most of our other favorite pop songs carry similar messages of over-sexualizing women, promoting promiscuity, romanticizing alcoholism, condoning violence against women, and worshiping of materialism and consumerism. While most of us are somewhat aware of these messages, we usually write them off without examining how much influence they carry over us and whether these are positive influences in our self-image, relationships, or view on money. For example, we are often unaware at how a song about women using men for money can affect how women are portrayed and how they act towards men. Or how a song glamorizing a breakup can influence our dating habits.
Most glossy women’s magazines run a lot of similar content, something that should be our first tip off that print is no longer pure journalism, the helping hand of democracy, but rather a strong grip in keeping us dissatisfied. Most mainstream women’s magazines pose as “feminist” and “pro-women,” yet they are are more complicit than we realize in keeping us as comatose masses eager to pull out our purses and pursue hedonistic pleasure in the name of empowerment. Most women’s magazine’s perpetuate the idea that self care can be achieved through consumerism, as if a face mask will solve all your problems, or that self care could also be sitting in front of Netflix allowing yourself to be passively influenced and sold ideas. Either way selfish, pleasure-seeking, consumerist behavior has been repackaged and sold to millions of women as “self care.” Whose idea do you think that was? The beauty industry or a therapist?
Magazines also communicate to women that promiscuity, pleasure seeking, hedonistic behavior is fun and empowering, although it is actually very damaging mentally and emotionally to lots of women. If we take a look at the root of these sorts of messages it makes sense that the media would want to keep women in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with their lives, continually seeking out novel pleasures and material gratification. It is good for business! It also begs the question of where do most women get their information about feminism? From the media you say? And wouldn’t most women agree that the media is toxic in most forms? So why on earth would we trust the media’s take on feminism, especially if most of the media is owned by white, billionaire men with monopolies on the information we consume?
Articles glorifying a career over a family and hook up culture over marriage present a singular idea of femininity under the false pretense of “supporting all women.” Moreover these narrow concepts of female empowerment often glamorize climbing the ladder of consumerist, corporate America and pursuing cheap, physical pleasures as “liberating” and “empowering” without offering alternative choices to women or exploring the pros and cons.
Most of us have gotten pretty lax with the types of TV/movies we watch, always self-assured that our adult brains are not influenced by any amount of cursing, sex, or violence we may see on TV. Yet, what if those should not be our foremost worries? Violence and cursing have little to no impact on most women, however things like the way men and women are portrayed on TV/movies are potent indicators of female behavior and attitudes in real life. Most women fail to recognize the way relationships are shown in tv/movies and the effect they might have on how we view real relationships.
For example, most tv/movies positively portray promiscuity and hooking up as glamorous, fun, sexy, exciting and empowering with very little reveal of the emotional or mental consequences of casual sex. Likewise, media often shows a very negative portrayal of married life, as boring and soul-sucking with tropes such as the nagging wife, the lazy husband, marital weight gain, obnoxious children and lackluster (if any) sex lives. Ultimately, marriage is shown as the death of romance, while sex without commitment is fun and empowering.
On the other end of the spectrum movies and TV can also show romance in very idealistic terms that can also put wildly high expectations on dating and romance. We see images of firework first kisses and men as knights in shining armor there to rescue women from the misery of single life, and we become bitter when our real relationships don’t unfold quite like The Notebook or Titanic.
Yeah yeah yeah we have heard it before, Facebook is bad for us, and our generation is more depressed than ever due to comparisons of false realities on social media where people force us to watch their desperate attempts for attention and validations through “stories” and “posts.” And yet there is more than meets the eye in terms of why social media is toxic.
I, like most millennial women, follow lots of influencers on social media. Now don’t get me wrong I very much admire the premise of bloggers, who are using social media to become empowered girl boss entrepreneurs. For the most part, most bloggers seem eager to spread beauty and positivity to other women, and yet why do I still always feel like I hate myself after I watch one of their stories about their vacay to Cabo or a post on Botox?
Why do I continue to feel a gnawing anxiety that I am not pretty enough or skinny enough or am failing to have a complex enough skincare routine? Am I suppose to be able to afford a Gucci clutch? Is my health at stake if I don’t have a 6$ green juice from a hip shop in LA?
I think that while bloggers have mostly good intentions, these get lost in an overall materialistic concentration focused on sales. And unfortunately consumerism’s biggest advocate is a dissatisfaction with the way that we are naturally. Lots of followers are left with the impression that they are not meeting the continual demands for women to be thin and beautiful, in spite of messaging that we are “perfect just the way we are.” It is confusing and it is hypocritical. I am pretty enough, but I am definitely not the prettiest unless I have a new facemask??
We are continually told that it is the male perversion of beauty and male objectivity of females that keep us chasing unrealistic beauty standards, and yet these are women keeping us trapped in a rat race of dissatisfaction with our appearance.
A lot of blogging is a carefully curated feed made to look perfect, and while we are mostly aware of this, it does not stop us from comparing our own “drab” lives to their “glamorous” ones. The affects of comparison are dissatisfaction, ungratefulness, selfishness and greed.
SO what? Should I move to a cabin in the woods?
The most important step in getting out from under the media’s iron grip is to first recognize that every message the media sends is mostly about keeping us anxious, dissatisfied, unhappy, and in a continual state of seeking instant gratification, novelty, and pleasure to assuage our “unhappiness.” As soon as we recognize that, we can break free of the shackles. But the work does not end there. We need to focus on no longer being passively entertained by mindless media, and instead stay alert and discerning to messages. It is imperative that we bring into question what said messages are and how they are influencing us. Are they making us happier? Is it only for short bursts of time? Or are they making us feel more miserable in the long run? Are they keeping us glued to TV’s full of negative stereotypes about men and women? Are they keeping us chasing after material possessions in corporate America, but selling it as empowerment? Are they telling us what kind of woman to be and what “empowerment” looks like? Is the news just laundry lists of “bad” stuff going on and arguments meant to keep us distracted with issues that will be old news the next day anyways?
It is important that we question and dissect the influx of messages around us. For example we should ask ourselves why casual sex is so glorified in almost every media outlet, is it because the media understands our needs, and wants what is best for us, or is it because they know that the constant pursuit of meaningless sex is ultimately dissatisfying and that a dissatisfied person is more likely to be an avid consumer of whatever “antidote” they are selling, whether it be alcohol, new clothes, a boob job, or a fad diet.
The media has long believed that women were more influenced by pathos-based advertising due to our emotional nature and often uses that against women. This is why I encourage women especially to embrace empowerment not through consumerism and pleasure-seeking(ultimately fool-hardy pursuits), but through discernment and pursuing wisdom. Wisdom in the face of an avalanche of toxic, conflicting messages is the most empowering tool you can gain. True female empowerment comes from strong values rooted in truth and justice and discernment.