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September 23, 2007

Women & Film: The Representation of Women in the World Today

Women & Film: the Representation of Women Today

The Three Rs of Media Studies 


Each year, two million girls aged from 5 to 16 join the commercial sex market


Why is this film not more widely shown at the sixth form level?


I sometimes think that educational work up to and including sixth form work has a tendency to infantilise students and that this can happen especially within the world of media. Justified by the thinking that "the kids can identify more easily with this" type of approach, difficult content at an emotional and ethical level is ignored, yet the world is fraught with difficulties even in more advanced countries. To avoid this sort of thing in terms of content seems to me to be avoiding educational responsibilities. This is not to say that one should not teach about action-adventure films or soap operas, it is to say that by the time students enter year 13 they are a short distance away from voting and adult responsibilities. This means that a more sophisticated world view needs to be developed. Until there is more emphasis on this Media Studies - rightly but sadly in my opinion - will continue to be considered as a "soft" A Level.

In terms of media education this means that certain issues need to be prioritised because as educationalists we have a task to prepare our students for active and responsible citizenship which needs to be understood in a global context. Currently many students can go through OCR A2 media managing to avoid anything much to do with social reality. Even in a research choice like women and film this is still possible by focusing - as many of my students do - on say 'the changing representation of women in action adventure films' building on their AS experiences of action adventure movies. Why not do textual analysis on documentaries for example?  Combine action adventure with making a music video and there is little room left. A focus on rom-coms in contemporary British cinema and a bit about the invidious difficulties of competition with Hollywood, and most real world stuff is carefully avoided. 

As a lecturer at this level one can of course take a more socially responsible attitude. I take the opportunity to show Lucas Moodysson's Lilya 4-Ever  - a film which is most undeserving of an 18 certificate by the way. Some lecturers who know the film are a little surprised, however there are always some students who take it very seriously.  This year one of my students went straight out to buy a copy and several other ones are including in their research projects. Clearly many students are far more able to respond to difficult content than we often allow for. 

Kandahar 1

"Over two thirds of the World's 800 million illiterate adults are women, since girls in many parts of the World are not seen as being worth the investment"

Images from the film Kandahar. Amongst other things this film is representing the issues which real women in the real world face when it comes to be deliberately excluded from education. Shouldn't Media teachers be focusing more on these issues?  

Kandahar 2

Because our centre focuses on the issue of women and film for the Critical Research Project  I have included below a few facts and figures on the position of women in the World from the latest edition of the Open University publication "Society Matters". These facts and figures  show the vast gap between the quotidian social reality of tens of millions of people in the World and the World as represented in most facets of the media. My questions for Media Studies are "Why?" and "What are we going to do about it?" To think in any other way and to fail to act on this situation is to abrogate our ethical responsibilities.

Women's Inequality in the World is Increasing 

women Fighting Global Poverty 2

Women Fighting Global Poverty

Facts and Figures

During the last year British Government and independent Human Rights Groups have brought out a series of reports on the worsening conditions of women in the World reports Society Matters (Issue No 10 "2007-2008). The findings include the following:

  • Seventy per cent of the world's 1 billion poorest inhabitants are women
  • Women produce half the World's food but own less than 2 per cent of the World's land
  • Over two thirds of the World's 800 million illiterate adults are women, since girls in many parts of the World are not seen as being worth the investment
  • Domestic violence where women are predominently the victim, kills and injures more people in the develoing World than war, traffic accidents or cancer
  • Each year, two million girls aged from 5 to 16 join the commercial sex market
  • A third of the World's women are homeless or live in adequate housing
  • Women work two thirds of the World's working hours, but earn only a tenth of the world's income.

So much for "Reality TV"!

Let's put some reality into media instead


Endemol, the TV production which was responsible for the racism on Big Brother, has brought out a live organ transplant programme on Netherlands TV.  This is to appeal to the ghoulsih appetities of the lowest common denominator and has nothing to do with the remit of public service broadcasting which is to educate and inform as well as to entertain. 

"The scenario portrayed in this programme is ethically totally unacceptable," said Professor John Feehally, who has just ended his term as president of the UK's Renal Association.

"The show will not further understanding of transplants," he added. "Instead it will cause confusion and anxiety."

TV critics in the UK have expressed horror at the programme, but said such a show would be unlikely in Britain.

"My first reaction, probably everyone's reaction, is that this is as dangerously near as we've got to a TV programme playing God," said Julia Raeside of the Guardian newspaper.

"People may live or die on the result of a game show. It's a step too far.

The growth of such entertainment forms as "reality" TV is a direct subversion of everyday lived reality. Whilst it is worthwhile academics studying these forms to provide ongoing ideology critique for younger students it is more appropriate to study the reality of the world and its representation. arguably to engage too closely with populist forms promulgated by middle class parasites feeding off fantasy generation schemes exploiting the working classes at a low level in the educational hierarchy is to collude with the forms before the cognitive skills and life experience necessary to understand the workings of ideology and discourse have developed. 

The Three Rs of Media Studies

The opportunity to research Women and Film is also an opportunity to research the real conditions of  vast numbers of women worldwide and to ask why is it that entertainment forms manage to screen out reality so effectively with so little complaint.  Representation is recognisable by its absence from reality as it becomes increasingly focused upon an onanistic, narcississtic  world of "celebrity". Both text and context msut count equally in Media studies if this situation is to change. The social theorist Nancy Fraser has argued for Recognition (of identity), Redistribution (of wealth) to which I would add Representation (of social reality) thus creating the three Rs of Media Studies. 

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