How often do we call into question the toxicity of media that have become normalized to us? And at what point do we really say "this is negatively impacting me" and turn it off?
It's essential for young women to be more discerning and critical about the kinds of media we engage with and to recognize the kinds of toxic messages we're passively bombarded with every day. Remember when you were a kid and mom would say you weren't allowed to watch certain movies? She would say it was because you weren't old enough to watch such a scary/violent/inappropriate/(fill in the blank) movie, and you had to wait until you were older.
Then one day you were free! Somewhere between age 13 and 18, the world of entertainment was your oyster! In retrospect, your fragile, malleable, pre-pubescent brain wasn't 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.
As you got older and wised up, the assumption became that you were mature enough to watch scary movies.
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're 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 its toxicity.
Adults Still Need a Discerning Taste When It Comes to Media
The reality is that even though we're supposedly educated, mature adults who can discern what's good for us and what's toxic, we rarely do it. We often put ourselves in a position of 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?
All too often we allow ourselves to turn our brains off and passively absorb the subliminal messaging all around.
When asked, most people are quick to admit that the "media" in general is "bad" for us. We're constantly coming into contact with media that we already recognize as negative, such as "Fake News" and advertising that over-sexualizes and objectifies women. Moreover, 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?
So what types of media should we start analyzing more deeply? What kinds of messages are being perpetuated? There's a huge difference between screening out messages we KNOW are bad for us, and toxic messages that are disguised as empowering, positive messages.
How often do we actually analyze the lyrics of our favorite jams as we sing along on our way to work? While we're 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 materialism and consumerism.
We're often unaware of how a song about women using men for money can affect how women are portrayed and how they act towards men.
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 views on money. For example, we're often unaware of 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 mainstream women's magazines pose as "feminist" and "pro-women," yet they're more complicit than we realize in keeping us comatose, dissatisfied masses eager to pull out our purses and pursue hedonistic pleasure in the name of empowerment.
Many popular women's magazines perpetuate the idea that self-care can be achieved through consumerism, as if a face mask will solve all your problems. Selfish, pleasure-seeking, consumerist behavior has been repackaged and sold to millions of women as "self-care" and "empowerment."
Many popular women's magazines perpetuate the idea that self-care can be achieved through consumerism.
Most 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 most 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, continually seeking out novel pleasures and material gratification. It's good for business!
Most of us have gotten pretty lax with the types of TV/movies we watch, always self-assured that our adult brains aren't 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 in 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.
The way men and women are portrayed in TV/movies are potent indicators of female behavior and attitudes in real life.
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, the 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, 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.
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 first to 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.
Every message the media sends is mostly about keeping us anxious, dissatisfied, unhappy, and seeking instant gratification.
But the work doesn't end there. We need to focus on no longer being passively entertained, and instead stay alert and discerning to messages. It's imperative that we bring into question what said messages are and how they're 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?
It's Important To Question and Dissect the Influx of Messages around Us
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.