I recently introduced the 2011 documentary Miss Representation to the 12th grade Health and Wellness class I teach. The film touches upon (well, hammers, really) some themes that are near and dear to my young feminist heart: objectification, media representation, gender stereotypes, and the like. As I expected, they ate it up. Each new disturbing infographic that flashed over the screen garnered a heavier sigh, a snarkier chortle. And with good reason.
The filmmaker argues that our society’s representation of women in the media is an important contributing factor to the various gender gaps that we see wherever we look. My response to this? We know.
My students are the astute ones, really. As soon as I paused the film at the end of class, my one male student asked me, exasperated, “okay, but what about boys?” I couldn’t have been prouder.
And he couldn’t be more spot-on in asking that question. Feminism in the age of modern technology and media can sometimes turn into a pity-party. But focusing only on the objectification of women is the easy way out, and perhaps even a step backwards. This ties into my whole philosophy on education and rape culture – we can’t just teach girls to “defend,” we need to also teach boys not to “offend.”
Let’s take a minute to look at the kind of messages young boys get from mass media. In the film, the narrator argues that the female actresses in most summer blockbusters are only meant to serve as eye-candy-foils for the male hero. According to her, this is problematic, as it teaches young girls to simply serve the men around them. But what about the message this teaches boys? In order to be a strong, handsome, loved hero, boys have to objectify the women around them?
Teaching young girls about feminism is important. But teaching young boys about feminism is even more important. If you’re hungry for more, check out this article.