Recently, I've been attending a training course in Moldova about the representation of gender
in the media and the influence on society of gender stereotypes.
The course was organized by Inesa Lupu, of Invento and financed by the UE as part of the Youth in Action program.
It was the first time, for me, in this kind of international project and
it was, in a word, fantastic.
Among the participants, there were people from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, Moldova and Slovenia.
That meant a great mix of cultures, languages and experiences.
And that was the key, in my opinion, of the success: coming from different countries and different social and cultural contexts meant that we were able to have a very broad and diverse point of view on the problem of gender stereotypes.
So, here's some highlights on what we discussed.
The media representation of gender (aka: gender issues are not only women issues)
Tough Guise by Jackson Katz is a interesting documentary about the way the modern society - particularly in the US - defines masculinity as intrinsically tied to violence, aggressivity and "toughness" and on the consequences of this on the society as a whole. The author's theory is "that male violence, misogyny, and homophobia are inextricably linked to how we define manhood as a culture. The film gives special attention to how American media have glamorized increasingly regressive and violence masculine ideals in the face of mounting social and economic threats to traditional white male heterosexual authority".
It then results clear that we cannot avoid to think about gender issues as women and men issues, because after all is the
cultural definition of both femininity and masculinity that heavily influences the behaviour of men and women and their interaction.
In particular, I liked Katz's analysis of media's use of victim blaming speech while reporting of violences against women which tend to shift the focus from the violence perpetrated by men as part of definition of masculinity.
Another documentary we watched, more focused on women representation, is MissRepresentation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
The film analyses the under representation of women in position of power, and the issue of women and leadership, especially in politics, in the US. Nothing too new, if you are interested in gender issues, as it is a widely discussed and studied topic, but still worth watching.
After watching them, we formed little groups of three-four persons from different countries to discuss them, and it was even more interesting to listen the opinion of the guys (we had four male participants).
Photography and Phototherapy
As a workshop on media representation of gender, photography and advertisement were two of the main argument we spoke about. We focused on it for two days: our trainer, Lietta Granato - photographer and phototherapist - first gave us a lesson on photography, making us experimenting a bit with exposure times and diaphragm's aperture.
Then she presented the evolution in the last 50 year or so, of the depiction of women in the ads.
And that, to be honest, was a bit upsetting.
I've already had seen one of the most important and widely known films on this theme, the Killing Us Softly series by Jean Kilbourne, but some of the ads Lietta showed to us were really really horrible. Actually, most of them were horrible.
Commenting and deconstructing these ads would take a separate blogpost, probably, and there are many people more competent than me on the topic, so I've decided to simply share some of the worst ads in a collage, without much commenting.
These are vintage, from the fifties to the seventies.
Do you think we got better? Pff.
They go from promoting violence and rape to heavily objectifying women. Special mention for the Compaq ad: as a geek woman I feel particularly insulted by the idea that I'm supposed to use a "pocket pc" as "pocket mirror". Because I wouldn't be able, obviously, to use it as a computer.
If you browse Jo Spence's site, please be aware that there is a series of pics documenting all the stages of her illness (she died of breast cancer) and they are pretty intense.
"In 1984, alongside Rosy Martin, Spence developed ‘Photo-Therapy’, adopting techniques from co-counselling. The considerable achievement of Photo-Therapy was to invert the traditional relationship between the photographer and the subject. If historically the subject had little control over their own representation, Photo-Therapy shifts this dynamic. The subject was able to act out personal narratives and claim agency for their own biography." (source: http://www.jospence.org/biography.html)
I love this concept and I really really love Spence's photos.
To close on a happier note, I really suggest you to allocate 20 minutes of your time to watch this great talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the role of "single story" in shaping stereotypes and misunderstandings.