PEAK — PROMOTING EDUCATION, AWARENESS, AND KNOWLEDGE
University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways you can participate.
MARCH 2014 – WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
Celebrating Women's History Month: A Reflection on the History and Future Directions
By Katie Krueger, Admissions Counselor
A few years ago, my husband asked me, “Why do we celebrate women’s history month? Where’s men’s history month?” Though this question seemed completely valid to him at the time, it was clear to me that questions like these are exactly why we celebrate the month at all. To some, the month passes by without a single thought. To others, the celebration of the achievements and contributions of women extend through the entire year. Still, you may wonder, “What’s the point?” Let’s explore a brief history of the month to examine its origins and relevance in today’s society.
A Look Back
The early field of history was a simple recording of major events and politics, though it expanded in the 1970s to include social history, shifting to a broader focus on the history of lived experiences such as urban history, poverty, public health, and the media (Brunner, 2007). The women’s movement of this era pointed to the invisibility of women in these historical contexts and pushed for recognition of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society (Women’s History Month, 2014).
The 1970s brought about a field of women’s history and women’s studies, which began to be taught in many universities. Later, Women’s History Week began in 1978 through a task force in California on the Status of Women (Lewis, 2011). The week coincided with International Women’s Day, which began March 8, 1911 in Europe. Within the United States, this week served to reinforce and introduce women’s studies in additional universities across the country. The first celebration in 1978 included presentations across dozens of schools, a parade in downtown Santa Rosa, CA, and an essay contest on the “Real Woman.”
Women’s History Week was accepted not only in academia, but also by the U.S. Congress, which later declared the week a National Women’s Week in 1981 (Women’s History Month, n.d.). Then, in 1987, at the request of the National Women’s History Project, Congress expanded the week to a month (Lewis, 2011). Since that time, many organizations have been established to support the inclusion of women’s history in historical texts and have sponsored the opening a National Museum of Women’s History in the Washington, DC area.
Women’s History Month Today and Beyond
Now, fast-forward to the present. The purpose of Women’s History Month is to increase consciousness and knowledge of women’s contributions to history. The month originally explored the lived experiences of white, middle-class women, but has expanded to the full racial and socio-economic spectrum of women across the globe (Brunner, 2007). In March each year, we reflect not only on notable and historical figures, but also on the lives and contributions of “ordinary women” (Lewis, 2011). In this way, history has expanded beyond the experiences of politics and has grown to reflect the diversity of our world.
Today, Women’s History Month is not only a celebration of women’s contributions but also of our accomplishments. We use the month not only to reflect on our educational and political freedom, but also to explore the impact of women in the workplace, women as leaders, and women in sports, science, arts, and literature. The month also explores the impact of women in developing countries and explores the strides they make in small-business ventures to support their families.
Women’s History Month is all of this and more. What does it mean to you? Think of the women who have impacted your lives; the mother who encouraged you to go to college even though she barely finished high school; the teacher or coach who believed in you and pushed you to realize your full potential. Reflect also on the women who have helped pave the way to your educational and political freedom. These women and those all across the world are the reason we celebrate, and the reason that each March is Women’s History Month.
Media Portrayal of Women Since 1979: Have Things Changed? What Can Be Done?
by Andrew Whitson, Admissions Counselor
Americans are surrounded by media, including television, internet, movies, advertisements, magazines, and much more. The messages from these varied media outlets send many ideas to their consumers. Arguably, one of the most prevalent images is that of the “ideal” woman. This image is typically an incredibly thin, tall, flawless, young woman (Serdar, 2005). This image sends the message that in order to be beautiful, successful, or talented you must fit that mold. This message is not something new; Jean Kilbourne and other media literacy experts pointed out this ideal image and its negative impact on society starting in the late 1970s. The negative impact includes the high rate of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem among other potential ramifications (Sexualization of Girls, 2007). In the years since, media has become an even more integral part of the daily lives of Americans, with children and young adults spending 13.6 hours a day on average in front of some sort of media – an increase of six hours since 1979 (Federal Communication Commission, 2013). With that change in the availability and use of media outlets, the question posed by this article is: have there been any changes since 1979 in the messages present in mass media? What can be done to ensure this negative messaging and its effects on women do not continue?
It has been proven that the repetitive presentation of the “ideal” woman as thin, flawless, and young is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of women (Sexualization of Girls, 2007). The air-brushed and unrealistically thin models used in most mediums of our nation’s media are associated with low self-esteem and depression when viewed by most women (Haas, 2012). Women may also believe that in order to be beautiful they must find a way to look like the images they are seeing, often causing unhealthy eating habits or in some cases anorexia nervosa or bulimia (Haas, 2012). It has also been shown that self-objectification can cause an inability to concentrate and focus, leading to poor performance on mathematical and logical problems. Self-objectification can also destabilize body image which can lead to shame, anxiety, or self-disgust. Many studies have shown the connections between the “thin ideal” and disordered eating symptoms, low self-esteem, and depression, as well as indirect impacts on physical health (Sexualization of Girls, 2007). One study found that exposure to music videos, television, and magazines caused negative mood, high levels of body image disturbance, disturbed eating, weight anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, and insecurity (Serdar, 2005). But despite converging evidence of the detriment of these images on the health and wellbeing of female consumers, little has been changed in this messaging over time.
There have been some isolated examples of changes for the better. Media literacy experts like Jean Kilbourne and her “Killing Us Softly” campaign, which showcased the extent to which women have been objectified in the media since 1979, have been used in classrooms in many school districts and colleges in the United States. Some companies have decided to take a stance against the negative impacts of objectification, like Dove with their “Real Beauty” campaign and “A Bold New Vision: The Dove Movement for Self-Esteem.” The “Real Beauty” campaign showed the process that a model goes through from when she walks in to the photo shoot to when her picture ends up on the cover of a magazine (an hour of hair and makeup, airbrushing, and Photoshop detailing). Kate Winslet, a famous actress, has even taken a stance against Photoshop and airbrushing of her likeness, exclaiming that it was not part of the contract she signed and she does not look like that, nor would she want to. Taking actions like the above are examples of efforts to counter the extensive amount of negative media focused on an unrealistic image of the “ideal” woman.
Despite a few examples of efforts to counter these unrealistic images of women, highly sexualized and objectified women continue to plague media outlets. “The media still portray women as objects to catch the attraction of people” (Snigda, 2011, p. 10). Women’s average body size has increased while the standards of body shape portrayed in the media have become even thinner than humanly possible through the use of Photoshop and retouching (Serdar, 2005). While men appear in most media more often than women, the amount of body exposed is greater for women. Women are far more likely to be shown as naked or sexualized in some way (Snigda, 2011). Advertising agencies are still using the notion that “thinness sells” and that using larger more realistic models would not be profitable (Serdar, 2005). The sexualization and objectification in some advertisements has targeted children between seven and ten years old with products such as Sketchers shoes and Bratz dolls (Sexualization of Girls, 2007). This evidence shows that although there have been steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go.
In order to move forward from this issue in mass media, further education on the blatant misconception of female beauty in the media is needed. Media literacy courses like Jean Kilbourne’s need to be further engrained into the education system. Just one of these presentations has been shown to negate the effects of unrealistic media on women regardless of age and body size. If the myths about female image in the media can be exposed, it can be the start of increased self-image and satisfaction among women. This change has the potential to lead to less prevalence of the many consequences of their negative self-image. It would also be beneficial for the women in the media to accurately represent the diversity of sizes and body types present in America (Haas, 2012). The availability and prevalence of feminist magazines, books, and websites needs to be increased and supported so opposition to the sexualization of women can be viewed more frequently. It can also become a part of the training of counselors working with youth so they can address it with the boys and girls with whom they work. Parents can also discuss the images their children are viewing on a regular basis and make sure they are aware of the fact that the images they view are not reality (Sexualization of Girls, 2007). Only by taking steps like these will there ever be any improvements on the major health issues that have been increasing drastically due to the ignorance of mass media in its portrayal of female beauty.References
Brunner, B. (2007). The history of women’s history. Retrieved February 20, 2014 from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womensintro1.html
Federal Communications Commission. (2013) News Consumption. http://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc-report/INoC-20-News-Consumption.pdf
Haas, C.J., Pawlow, L.A., Pettibone, J., Segrist, D.J. (2012). An intervention for the negative influence of media on body esteem. College Student Journal, 405-417.
Lewis, J. J. (2011). Women’s History Month: How did March come to be Women’s History Month? Retrieved February 20, 2014 from http://womenshistory.about.com/od/womenshistorymonth/a/whm_history.htm
Serdar, K.L. (2005). Female body image and the mass media: Perspectives on how women internalize the ideal beauty standard. The Myriad, Spring 2005. Westminster College. http://www.westminstercollege.edu/myriad/index.cfm?parent=2514&detail=4475&content=4795
Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Retrieved February 20, 2014 from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx
Snigda, S., Venkatesh, S. (2011). Impact of Female Sexual Objectification in Advertising on Women. Advances in Management, vol. 4(12) Dec. 2011. 10-14.
Women’s History Month. (2014). Retrieved on February 20, 2014 from http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/womens-history-month
Women’s History Month About. (n.d). Retrieved on February 20, 2014 from http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html
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