Media literacy is the ability to think critically about the media: to understand the messages we receive in TV shows, movies, magazines, and advertisements, and the impact those messages have. Because we live in a world that is saturated with media—much of it based on harmful stereotypes about gender, race, and class—media literacy is a vital skill. It is particularly vital for American teenagers, who spend nearly 50% of their day consuming media (see the infographic below, available from The Representation Project).
Much of American media promotes the objectification of women (and, to a lesser extent, men): the presentation of bodies as sexual objects. The female body is compartmentalized to sell products—breasts here, legs there, a rear-end here—and, as Jean Kilbourne discusses in Killing Us Softly, many of these ads depict violence against women. Sexual objectification of women in the media both dehumanizes women and normalizes violence against them.
Much of the media also promotes a version of masculinity that glorifies violence and requires boys and men to repress their emotions, particularly empathy. Add these concepts to stereotypical portrayals of race and class, and you end up with a mix of messages that are harmful to everyone. Understanding these messages is the first step in counteracting them.
In this workshop, we’ll consider:
- Examples of gender, race, and class stereotypes in the media, and their consequences.
- The role of reality TV in promoting stereotypes, as discussed by Jennifer Pozner in her book Reality Bites Back.
- Organizations that promote equality in the media, and actions you can take to support them.
- Resources that develop media literacy, such as the films Miss Representation, The Mask You Live In, and Killing Us Softly.
- Tools that develop media literacy, including quizzes and games to play while watching your favorite shows.
- Resources for further reading and reflection.