Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Media and Gender

Written by: on November 17, 2012

I flew into Jakarta early this week for a gender training of trainers workshop.  While engaging in the workshop during the day, I read the second half of Briggs and Burke’s Social History of the Media at night.   I couldn’t help but filter much of the information through the gender lens that I had donned.  I did so expecting to find the usual allegations about the media being gender biased and discriminatory and was not surprised when I discovered the veracity of it and the resulting social repercussions. 

Of special interest to me was the role of the media in the formation and development of the ‘Trinity’, information, education and entertainment that Briggs and Burke elucidate in chapter 6 of their book: The Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (2002).  It was an interesting exercise to view the ‘Trinity’ through gender lens. 

Information, the first of the Trinity, is literally exploding by the second.   Data or information on anything by or on anyone anywhere is easily accessible at lightning speed.  And the responsibility to stay abreast of current information is a necessity because knowledge, as the old adage goes, is power. Briggs and Burke arrive at that same key conclusion as they trace the ‘history and development of the ‘trinity’. They state that, “the need for information in every age has been associated with the need to control the present and future for personal, political and economic reasons” (Briggs and Burke 2002, page 265).  In gender analysis, access and control, either to resources or information, is deemed, as a strategic gender need.  On the one hand, the fulfillment of this need enables the disadvantaged within a community to be empowered and act as agents of change and on the other hand a denial of this need results in the disadvantaged becoming vulnerable to greater poverty, violence and injustice. 

Considering the first element of Trinity, information, and its impact on gender and development it becomes clear that while media and technology has tremendously advanced and has provided the platform for the swift dissemination of information, it is a fact that there are entire sections of men and particularly women are excluded from access to any kind of information.   This is because women often lack the access to technology (primarily for want of resources to purchase it, they are not in the path of the information networks due to poor geographical reach of the media into remote areas where they reside and also because of their own inability to grasp information being illiterate, which hinders them from receiving meaningful information, processing it and acting upon it.  The inability to access information therefore, leaves these segments of the populations powerless, voiceless and without control over the decisions made on their behalf by their urban counterparts.  

In the second instance of the role of the media in education, surveys on the status of women in rural areas, particularly in developing countries, reveal that they are the least educated and even illiterate.   Because of socio-cultural beliefs and practices women and girls are discriminated on the basis of gender and are denied access to education.  Although in the recent times both print, radio and television media is employed to a some extent to creatively educate and bring awareness to the illiterate rural women, it still remains experimental.  Their lack of education and awareness on life issues therefore further compounds their marginalization.

This results in unequal participation in public opinion and disallows them from making informed decisions.    This further perpetuates the existing gender inequality in these patriarchal communities where men exercise control over women. Other social repercussions are visible in deterioration of women’s health, disenfranchisement of their rights and resources. Moreover, laws, legislations and decisions created therefore are gender insensitive and often tilt to favor men and subject women to further misery.   

The third element of the trinity, entertainment, viewed through the gender lens, also places women in a disadvantaged position.  The media since time immemorial has projected women in less than positive and socially destructive ways.  For example, regardless of the product that is promoted women are ‘used’ in television, print and Internet advertising. Hence the resulting society has held women to be objects and commodities for entertainment and pleasure.   Studies have also shown that another adverse social impact of increasingly projecting women as objects of sex had led to the current generation of boys and men becoming sexually violent, which accounts for an upsurge in the crimes committed against women and children.

The world at large for the most part still remains insensitive to the plight of women. The media, unfortunately, on the one hand, excludes women and their need for information and education to a large extent not taking into account their contributions to public opinion or on the other hand, includes them as objects that possess no life and dignity.  It is important that women’s voices be heard through the media and their views seriously considered if we intend to build a gender sensitive society. 

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