February 21, 2012 — In December, I challenged CanCon readers to make 2012 the year we change corporate culture. As I wrote that, my colleague, Sylvia Apostolidis, alarmed and angry after watching the powerful documentary Miss Representation, was deciding what she could do to change some of the media images that mould our broader culture. After realizing that she wasn’t going to change the advertising industry single-handedly, she looked around her own world and found a place she could make a difference. In today’s CanCon, Sylvia shares her path from awareness to outrage to action. —Deborah Gillis
I viewed the documentary Miss Representation when it first aired in October, 2011 and was overwhelmed with emotions—outrage, frustration, and sadness at the unfair portrait of women painted by popular media and culture. How can it be that media’s portrayal of women is more sensationalized and extreme today than it was twenty-five years ago, when I first studied the topic during an undergrad Sociology class? Why is it that the media continues to devalue, degrade and trivialize women? How is that okay?
This film was a powerful reminder that it’s NOT okay and, like thousands around the world, I felt compelled to take action.
My first reaction? Stop the bus! Rally the troops! Speak to senior leaders in this highly competitive industry—surely they will understand they have a moral obligation to use the power of media for the betterment of society. That portraying women as confident and capable, rather than trivializing them in stereotypical roles and as sexual objects, will lead to stronger economies, families, and communities.
I wanted to Change Things NOW!!
Then the realities of this insurmountable goal set in. I decided to harness my skyrocketing emotions and make change where I could: in my home and community. I told everyone I knew about the film, including the school principal at my boys’ school who (also blown away!) purchased the educational curriculum from Miss Representation.
As parents to four-year-old twin boys, my husband and I recognize our responsibility to raise them to value girls as their equals, teach them to, for example, use the term “mail carrier” instead of “mailman”, and break free of limiting masculine norms in favour of emotional and self awareness. It’s not easy. The messaging they receive on gender roles is, at this young age, already overwhelming, despite the fact that their exposure to mass media is quite limited. At the age of four, their choices are already shrinking … for a boy can’t like the colour pink, can he?
Teaching our children to think critically and question the bombardment of harmful media messages on gender roles is, along with my work at Catalyst, how I hope to make a difference. Next month I will be introducing Miss Representation to the teachers at my sons’ elementary school, encouraging and supporting them to build awareness and educate the young minds of today for the future of tomorrow.
I am excited to be making a difference—perhaps not as grandiose as I originally thought, but nonetheless a solid foot forward.