June 8, 2010 / Media - Entertainment, Safety, Sexism

Does the Media Promote Violence Against Women?


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

By this point, the debate upon whether or not television, music, and movies has an impact upon society and personal beliefs is ridiculous. Television, music, and movies have been proven to contain a serious impact. And many organizations regardless of their stances on the spectrum over social issues acknowledge this impact.

domestic-violence-against-womenGLAAD has its media awards which aim to hold “the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.” The NAACP also has its media awards to honor positive portrayals of African-Americans.

So, it is quite logical for negative and degrading portrayals of women to have a serious and horrific impact upon how society views women. Positive and empowering portrayals of women can have a wonderful impact upon how society views women. Unfortunately, while women have managed to obtain some empowering depictions in the media, the degrading portrayals have become more prevalent.

In 2009, the Parents Television Council published a five-year study called “Women in Peril” that discussed depictions of violence against women in the media. The Council discovered that while overall depictions of violence has increased 2%, the number of depictions against women have increased 120% (and a 400% increase in the depiction of teenage girls as victims). This is when the audience actually sees the woman being beaten, shot, stabbed, raped, etc.

Why is it that when people complain about violence, sexualization, and sexual violence in the media, their complaints are often dismissed, and the dismissive retorts say that the media has little impact if any upon behavior? That is the response I have often received. Nonetheless, a New York Times article has indicated that something is changing about attitudes toward women.

In New York, the number of episodes classified as rape has declined significantly, down 35.7 percent from 2005 to 2009. Yet since 2005, the number of sex crimes classified as misdemeanors has risen by 6 percent.

At the same time, there has been a sharp increase in the rate at which complaints of forcible rape have been dismissed by the police as false or lacking enough evidence to take to court.

Harriet Lessel is the executive director of New York’s Alliance Against Sexual Assault. The lack of reporting has shocked and surprised her. “something different is going on here. In terms of not taking reports, I’d have to say that this seems like the highest number that I’ve ever heard.” I want to know if this problem is a nationwide epidemic. The study also reports that:

Countless millions of dollars are invested annually at the local, state, national and international levels to reduce violence against women and to lessen its impact on society; but today’s television programming may be undermining those efforts, as actress Nicole Kidman acknowledged recently. On October 21, 2009, Kidman testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that is considering legislation to address violence against women.

Unfortunately, I doubt the government or the FCC will accomplish much in reducing the level of violence against women in the media. The government has been discussing the matter since the 1990s. Conservatives refuse to take action, even though they find the subject matter repulsive. Liberals simply refuse to acknowledge a problem even exists.

Women must solve this problem, and we can find a solution to eliminating negative and degrading portrayals. We can increase the number of positive and empowering portrayals.

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  • Bes

    Yeah the standard “progressive” attitude that negative portrayals of gay men and Jews is very dangerous because it might cause hate crimes against them however negative portrayals of women, portrayals of violence against women and the sexualization of females of all ages by corporate media has no effect on real life crimes against women…. and to suggest it does must mean you are an evil communist who wants to kill the first amendment. Obviously this widely held view is hypocritical and it is also dangerous.

    But we all subsidize Media misogyny evey time we pay our cable bill. In a free media market you would be able to choose only the TV channels you want and pay for only those. In the toxic media sewer we live in we are forced to apy for a predetermined load of channels which include some dedicated to misogynist views and some “women’s content” Channels that are stunning in their offensiveness.

    Alas, there is only one form of communication which Corporate America (Media) can process and that is profits. So you speak to them by cutting your connection to cable or the satellite and watching only those programs which you enjoy via the internet which means you subsidize none of this other garbage. Another huge advantage is you save a good deal of time by not having to parentally control the unwanted sewage that is pumped into your home over your cable connection. If women did this you would see a change in society in months.

  • yttik

    Obviously negative portrayals of women and pornographic stereotypes are harmful to women or we wouldn’t have to “train” police officers to take complaints of sexual assault seriously.

    That has always been one of my pet peeves, the way we say judges, attorneys, cops, all just need more training so they can be made aware of the seriousness of sexual assault. No they don’t, what they need is deprogramming from all the media messages that have brainwashed them into believing that women are asking for it.

  • Bes

    Here is a link to an article on how to cut the cord to cable TV, which if enough women did it would send a message corporate media could process about degrading images of women.


    It seems to me you could get some women to cut the corporate media cord because they don’t like supporting the degradation of women. Some would do it to save money. Some might be attracted to a campaign where you cut the cable and mail the payment you would have made to a charity. At any rate starting a campaign to cut cable is the quickest way for women to have impact on media and culture.

  • Janis

    Getting rid of TV is a great step. It’s amazing how much more time one has in one’s life when that cultural sludge pump is not taking up space in one’s living room. Learn to knit. Study a language. Buy a piano and learn how to play it. Take up woodcarving. Something where you actually get up from the chair two hours later and something has been created that wasn’t there before, and it wasn’t just the dent your ass made in the cushion. Something whereby information has been added to your head and not actually, verifiably sucked out.

  • marille

    very true. since we got rid of our TV there is actually peace in the house. No begging about this show or that. arguing over how much time the TV was on. the increase of time for activities we like is a gift.

  • Ceecee

    Rapist need to have their dicks cut off. In fact, rapists ask for it. If they complain about having their dicks cut off, just tell them they’ve asked for it, because rapists by definition are asking for it.

  • Alison

    Excellent article, Karen! IMHO this is the single most important women’s issue we have to deal with in the West. The reason I am saying this is because I agree with your article. I think their is a correlation between Violence Against Women and violent media images and narratives of women. How can their not be?

    The fact that police are under reporting and minimizing sexual assault claims goes hand in hand with the way women are portrayed in the media, as you smartly demonstrate here.

    I was horrified when years ago Michael Moore gave the media a pass when analyzing violence in America in his movie Bowling for Columbine. What an imbecile! Of course their is a correlation and I am glad that finally there is solid research to support what we already know.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    I worked in labor law and the attorney had to give seminars at various offices training the men to understand what sexual harassment was — such as, NO, YOU CANNOT COME INTO THE OFFICE AND KISS YOUR SECRETARY ON THE LIPS!

    I couldn’t believe they needed to be taught this. I believe men are taught from the moment they are born to be aggressive, go after what you want and women happens to be one of those objects.

    One thing I’ve learned — men respect power. They understand the meaning of someone having power over them. Once women start to obtain more and more positions of power, I bet the men will suddenly have an epiphany and begin to respect women as they should. Maybe then, they’ll see how valuable we are and how much they NEED us, especially in view of the shape the world is in now under their exclusive rule.

  • Kiuku

    Personally I want a ban on gore in the media. I know there are already some, and there is freedom of expression, but some things should be made even more private than they already are, especially gruesome, nightmarish, and gory music videos. Let the artists express themselves, but it shouldn’t be readily available. I shouldn’t be able to see it on youtube.

  • Kiuku

    This ban should take effect regardless of whether or not it promotes violence. Laws can be laws of conscience and certain things are unconscionable fundamentally. People, artists, authors, including fashion and music should not be able to express to the general public hatred of a particular group and this should apply to women as a group, even if the author themselves belongs to that particular group and is expressing their own experiences. It shouldn’t be public. TV Shows can hint at things that happen without showing graphic detail, and hero worship and fighting should not be tolerated. It does have an impact on the minds of the people, and in particular young and impressionable minds. I think todays music contributes to a certain brooding and meloncholy affecting todays youth. Lady Gaga’s video depicts mangled and dead women. Beyonce’s video depicts genocide of female manequins and robots. I understand macabre and burlesque, but these things should not be seen as general or public. The videos are depicting a certain gore and I think it should be banned along with violence and fighting depicted as heroism.