Discrimination in Social Media
“The usage of media has improved exponentially in the past years when it comes to technology, yet the messages and ideas that are spread through it don’t seem to have improved in all this time. Societal constructions are the core of communication, which means that our development as human beings depends on the archetypes and stereotypes found in our society, they are undoubtedly what guide our life. Our daily basis consists of messages that carry information regarding gender expression, sexuality and whatnot; however, if most of these messages are fueled by archaic ideas of how men and women should act then the outcomes will erase a huge part of the population it is intended to.
Is it known that Latin American countries and in general, the Latino community, is vastly influenced by the images and concepts that the most influential countries propagate around the world, which is why most of the messages that the Latino community receives through media, follow patterns that directly or indirectly discriminate the majority of its population. Even more so, the main targets of these consequences tend to be Latin American women, who happen to be seen as the main attraction of South American countries for outsiders, due to their misrepresentation in both their national media and the international one.
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Historically, Latin American women have faced issues regarding xenophobia, racism and misogyny in all aspects of their lives, and this is something that prevails in their representation on the media. The characterization of Latinas is filled with marked stereotypes that misrepresent the community and its culture; hyper-sexualization represents one of the main issues that derive from sexism, acting as an obstacle in the portrayal of Latinas by exaggerating, or rather, creating an image that the average Latin American women does not fit in.
Hyper-sexualization is defined by Siobhan Brooks (2010) as “”the social construction of people of color, as possessing a more active sexuality than Whites””; this is exactly what outlines one of the main stereotypes that are used to categorize Latinas. They are seen as “”exotic”” beings with a high sexual drive and normative bodies that fit in the expectations of society (many of which, ironically, come from European prospects), instead of just women with different life experiences just like their peers.
Furthermore, Hyper-sexualization contributes to the idea that Latinas should be seen as an object of sexual consumption at all times, and as a consequence of this, the image of Latinas is used as commercial tool to elevate the rates of tourism in some south American countries. Many scholars have studied the links between the hyper-sexualization of Latinas and the experiences some of them have in the sex industry, arguing that in many of these cases, Latin American women of color face more difficulties than non-Latin American white women when it comes to income and dealing with clients, affirming that many of them consider dark skinned women to be more sexually intimidating than Caucasian women. (Brooks, 2010).
Certainly oversexualization, as well as colorism is present in the lives of Latinas since early age, and these factors seem to have influenced their lives and those of their peers; the Geena Davis Institute on Gender Media conducted a study about Gender Representation in Brazilian Film, and one of the findings suggests that 73% of the Brazilians studied agree that women in Brazilian films are hyper-sexualized.
Given the amount of time that people dedicate to watching films and TV, it is safe to affirm that these results prove Latin American people are largely exposed to social constructs that help create a toxic environment for women. By analyzing it from the point of view of socialization, it it’s notable that women are regularly exposed to certain conditions that dictate their way of life since an early age, which later leads to an assimilation of these aspects into their own life. Stereotypes are dangerous not only because they depict a twisted version of reality, but because their spreading manages to dictate the lives of those affected by it directly or indirectly, and Brazil’s oversexualized women – often seen as sex workers abroad – is the proof of that.
Regardless of hyper-sexualization being a major problem in the representation of Latinas in overall media, there are other issues that must be addressed. As mentioned before, the Latin American community deals with colorism-related issues, and this has created a wide range of things that may cause misrepresentation all over South American countries – including discrimination in job’s hiring processes as well as the messages sent.
In order to understand the wideness of the problem, a conceptualization of Colorism is needed. Colorism is a dimension or consequence of internalized racism, “”that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts”” (Hunter, 2007), which in many cases includes that those of the same racial or ethnic group might face discrimination from their counterparts if their skin tone is darker.
Just like racism, colorism “”consists of both overt and covert actions, outright acts of discrimination and subtle cues of disfavor”” (Hunter, 2007), and this is what happens today in many South American countries. In Mexican media for instance, the overall representation of the population is believed to be “”white-washed””, since most people are light-skinned; this phenomena affects women especially because, apart from the sexist stereotype of the sexy Latina, women need to have a certain kind of complexion in order to be taken into consideration in the media. It is important to analyze this noting that most of the Mexican population has indigenous attributes and dark complexions, so that we can understand that the general representation of the average Mexican woman, g
ets lost in the ways that these forms of oppression work.
Understanding Latin American societies – as well as their communities all over the world – is complex since many of these customs come from colonization, since that’s when all of these countries started adapting – or rather were forced to adapt – to certain European characteristics and practices; religion was one them, and it helped create these social constructs that mold our lives nowadays.
The most notorious example of this is the imposition of Roman Catholicism all over South America, which caused the spreading of the well-known dichotomies of Machismo and Marianismo all over Latin America – and the world –, and both of these concepts are, of course, a result of sexism being present in the power entities that have ruled the world since its very beginning. Machismo is a known concept and it simply describes the exaltation of manliness and masculine actions, whereas its counterpart, Marianismo, exposes the exaltation of feminine spirituality and the divinity of womanhood and childbirth.
Marianismo in particular, has broadened the idea that women are angels that must be protected at all costs solely because they can create life, but when women fail to comply with these expectations they are seen as sexual threats and taken as libertine beings that can’t fulfill their ultimate goals in society. For Latin American women, creating a family is still a huge expectation that creates an even bigger pressure on the one that’s ought to accomplish it; even in this century, the image of Latinas being mothers is one of the most recurrent messages that are seen in the media and its importance in our modern days is all because of Marianismo being the big phenomena that it is.
As shown above Latinas deal with a series of forms of oppression that intersect and created a wider problem that needs to be tackled. The misrepresentation of Latin American women should concern us because it means that we are not advancing as a society, instead, we are continuing to reproduce attitudes that create a wage between our life experiences and their values.
Hyper-sexualization, colorism and such, are problems that should be worked inside-out, since if society doesn’t change, neither do its customs and practices. Women, and especially those who experience intercepted forms of oppression as Latinas do, deserve to be correctly represented in their respective national Medias and the ones abroad, in order to create a more accurate recreation of the context they live in and to positively influence their lives, and the lives of those who are outsiders.”