Essay about Media Law
For years, women have been degraded, objectified, and misrepresented through advertisements, magazines, and other media messages. Women are portrayed as sexual objects, cliche stereotypes such as a “housewife”, and are altered by photo proliferation softwares to resemble the “Barbie doll” image. During a class discussion in my creative strategy class, my professor displayed an advertisement that angered me to my core.
The ad was for a men’s shoe company called RedTape and the image displayed four women posing sexually inside a vending machine, made to resemble different types of soda. A man leans up against the machine and ponders which woman he is going to choose for purchase. The advertisement has absolutely nothing to do with the product being sold. The positioning of the man depicts his superiority in contrast to the women, making it evident these girls are being dehumanized.
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Other companies such as Budweiser, who in the past have used half-naked women in advertisements to sell their products. These types of advertisements render the message that in order for a girl to be beautiful, you must look think and sexy. This standard leads to women becoming dissatisfied with their own bodies if they can’t conform the idea of beauty illustrated by the media.
Men and young boys are also given a false perception and expectation as to what women should look like. This paper will examine the effects harmful advertising has on women, advertising, privacy and libel laws, examples of women taking legal action in court, and lastly, a glimpse into those individuals and companies striving to make change for women in media.
In advertising, movies, and magazines, women’s faces and bodies are open for judgement, scrutiny, dissection, comment, and repair. Women are more likely to be seen posing half-naked in advertisements, but men are rarely photographed in such a promiscuous way.
An example of this comes from when New York City police confiscated anti-AIDS posters which advocated for men to use protection by using condoms, yet scandalous ads for Penthouse were left on display. Even though these particular women who consent to be photographed in promiscuous advertisements or magazines, once the content is published for the world to see, their bodies are no longer their own.
According to a Business Insider article, one out of every six women in the United States has been a victim of sexual assault. Specifically in advertising, 23 percent of women admitted to having personally experienced or witnessed sexual assault or harassment. A woman named Erin Johnson filed a lawsuit against her boss, Gustavo Martinez, the chief executive of J.Walter Thompson, of exposing employees to “an unending stream of sexist comments as well as unwanted touching and other unlawful conduct” (Rolling Stone).
She also asserted that Martinez had made several concerning comments about rape and that he had physically grabbed her by the throat and back of her neck. Progress has been too slow to rid the correlation between media and sexual assault/harassment in the world of advertising. Advertisements make light of and glorify sexual violence by defending them as “edgy” fantasy scenarios. For example, an ad for Dolce & Gabbana pictures four men surrounding a woman being forcefully pinned to the ground. The company removed the ad after receiving complaints that the picture suggests and glamorizes gang rape.
An advertisement for Duncan Quinn, a suit shop for men, has one especially disturbing ad featuring a woman laying on the hood of a car in lingerie while a man in a suit stands above her, holding a tie knotted into a noose around her neck. Objectification of women in media can lead to most harmful effects and women have argued that their negative portrayal in advertisements has let to their mistreatment.
An example of this, female employees of Stroh’s Brewery Co. sued the company because their sexist advertisements foster sexual harassment in the workplace. Stroh’s campaign for Old Milwaukee beer illustrates women as bimbos, causing male employees to view women only as sex objects. Several women employees claim that their male colleagues and supervisors have physically and verbally harassed them since the mid 1980s.
One female employee tells of how her supervisor forcefully pulled off her shirt and fondled her. Other women described their place of work as an environment where sexist and pornographic posters were on display– communicating why “beer is better than women” (Chicago Tribune). Stroh’s attorney proclaim that the company ads have no correlation to the sexual harassment instances, but the women’s attorney Lori Peterson strongly disagrees.
Peterson states, “ What amazes me is that a lone voice in the workplace spewing out sexism is considered illegal under law, but if the company multiples that by $19 million in advertising, that’s considered a legal right. We’re not saying the ads themselves are the only cause of this behavior in the workplace. We’re saying all they have to do is be part of the package” (Chicago Tribune). Jean Keopple, one of the plaintiff’s adds by explaining her day-to-day experience walking into her place of work.
Describing how she walks into the lobby and immediately sees Stroh’s ads featuring half-naked women and how “[male coworkers are] getting the feedback from the top (of the company) down that women are bimbos and that’s OK, that’s why I’m getting treated the way I’m getting treated” (Advertising, Women, Censorship).
Women being harassed in the workplace by men only fuels and actualizes the fantasies in mass advertising that women are sex objects, leading to harm of women’s self-esteem and actual physical attacks. Advertising and other forms of media harm women by limiting the scope of a women’s actual potential. Women are misrepresented across all categories, only focusing on a woman’s physical characteristics rather than displaying a woman as a powerful politician, athlete, or corporate leader.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media conducted a study showing that “men are 62% more likely to be portrayed as intelligent” in advertisements. Their research also stated that “women are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen.” Advertising causes men and women to compare real, genuine women against the airbrushed “Barbie doll” image.
Women in Hollywood especially face much defamation about their appearance and reputation. Their bodies and faces are exposed in movies, commercials, and magazines all for the world to see, and are left for the public to pick apart each of their “flaws”. Public figures automatically give up their right to privacy due to their social status, which allows newspapers or magazine publications to distort photos, and most often, the truth about celebrities. If a reckless disregard for the truth is to be found in published articles, the celebrity will often take legal action to defend and protect their reputation.
According to Cornell Law School’s website, libel is a method of “defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication” that is “injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.” Proof of reckless disregard for the truth is needed to win libel cases for public figures. This was decided when The Supreme Court pronounced in 1967 during the Curtis Publishing Co. vs Butts case that in addition to public officials, public figures must prove that actual malice existed in the libelous claim against them.
The Curtis Publishing Co vs Butts case concerned an article published in a 1963 edition of The Saturday Evening Post alleging that the former football coach for the University of Georgia, Wallace Butts, plotted with the University of Alabama’s to fix a 1962 football came in favor of Alabama. The jury was in Walker’s favor but the court judge refused to award punitive damages since there was no proof of malicious intent.
Hollywood actress Kate Winslet took to court when British newspaper tabloid, Daily Mail, published a false claim that she had publicly lied about her exercise regime. The Mail’s headline also read, “Should Kate Winslet Win an Oscar for the world’s most irritating actress?”. Additionally, two months prior to the article the Mail requested a professional airbrusher to examine half-nude photos of what they said was a “barely recognizable” Kate Winslet in Vanity Fair. It was to be determined if her face and figure were digitally morphed.
The newspaper concluded that the photos were in fact manipulated and went on to crudely state, “Apparently, Winslet is allowed to appear in public only after delivering photographic evidence that she’s done 500 crunches that very morning.” Winslet stated in an article published by The Guardian that she was “particularly upset to be accused of lying about [her] exercise regime” and that she “had a responsibility to request an apology” in order to prove her commitment and dedication to her body through healthy diet and exercise. She continues to state that she strongly believes women “should be encouraged to accept themselves as they are”. Winslet won $40,000 from the Daily Mail and the magazine issued a direct apology.
Aside from being scrutinized, objectified, and sexualized, there are cases where women are portrayed in false lights through fabricated media messages with the intent to harm their reputation. False light is one of four “privacy torts” categories, others being intrusion, publication of private facts, and misappropriation. This tort overlaps with defamation and the key difference between the two is that under false light, the plaintiff may receive damages for the emotional injury he or she suffered by the publication of false statements.
Public figures or people involved in newsworthy events are most likely to receive this type of mistreatment. Wife of Black Sabbath frontman, Ozzy Osbourne’s wife, Sharon Osbourne was the plaintiff in a libel suit against the British tabloid The Sun. The magazine published an article in October of 2007 claiming she was, quote, “driving her frail husband Ozzy Osbourne to destruction” and making him work “so hard she will kill him.” The defamatory statement painted Osbourne as a insensitive, callous individual who is overworking her husband to his breaking point. Osbourne’s lawyer argued in the case that the story published was “extremely distressing, hurtful and damaging” to Sharon’s image and reputation. The attorney for The Sun admitted that the article was in fact portrayed in a false light and should have never gone to print. The magazine paid Osbourne’s court costs and issued a public apology.
There is still much progress to be made for women in media. A study by the ANA #SeeHer movement shows that more than 40,000 ads and media messages still negatively or inaccurately depict women through “some form of objectification, stereotyping, or diminished character.” Instead of highlighting and celebrating all the amazing accomplishments and characteristics of women, their flaws and failures are the ones that made headlines. This lack of representation and constant scrutiny has inspired companies and leaders to construct change through action.
Change is being made thanks to brands such Dove, Bumble, and Aerie, and many others, who showcase women as intelligent, confident, and strong individuals. For example, Dove and Aerie, who claim to be “photoshop free” as they have moved on from perfecting their images to celebrate real and diverse women. In 2004, Dove launched successful campaign for “Real Beauty” which showcases women of all shapes, races, and sizes posing confidently in their underwear.
The reason for this advertisement was to redefine typical beauty standards, urging women to embrace and love their features that make them unique. The message being conveyed is that a woman doesn’t have to be thin, sexy, or have flawless skin to be considered beautiful. Dove wants to celebrate each woman’s true self because that is what real beauty is all about. Beer brands like Budweiser are now steering in a different direction and no longer need semi-naked models to help them sell products. The world saw this during their 2015 Super Bowl ad that tells the story of the ever-so-cute friendship between a stable horse and golden retriever puppy.
Another brand paving the way women should be perceived in advertisements is the popular social app, Bumble. Bumble was founded by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd after she netted $1 million from filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, Tinder. Wolfe alleged that Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen sexually harassed her for most of her employment at Tinder.
She was called a slut, a liar, and claims that Mateen became “verbally controlling and abusive” after their break up in 2013. Her co-founder title of Tinder was also stripped away from her because Mateen allegedly told Wolfe that being a co-founder for a hookup app would be considered “slutty”. Wolfe wanted to create an app where women can feel safe and feel empowered to make the first move in the world of dating.
Thus, Bumble was born. Bumble recently launched their first ever woman empowerment Super Bowl ad for their campaign,“The Ball Is In Her Court”, featuring tennis star Serena Williams. The 60 second commercial starring Williams gives viewers a glimpse into her beginning years of seizing opportunities all leading up to becoming the sports legend she is today. Williams encourages women everywhere to make the first move, find their voice, and use their power. The commercial ends with a powerful statement, reciting, “Don’t wait to be given power, because here’s what they won’t tell you: We already have it.”
To recap, this paper has discussed the issue of advertising and its detrimental effects on women, a glimpse into libel and defamation, examples of court cases filed by women, and a positive look into the change being made in the media industry. For future progress, putting an end to the misrepresentation of women in media could be solved by regulating harmful advertisements and other content. This could put a stop to the objectification of women, defamation, and sexual violence/harassment/assault.
Obviously, regulating harmful ads with not suddenly mend all of the problems discussed, the problem will always linger until fundamental mindsets change. We must strive for the continuation of producing and implementing positive ads and messages into our everyday media outlets. As mentioned before it is companies like Bumble, Nike, Dove, and Aerie are paving the way for change in media by creating positive ads that celebrate not only women, but men in a positive manner. The hope is that their impact will cause a chain reaction, and soon enough, the world will no longer be exposed to such toxic negativity. The female empowered messages produced by these brands are shaping the way that women are not only perceived, but the way that women perceive themselves.