Posted by: Alex | March 7, 2012

A Point of Agreement and a Project

I recently wrote a post on the controversy over gender roles and sexuality happening in evangelicalism.  Then two weeks ago I saw a very thought provoking documentary called MissRepresentation which took a critical look at the way that women are portrayed in American media (whether it be in advertising, movies/television, or even the way women leaders are discussed in the news), a theme brought even more into the limelight by Rush Limbaugh’s most recent set of controversial remarks and the fallout that has resulted from them.  The film brought to light a number of really remarkable and alarming statistics and I highly recommend everyone watch the documentary (for a preview, see the trailer below).

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Now, I bring this up because I think that this film highlights a point at which those of both a conservative and a more progressive persuasion can find some significant agreement.  While they may reach this conclusion for very different reasons, I think both sides of the issue can agree that the way women are objectified and sexualized in American media is wrong.  So, despite the numerous other disagreements that surround the issue of women’s role in society, I think that we should do something productive with the area of agreement that does exist.

One of the overwhelming conclusions of both the documentary and the discussion that followed the screening of it that I attended was that a significant part of the reason women are portrayed as they are in American media is due to the influence of the advertising industry on other forms of media.  We have long heard the mantra that “sex sells.”  What we don’t realize quite as often is that advertisers don’t just apply this mantra to the ads that they create, they also apply pressure on television and movie producers to include the same kind of content in their products.  The stream of revenue from advertisers to producers plays a major role in driving the portrayal of women in all forms of media.  But what if that stream of revenue suddenly stopped?  What if sex no longer sold products?  If the effectiveness of sexualized advertising suddenly dropped off, I think there is reason to believe the media portrayal of women would be drastically altered for the better.

I find that there are compelling theological reasons for wanting to affect a change like this.  To try and keep them in very neutral language, if both men and women bear the image of God then it would seem both should be portrayed and treated with dignity.  Further, if the gospel contains an element of the restoration of humanity to its intended position of reflecting the image and glory of God (trying to blend Drs. Wright and Piper, here), then it would seem that the church should play a role in moving society toward a state where all people are treated with such dignity as they deserve.  Aside from these theological considerations, I think that on a practical level the church has a powerful voice (witness the current political controversy over birth control) that could be exercised for remarkable societal change on an issue like this.  The MissRepresentation team is already spearheading a project like this, but imagine if churches got on board and began to urge their members to not buy products which were advertised with explicitly sexual imagery.  What kind of an impact might be had if large-scale boycotts of this kind were organized?  How much do you think the advertising industry would notice?

I suspect some sort of organized movement like this could have quite an impact.  I’m interested to hear what others might think of such an action, what other considerations might need to be part of the discussion surrounding it, and ideas about how to mobilize people to be involved in something like this.


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