Diwa Mitchell

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The Negative Portrayal of Women in the Media: A Persuasive Speech


The Portrayal of Women in the Media Speech

In this day and age, movies, music, advertisements, and video games that perpetuate
negative female stereotypes, images of what women are “supposed” to look like, and
images that are degrading and demeaning to women have become all but commonplace.
I’m sure each of you has witnessed an example of this at some point—a scantily clad
woman in a music video or on the cover of a magazine, for example. I have spent several
hours doing extensive research on the subject, and, like many, if not all, of you, have been
exposed to these messages all my life. Through my research and personal experience, I
have reached a thesis: that the media portrays women negatively and unfairly. My objective
is to convince you that women are portrayed negatively and unfairly in the media. Today, I
will be discussing 3 main points concerning my thesis. These points are as follows: Beauty
and Body Image; Sexual Objectification; and Media Coverage of Professional Women.

The media sells an image of what they deem to be the “ideal” woman—young, tall
and thin with “perfect” proportions, hair, skin, and teeth. Everywhere we turn we are
bombarded with magazine covers, billboards, movie posters, and the like, in which the
images of the models are manipulated, in some cases, beyond recognition. The media
knows this image is unattainable; we know it is unattainable. So why are these standards
of beauty still being imposed upon women, the majority of which are naturally larger and
older than models?

The reason is almost certainly economic, say analysts. Making women feel
inadequate weightwise and agewise increases their likelihood of purchasing weight loss
and beauty products and clothes. The proof’s in the (low-fat) pudding; the statistics are
harrowing. Americans spend between 40 to 100 billion dollars a year on diet products
alone. An estimated 90-95% of dieters regain the weight they lose, often leading to self-
hatred and perpetuating a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. 90% of women are unhappy with
at least one aspect of their physical appearance. Two decades ago, the average model
weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, the average model weighs 23% less.
99% of girls aged 3-10 years old possess at least one Barbie doll. Scientists generated a
computerised model of a woman with Barbie’s proportions, and concluded that a woman
with that body type would have a back that was too weak to support her upper body. Her
torso would be too narrow to contain all vital organs, and she would suffer from chronic
diarrhea and eventually die of emaciation. How glamorous, right?

“The existing narrow definition of beauty is not only unrealistic and unattainable,
but clearly it also creates hang-ups that can lead girls to question their own beauty. It’s
time to free the next generation from these stereotypes and give girls the tools they need to

discover their own definition of beauty.”—Philippe Harousseau.

The following is an anecdote from a Yahoo!Answers user: “Sometimes I’ll be walking
down the street, not even showing much skin…and there will …be some man that drives
by and hollers at me, or honks his horn, or there was even this one guy that clawed at his
window and winked at me. It makes me so angry when this happens to me. It’s different
when it’s a guy friend and he’s teasing you or joking around, but when it’s some douchebag
I don’t even know it ruins my day and makes me hate all men until I get over it. This type
of thing has also happened with guys that I’ve just walked past or were walking near me,
and I’ve just ignored them. Guys that do that remind me of cavemen, and yes, it feels really
[expletive] to be objectified.”

This brings me to my next point: sexual objectification. Women are pressured not
only look beautiful, but also to be “sexy.” The pressure placed on women to be sexually
attractive (and sexually active) is acute—25% of televised commercials send out a message
that tells viewers what is and what is not attractive. The sexual objectification of women
in the media is prevalent. An example of this can be seen in advertising, where women are
often portrayed as infantile, child-like, and vulnerable—characteristics that correlate with
those associated with victims of violence. Another example of this can be seen in video
games—38% of female characters in video games are provocatively dressed; of these, 23%
bare breasts or cleavage, 31% bare their thighs, another 31% bare their midriffs, and 15%
bare their behinds. As Judith Posner put it, “Objectification is the object-like character of
an image that connotes passivity, vulnerability, property, and, in its most extreme form,

So why are women objectified and degraded in these ways? To put it succinctly, sex
sells. Provocative images of partially clothed or naked women grab the viewer’s attention.
Women become sexual objects when their bodies and sexuality are linked to products.
Advertisements that display sections of women’s bodies—thighs, breasts, legs, etc.—as
opposed to the bodies in their entirety reinforce the erroneous notion that women are
objects rather than human beings.

As though the unattainable standards of beauty and sexual objectification weren’t
enough, the portrayal of female professionals in the media, despite having improved
steadily over the last 20 years, continues to be, for the most part, negative. Female
professionals and athletes are under-represented in the media, and are often portrayed
stereotypically when they are. The reason for this is what one Internet user calls
a “historical hangover”—in the past, women were discouraged from entering many career
fields, and discriminated against for being “weaker” than men, and this foul prejudice has

unfortunately carried over into the present.

“The dogma of woman’s complete historical subjection to men must be rated as one
of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind.”— Mary Ritter Beard.

Female politicians are often stereotyped as conniving and shrewd. For
example, when Hillary Clinton was first lady, she was referred to as a “witch”
or “witchlike” by the media at least 50 times. “Male political figures may be
called mean and nasty names, but those words don’t usually reflect superstition
and dread. Did the press ever call Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, or Clinton
warlocks?” observes Professor Caryl Rivers. Similarly, when it comes to sports, men
are more likely to be called “”big,” “strong,” “brilliant,” “gutsy” and “aggressive”
by commentators and press, whereas women are more often referred to
as “weary,” “fatigued,” “frustrated,” “panicked,” “vulnerable” and “choking.”

The Association of Women Journalists (AFJ) conducted a study of news coverage
of women in 70 countries. The study reported that 18% of stories quote women, and
that women-related stories accounted for only 10% of total news coverage. Only 9% of
guests on Sunday morning news shows are women. Even then, they only speak 10% of
the time, leaving the remaining 90% of the time to male guests. On sports channels, a
meager 9% of airtime is devoted to female sports, compared to 88% for men. 97% of sports
commentators are men.

Very recently, Richard Keys and Andrew Gray, two male soccer commentators,
found themselves in hot water after their sexist diatribe against female linesman Sian
Massey and Apprentice star Karren Brady was caught on tape (the pair had incorrectly
believed that the microphones were off). What I have here is a transcript of a part of their

Keys: Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.

Gray: Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.

And, later on in the conversation:

Keys: The game’s gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining
about sexism? Do me a favor, love.

The scandal triggered uproar from female bloggers and forum users. The
metaphorical icing on the cake is the fact that Sian Massey’s offside call was actually correct
and the commentators were wrong. It was a good call and she had a very good game–

which is a whole lot more than I can say for some of her male colleagues, but you don’t hear
people questioning the abilities of their gender when they make unclear calls.

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that women are portrayed negatively and
unrealistically in the media. Granted, the portrayal of women in the media has improved
over the last 20 or so years, but we still have a ways to go before: the standards of what
is “beautiful” are healthy, attainable and realistic; before women are no longer objectified;
and before female professionals are portrayed fairly. I encourage all of you to resist being
swayed by preposterous stereotypes and unachievable “ideals,” and to remember that in
doing so you are not being prudish, but are addressing a real problem and issue that has
very real ramifications on the lives and esteem of women. Thank you.

19 Comments to

“The Negative Portrayal of Women in the Media: A Persuasive Speech”

  1. April 21st, 2011 at 12:02 PM       dlam2015 Says:

    Hey, is this the speech that you did? That’s not fair. Hehe just kidding(that’s still not fair). Cool.

  2. April 22nd, 2011 at 10:54 AM       dmitchell2015 Says:


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