The importance of representation in the media

Last week we discussed in class why there are so few women in IT jobs. The bottom of the problem is in my opinion social conditioning. Social conditioning is the concept that certain values and opinions are reinforced by society to the point where they become part of the cultural subconscious. This can lead to people repeating internalized opinions, such as “Maybe women simply aren’t interested in IT,” while thinking this is actually their opinion, not what society taught them to believe.

I believe one of the best ways of breaking through internalized sexism, racism and homophobia caused by social conditioning is positive representation in the media. An inherent problem of the media industry is their belief that their main audience is straight, white middleclass males. This leads to a lack of diversity in characters because producers and publishers focus on catering to only this target group since it is the perceived majority; keyword being perceived.

If there is for example a female character on the film poster, often these characters have little actual effect on the plot. They are merely there as decoration or to provide motivation for the white, straight leading man. Even films or books with female characters as protagonists often don’t pass the Bechdel test. To pass all they would have to do is show two female characters in a conversation that is not about men. You would be shocked to see how few of films, even those aimed at a female audience, can pass this test. Maybe you ask yourself why should they have to pass the Bechdel test? Because real women don’t spend every word talking about men and defining themselves through their relationships with their boyfriends, fathers or other men in their lives. Yet the media still perpetuates this troubling idea of female dependence on men.

Fortunately, a paradigm shift has already commenced. There is more diversity being introduced. For example Netflix’s original series Orange is the Black features women of different sexual orientations and ethnic origins as protagonists who are the agents of their own fate. One character, Sophia, is even transgender. Another example is Kamala Khan, the current incarnation of Miss Marvel. She is an American Muslim of Pakistani origin. Meanwhile the current Spiderman in the comics is Miles Morales, who has a Black Hispanic background. However all of these stories are still considered to be part of a niche market. While these characters are all remarkable, there is still a long way to go until any resemblance of equality can be reached.

So in my opinion the solution to so few women working in IT is giving them relatable role models in the media. Let there be female characters who define themselves by their tech saviness rather than who their boyfriend is. Let there be feminine computer hackers solving complex problems on their pink laptops. Let there be non-white and non-heterosexual women being successful professionals in the IT industry who are shown to be in control of their own lives.


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