Violence Against Women in Mass Media

Images of women in mass media have been under scrutiny in recent
decades. At one end of the continuum is print advertisement, brief, often
single-paged combinations of text and imagery to sell a product. At the
other end is pornography, sexually explicit imagery created to arouse in
print, television, film, and the Internet. Where does power fit in between
these? Women in both these forms of mass media are repeatedly
depicted in submissive, silenced, and even victimized roles.
is a much more benign means of conveying power over women than
pornography. However, the average American is exposed too much
more gendered advertising than pornography in any given day.
In both,
women are not often autonomous beings but passive and objectified.

The power of imagery is well known. As visual imagery is nonverbal, its
messages are often multilayered and contradictory (Kang 1997). As a
socializing agent, the visual imagery provided by the media can have a
powerful impact on our attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors, since it
can contribute meanings and associations entirely apart and of much
greater significance (ibid). Advertisements are everywhere, from
television, in print, on billboards, and so on. Yet decoding each one we
see is near impossible due to the number of ads we encounter every

Feminists have been concerned with the media’s representation of
women for some time, particularly the use of their bodies. Many images
that depict women in sexual positions or just displaying a portion of the
female body may aid in objectifying it. The woman is often the object of a
male’s gaze, and thus assuming heterosexuality (Duggan and Hunter
51). Moreover, she is an object for the viewer’s imagination. This is one
of the ways that power differences are created. There is a clear
distinction in this equation between who has control and who is
receiving it.

Turning someone into an object not only dehumanizes, but it can lead to
justifying violence (communicating gender). It is much easier on most
people’s conscience to hit a punching bag than a person. Images of
women as objects and as the recipients of aggressive behavior do
cause a desensitization of violence (Barker 38). Despite this, very little
violent crime is a deliberate replica of one in the media, not a particular
image. Much of crimes against women mirror many of the messages that
are sent in the media. Oftentimes, these images in advertisements are
glamorizing the gender power relations discussed earlier.

Figure 1 is an advertisement from Sisley retrieved from [http://www.about-] Sisley’s advertisements are marketed toward young white,
middle to upper class females reading fashion magazines. The first
thing the viewer notices is the model’s face, bearing a fearful and
frustrated expression. It is well lit in the foreground turning around, with
barely a glimpse of the man behind her. Her hair is in her face as if she
had quickly turned around to see him. The position of her body is clearly
submissive, her hands held behind her back as she lies on the couch.
Her elbow is obstructing the view of the man’s face, thus giving the view
the impression that the man’s intentions are unknown- we cannot see
the expression on his face. While it is not clear what exactly is
happening in this scene, a sense of uneasiness arises.

A power
struggle is used here to sell a name, a name that sells clothing, which is
barely visible here. This hierarchy may help facilitate the perception of
women as targets for violence and aggression. This advertisement
reinforces the stereotype that women can be used as objects not just for
their bodies, but also for their willingness to use those bodies in
demeaning and sometimes humiliating imagery. The look on her face,
the position of her body, and the faceless perpetrator in this
advertisement almost encapsulates the entire notion of the
powerlessness of women as objects.

Katz writes, “the reduction of women to body parts for men’s
consumption can significantly damage a woman’s self-respect” (qt in
Muarianne et al 250). He goes on further than men are not born to
objectify women, but it is a learned behavior, primarily from images of
passive women. Perhaps this lack of self-respect exacerbates the
acceptance of such material. There is no more rampant use of
aggressive imagery than in the pornography industry. Barron et al
examined sexual violence in print media, videos, and the Internet, and
found that the Internet contained a significant portion of graphic and
antagonistic imagery. However, as the violence became more intense,
fewer scenes contained it (259).

Much of the heterosexual pornography in circulation draws on the
conventions of the woman as the object of the male gaze (Duggan 54).
Duggan and Hunter’s book, Sex Wars, critically examines pornography
from both sides of the argument that addresses the nature of the
medium. It must be noted that my interest here lies in violent
pornography and its effects exclusively. The images of women in this
form of mass media are a more intense mutation of the print
advertisements discussed above. “Sexually explicit” often becomes
identified and equated with “violent”. Critically examining pornography
must be done with as much analysis as that of socially acceptable forms
of imagery. Those that contain nudity, nonviolent and non-degrading
material are another discussion.

Although most of pornography is directed towards men, it cannot be
assumed that this is due to greater intrinsic male interest in sex. More
than likely, it is due to the industry’s extreme slant towards the traditional
male perspective. The Internet is the most often used way of accessing
porn, with 12% of all its websites devoted to it
( The effect of this form of the media is
ambiguous. Donnerstein found in one study in the “Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology” that erotic materials facilitate
aggression while he found in another study that it inhibits it (qt in Bryant
et al 289). The resolution of this issue apparently concerns the nature of
the material. Sexual violence and unpleasant themes typically facilitate
aggression, whereas, nonviolent, more loving and pleasant “soft-core”
explicit materials may hinder it (ibid). Thus, the topic of censorship is a
hotly debated one with limited research on its effects.

Themes of female subordination, bondage, sado-masochism, and rape
became increasingly prevalent in porn since the 1980’s (Sapolsky). The
rape myth scenario has become rampant. It typically presents the female
in distress but later shows her being aroused. Sapolsky also quotes
research showing that men, who are exposed to pornography
containing rape in which a female victim eventually expresses positive
reactions to the rape, are more likely to accept rape myths (e.g., women
secretly desire to be raped), be sexually aroused to rape, self-report the
possibility of committing rape, see the victim as responsible, and show
less sensitivity to rape (ibid).

Although sado- masochism, bondage, and
rape fantasies are valid and typically innocuous means of sexual
arousal in practice, in print, video, and the Internet, it dehumanizes the
submissive member of the sexual act.

This type of violent pornography is a clear example of power issues in
mass media. Rape is a crime of control and domination. Sexualizing it
with the intent of arousal sometimes encourage the viewer to accept this
type of violence as acceptable. Women in this kind of pornographic
material are dehumanized on a much deeper level than those in
advertisements. As the author of aptly
writes, “You cannot simultaneously objectify and dignify women”.
Does imagery of objectified women in mass media directly cause
violence toward women? The answer is an overall no.

Rape and
violence existed long before the media. The First Amendment is the
most often cited reason to not censor such media. Much of the research
of violent imagery in the media shows only a small link between actual
violence and the media. Visual literacy is ultimately what will change the
notions of women as passive objects.

Hollywood – Weapon of Mass Attraction or Weapon of Mass Destruction for the US?

Introduction: The full name of the book is “American Idol after Iraq” which is published by Blackwell – Wiley in 2009. The author of the book Nathan Gardels has been the editor of New Perspectives Quarterly since it began publishing in 1985. He has written widely for the daily papers and journals since mid 1980s and he has been a Media Leader of the World Economic Forum (Davos) as well. Apart, he has given speeches in Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (IESCO). Gardels holds degree on Theory and Comparative Politics from UCLA. His co-author Mike Medavoy has had a very active role in making large number of Hollywood movies. Throughout his career in Hollywood, he has been active in politics as well. In 1992 and 1996 he advocated Bill Clinton and in 2008 he was in favor of Barack H. Obama. He was born in Shanghai, of Russian-Jewish parents; he graduated with honor in History from UCLA.


In this must-read book the authors explain and mainly discuss the public diplomacy and Hollywood role in shaping it, mainly in the new era after 9/11 terrorist attacks. The foreword is by Joe Nye, Harvard Professor which is mostly well-known with his notion of “soft power”. Once again, Nye asserts the importance of the soft power- Weapon of Mass Attraction- and recalls that not missiles and bomb but the American soft power was the key in collapse of Berlin Wall and consequently Soviet Union, the Evil Empire as Reagan called it. Nye believes that in wake of the new century American soft power is not as powerful as the past decades. It is because of the mistreatment of the prisoners in Gitmo and Abu Ghoraib prison by American troops. The world does not believe and trust America as before. Professor Nye puts forward that in the Information age success is not merely the result of whose army (hard power) wins but also whose story (soft power) wins. He recalls the US challenge and problem with Islamists hardliners and extremists in which hard power is needed to defeat them but WMA is needed to win the hearts and minds of the moderate Muslim which are the majority in the Muslim world. He accentuates the fact that democracy and human right could much more easily achieved with soft power with a long lasting effect. Obviously, the most important tool as soft power for America are its giant media-industrial complex and Hollywood which broadly discussed by the authors in their script.

Hollywood, as the authors put forward has been the largest machine of dream making and storytelling in human history. Unlike most countries in the world America’s image is based not only on who they are and what they do, but on how the Americans present themselves to the world through their global window. The most attractive and glamorous production of this machine has been the image of America as the promise land of infinite possibility and opportunity where individual liberty is in hand and the society is always on the move. In its 100 years it has opened a new window toward the world in which America has been seen through it and Americans has seen the world through it, as well. Some believe it has been truly and largely successful in telling and selling the American (version of) stories in past 100 years. “The dreams of America – individual freedom, middle class, prosperity, social mobility, the rule of law- which were made the dreams of the world, too, were pictured by Hollywood.”

Other than that it has been used as a tool by the American Government fighting against “freedom” enemies, Fascism, Communism. Even the author argues that during the tensest day and peak of the Cold War, it was J.F.K who ordered the managers in the Hollywood that the Ian Fleming 007 espionage novels ought to be made into motion pictures. Other than that he mentions that to fight against Fascism and Nazism in the twentieth century Hollywood made the fist celebrity known globally, Charlie Chaplin who diminished and underestimated the power of Hitler in The Great Dictator. It followed the Wilsonian ideal in America’s role in bringing democracy and self determination to the other parts of the world. These are samples which shows that Hollywood in its lifetime has used and been used as a tool and actor for America’s political purposes. By creating roles known globally, like Rambo and James Bond, Hollywood has beaten its enemies, world foes and made it believable that the US is the ultimate savior of the world. Its values are absolute and universal and needed to save human and humanity. Accordingly, Washington eagerly sought to employ Hollywood’s influence and soft power at home to make people in favor of his own foreign policy objectives.

But it could not be generally accepted that America’s secret weapon, Hollywood, the biggest soft power tool is playing a positive role all the time. Not only foreigners criticize Hollywood to spreading violence, porn culture through its images in the world but within the US there are who reprimand and knock the film industry as well. To a great extent Fukuyama asserts that “It is perceived as the purveyor of the kind of secular, materialistic, permissive culture that is not very popular in many parts of the world, especially the Muslim world.” It is living without any responsibility which is creating the greatest tragedy of our time. It is emptied of a spiritual dimension. Many believe that Hollywood is not doing a great job in elevating spirituality and morality of America in the world to win the hearts and minds of the people, but conversely Hollywood is sowing the seeds of loathing and hatred in the world generally and in the Muslim world particularly. Some, like Bill Bennett, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education openly and famously charged that Hollywood is undermining the America’s mainstream values. This is much clearer when we take a look at the PEW foundation Poll in April 2005, which nearly 61% of Americans are concerned what their children see or hear on TV. Accordingly, “Soft power does not necessarily increase the world’s love for America. Soft power is still power and still makes enemies”. If there is a resistance to military presence and occupation, surely there would be an opposition and resentment to cultural invasion and occupation. For example even in Turkey which is America’s NATO Ally, the most popular novel in 2004 which was sold more than 800000 copies envisioned a war between Turkey and the US in which finally Turkey wins. Even American brand of secularism which is pictured in movies has been the source of concern among the religious leaders in the West. Pope Benedict XVI carried forward the worry that aggressive secularism reflected in the media was eroding the religious Foundations of America. He told American bishops that “America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem. It allows for professing belief in God and respects the public role of religion, but at the same time can subtly reduce religious belief to the lowest common denominator. The result is a growing separation of faith from life.”

Although the Noble poet Octavio Paz called America “the Republic of Future” which always eyes on future and new horizon in which Hollywood has been successful to create. But now due to democratization of digital media all around the world the future is not a Gospel for American soft power and its culture. For instance, although American soap operas largely viewed and seen from Malaysia to Canada, but in South Korea, for example 92% of TV and video games are domestically produced and are telling and selling their own stories.

In the age of globalization, we may be witnessing the end of “the end of the history”-which Francis Fukuyama stated after the end of the Cold War. Process and era of globalization, accelerated the modernity and post modernity and diversification around the world. The Singaporean diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, makes this critical point in his book, “The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible shift of Global Power to the East” asserted that the great paradox about the failed Western attempts to export democracy to other societies is that in the broadest sense of the term, the West has actually succeeded in democratizing the world. One key goal of democracy is to empower its citizens to make them believe they are masters of their own destiny. The number of people of in the world who believe this has never been higher. Even in the undemocratic society of China, citizens have seized the opportunities provided by the economic freedom they enjoy to completely change their lives…. In the global term there has been a huge democratization of human spirit.” Due to the point that some assert that in a democracy the voting booth and the box office share the same public. So, Hollywood has largely been considered to be the United States of America muscle in public diplomacy to win the hearts and minds of public as well as elites around the world. The trend of globalization and democratization of the media and the increasingly power sharing in many centers – the rise of the rest -as Fareed Zakaria calls it, results in an atmosphere in which Hollywood is not the expected and absolute winner. Apart, by the development of the communication technology mainly Internet and the emergence of Netizen (Network citizen) now everyone is their own story teller and filmmaker which is growing largely in numbers. It leads all people to move to the same neighborhood, more and more people want to see and hear their own stories on the screen, to see that their own ideas and cultures has been projected and reflected on the screen and then to enjoy the latest offerings.


The authors assert that as Harry Warner, one of the founders of Hollywood believed “the movies should educate as well as entertain people”. The author puts forward due to the change in challenges that the world and America are facing, the media and Hollywood strategy should be changed to meet the problems of the new era. Some recommendations are given on close cooperation of public diplomacy and mass culture. Some of them include the matter of sensibility which should be considered in media and Hollywood to promote the empathetic understanding of other civilizations and ways of life. It is insane to try to impose the American way of life and the liberal model of “good life” to the world. “To Be able to put oneself in another’s shoes without prejudgment is an essential skill” as a Chinese cellist asserts. Among the recommendations is the breaking the American public narrow mindedness by promoting more cultural cooperation with other cultures, promotion of the exposure of the worthy American cultural products, elevating the level of exchange in students and journalists and cultural figures as well and creating a joint committee by Washington and Hollywood on cultural relations. They believe it may work to restore the American dream and stance in the new era again.