Good News: Three Strategies That Are Changing Attitudes toward Women

There is good news on the horizon about gender stereotypes in the media. I wrote in my book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together about the power media images have to reinforce negative stereotypes of women as sex objects. These images communicate that the only thing that matters about women and girls is their appearance. There are still too many images of women as sex objects in advertising, but Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports on an exciting new study from Getty Images, a major supplier of stock photos that appear in ads, on billboards, and in blogs. Stock photos are important, Miller explains, because they “reflect the culture at a moment in time.” Miller reports that Getty Images found that over the past decade, from 2007 to 2017, the most sold images for the search term “women” have evolved from photos of naked, or nearly naked, models to photos of women demonstrating physical or professional prowess where their appearance isn’t the point. According to Miller, Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, explains that the top selling image in 2017 for the search term “woman” was of a woman hiking a rocky trail in Banff National Park, alone, on the edge of a cliff. Grossman notes that this is an image about power, freedom, and trusting yourself. The woman in this image is wearing a down jacket and a wool cap, and her face isn’t visible. The message of this image is what’s important is not what you look like but what you are doing. This is an empowering message for women and girls. We should also note that the most downloaded images, though, are of young Caucasian women. “You cannot be what you cannot see” is the unofficial tagline of the collection of stock photos called the Lean In collection at Getty Images. Miller explains that a large collection of fourteen thousand stock photos was developed in 2014 by Getty Images in collaboration with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In nonprofit organization. Their goal was “to seed media with more modern, diverse and empowering images of women.” Miller notes that of the fifteen most downloaded images in the Lean In collection,

  • four are of fathers playing with children
  • four are of girls and women involved in science and engineering
  • four are of women in business or school settings
  • three are of women athletes
Having these more diverse images available to the public has helped shift cultural attitudes about gender in the media. In addition, social media pressure on large corporations to include empowering messages about women in their advertising, rather than showing women as sex objects to sell products, is starting to have an impact. My heart soars every time I see the General Electric (GE) ads on television showing women and girls being celebrated as scientists and engineers. Government regulations can help, too. Miller explains that in 2017, “Britain’s advertising regulator announced rules banning ads that promote gender stereotypes, sexually objectify women or promote unhealthy body images.” We could do this in the United States, too. We can all positively change attitudes about women. Here are some easy strategies:
  • Pressure companies to promote healthy and empowering images of women and girls using social media. You can start a campaign on social media.
  • Demand that legislators support laws and regulations that promote healthy and empowering messages about girls and women. You can organize this kind of pressure at the local or state level, and you can run for office yourself to accomplish these goals.
  • Volunteer with a nonprofit that is working to advance the empowerment of women and girls.
If we all get involved, we can make a difference. What are you doing to make a difference? Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat (CC BY 2.0)]]>