Paint me like one of your Objectified Girls
How Female Stereotypes Harm our Representation of Women
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Sexist advertisements portraying women and girls in degrading positions is a memory from the past left from the Mad Men era. Or so we might think. But truth be told, despite many improvements in female representation within the labour market, with more women holding top management and executive positions than ever before, gendered stereotypes against harming women still remain blatant in the 21st century.
Throughout our history, stereotypes about male and female characteristics have fomented the internalised normality of sexist behaviour by objectifying and hypersexualising women's bodies. And mainstream media and advertisement played, and still plays, a prominent role in promoting these views.
The Normalisation of Objectification
Too often, media, and especially advertisement, paint an image of women in which they should display low resilience and mainly care about their physical traits - be beautiful but not assertive, be noticed but stay silent.
Not only has this been harmful at the individual level for women and girls who see and experience such contents and situations on a daily basis, but it has thoroughly impacted our culture and society as a whole by internalising these norms as our normality.
These gender norms, informal rules and shared social expectations have not only distinguished an expected behaviour on the basis of gender but have erected barriers due to these gendered assumptions: Women are not good at maths; Women should stay at home; Women should be the primary caregivers. And what these stereotypes have done, is severely contribute towards and strengthen the perpetuation of gender inequalities.
This is especially evident in the distribution of power, responsibilities and resources that often disadvantage women and girls. Because these social norms uphold gender discrimination and stereotypes not only in our daily lives, but also in our professional environment.
By portraying these stereotypes in our everyday, we have transferred these beliefs into the workforce. We have, as a society, thus concurred to the belief that women do not have the necessary abilities to hold positions of power.
Traditional gender roles and sexist stereotypes are consistently limiting women’s professional development and undermine their well-being by constantly diminishing their abilities to succeed. And by continuing to follow these societal gender norms, we have allowed to perpetuate regular patterns of behaviours, such as sexual harassment, in the workplace.
Society has internalised the idea that success, power and charisma are tied to dominance and aggressiveness, and thus maintained power dynamics that not only degrade and harm women, but also contribute to making gender-based stereotypes trivial to society.
Younger generations are especially affected by these behaviours which stagnate their beliefs and dreams. In a study conducted by Dove on self-esteem, the results showed that six out of ten girls avoid participating in life activities because of concerns about the way they look. Their physical appearance through the continued objectification and sexualisation of women in the media thus prompts negative thoughts for their self-esteem and low confidence levels.
This low self-esteem translates from the physical to the mental as well. Not only do girls struggle with their confidence in terms of appearance, but also with their confidence in joining male-dominated fields. A recent study found that 1 in every 5 girls said that gender bias is a reason why they would not consider a career in the STEM field. It is no surprise then that currently, less than a third (29.3%) of those graduating from STEM-related subjects in higher education are women.
However, it is time for things to change and they slowly but surely are starting to. More than four years after the #MeToo hashtag sparked conversations about sexual abuses and harassment in the workplace by raising awareness about the toxic working environment women and other minorities face on a daily basis, women and girls are now encouraged to be more vocal about these issues.
The same tools that were used against them to silence their voices and opinions are now being operated to empower women to affirm that all forms of sexual abuses and harassments are to be taken seriously and those responsible to be held accountable.
Younger generations have been more exposed to the inequalities, discriminations and stereotypes and are thus less hesitant to take their claims to the streets to shake things up for the better. With more women representation at the corporate, political and social level, younger generations can aim higher when someone else that looks like them achieved something they dream about, which in turn reinforces their confidence in their abilities and future success.
Female representation in top management and hierarchical positions brings significant benefits in motivating other women. It shows that they are able to achieve the same goals and therefore improves women’s confidence and positively contributes to their development.
With more visibility of women in power positions like Angela Merkel, Kamala Harris, Jacinda Ardern, or Whitney Herd, younger generation are shown that these women
“may be the first to do many things, but [they are making sure they are] not the last” - Kamala Harris
But tackling perceived gender norms and traditional stereotypes is the first step to promoting more representation of women and other minorities as well as changing the perception they have about themselves to feel more confident in their abilities to succeed.
Written By: Diana Valet, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space