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Opinion

Palin bashing is women bashing

Sexism in the media is real. Here's what we can do about it.

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In research for an article on "Gender and the media" that I wrote for Soroptimist's Best for Women magazine, I found that sexualization of women is an even bigger problem. Last year, a Dolce & Gabbana magazine ad portrayed a scantily clad woman pinned down by one man while four others looked on. After a global outcry, the ad was pulled. In films, The Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media based in California found that females are more than five times as likely as males to be shown in alluring apparel. The institute is concerned not only about how these messages affect women and young girls, but young males as well.

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Some men complain they aren't represented fairly, either. They protest commercials or sitcoms that portray them as inept, bumbling, or overly-aggressive. True. In the overall scheme of media representation, however, women continue to bear the harsher wallop. In movies, magazine ads, and on television, we are valued first for our appearance and second for our inner character and intelligence.

The discussion about gender portrayal in the media is not new, yet little changes. Why is that? Numbers. We have more men than women calling the media shots. Today, women have little access to authority and ownership levels in the media, with women owning only 6 percent of commercial broadcast television stations and 6 percent of all full-power radio stations.

While we can complain about gender misrepresentation – or no representation at all – we have to shift our focus. We can write e-mails and letters voicing our concerns, but we also must ensure that more women move into decisionmaking positions in the media. We can foster media change by backing the initiatives of organizations that work to promote portrayals of both genders in film and TV as valid and important. We can also become better informed about how the media system operates and how public policy shapes the industry.

But it's up to us to make that happen. It's up to us to let the powers-that-be know that we want to be valued for our character and strengths and not our outfits or bodies. Until that day, we'll continue to witness media portrayals of women that are rooted in something much deeper than political partisanship. We'll continue to see Palin bashing. You may like her. Or dislike her. But calling her "wacky" or "caribou Barbie" is not called for. It's sexist.

Marielena Zuniga is a journalist from Bucks County, Pa., and a staff writer for Soroptimist International of the Americas, a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of women around the world. She's a winner of the recent Jane Cunningham Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism Covering Issues of Concern to Women, and is featured on a creative writing blog, www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com .

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