Women, Gender and the Media Panel

On the Saturday afternoon of Oct. 24th, the Phenomenal Women’s meet-up group hosted a panel/forum on “Women, Gender and the Media.” The event wasn’t as well attended as it should have been but what it lacked in attendance, it made up in information. The small turnout could have been due to its location, Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Which for a Central Brooklyn resident, like myself, was a dream but probably not convenient for someone traveling from Harlem, Queens or the Bronx. The panel was billed as an event co-sponsored with the College, but it was hard to determine how many of the audience members were from the school. It’s unfortunate that students and staff didn’t take advantage of a great opportunity to network and learn from media professionals.

The panel was fairly impressive and large. I would have to say in my several years of attending and participating in workshops around the country, I have never seen a panel with as many people. There were at least 8 to 10 women on the panel but despite the size the moderator managed it quite well and the women were conscious not to interrupt each other. Other than the size of the audience, another disappointment was the lack of handouts or printed materials of the names and bios of the panelists. On the panel were a few bloggers, journalists, filmmakers, educators and independent business owners. So, by the end of the afternoon, it became difficult to remember the names of each panelist.

The panel also took a while to start but once it did, the panel could not have come at a better time. Issues around women and the media have been re-surfacing lately, specifically around the lack of good roles for women in film and television, especially women of color, to the stories of women involved in questionable relationships with their supervisors, as in the recent incidents with David Letterman and ESPN staffers. The women touched on these issues and more.

The first topic of the afternoon dealt with the uneven portrayal of women of color in the media. Many of the panelists felt there weren’t multi-dimensional images of women specifically Black women in the media. There was a lot of talk about the negative portrayal of women in music videos, films and television. Few of the panelists felt the lack of women writers help promote the stereotypes male writers create. One of the panelists felt that if more women had self –esteem and pride then they wouldn’t accept the demeaning roles offered to them. The feeling was that women needed to take responsibility for adding to the stereotypes they portray and the women in power who work on these sets need to speak up against these images. A few felt they had less problems with these images, assuming this was the only option for some women, if there were a balance of more positive image of women. They felt these images have extremely negative effects on young women and critical thinking skills and an understanding of media criticism could help them weed out the negaitivity.

There was also talk about the importance of teaching men how to view these images so they don’t have the same expectations of women as the stereotypes they see in the media. All agreed that channels, like BET, enforce these stereotypes and bad images of Black women and the Black community. All the panelists felt there needed to be more standards in the Black community to help elevate our own image of ourselves.

The conversation then moved to blogging, with the bloggers on the panel offering the most input on this subject. It was noted that most successful blogs were largely gossip driven, using Media Take Out and Perez Hilton as an example. The bloggers, who also had backgrounds in journalism, felt most blogs are rooted in “citizen journalism”, consistently mostly of opinions instead of facts. Many people view blogs as journalistic endeavors although many are not; there isn’t the same level of responsibility or accountability expected. The main point many of the bloggers made was that it was important for them to produce positive work and to encourage young women to follow uplifting blogs that had reliable resources. The understanding was that many young adults get their information from the web; therefore it was important to provide a healthy alternative to the gossip sites.

The conversation then moved into the importance of networking and making sure employers know that you are interested in doing other things and capable of more responsibility. Two of the women also talked about the extreme sexism in the music and sports industry. It appeared that sexism was a much more consistent form of discrimination than racism. They both spoke of constant sexual harassment and despite the few most recent cases reported in the media, it’s well known that this happens regularly. It was also noted that some women use sex as an entry point or an opportunity to advance their careers. Therefore for those who wanted to be rewarded for their own merit, it was important to study your craft and to set your standards high early in your career. They both agreed that independence, morals and determination were key to a successful career.

Although, much of the information was common knowledge, it was important to hear again and for those new to the industry to learn and understand. It was very comforting and reassuring to hear women share their stories, to share their highs and lows. Hopefully, Phenomenal Women will host a similar panel in the near future. The opportunity to hear, learn and network is crucial for women in the field.

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One Response to “Women, Gender and the Media Panel”

  1. Pat Shelton Says:

    Was not aware of the forum for I would have definitely attended. Yes brooklyn is quite out the way, coming from the Bronx. Crown Heights is not that difficult to travel to but on weekends time consuming. I agree on Ms Phipps statements above, especially how BET is showing Women in a negative spolight, especially when we have a strong, educated, intelligent and beautifuk First lady in the White House.

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