SWAAY Editors On The Media’s Egregious Exploitation Of The Women’s Movement

SWAAY Editors On The Media’s Egregious

Exploitation Of The Women’s Movement

Photo: Forbes

Another holiday, another barrage of pitches from publicists looking for coverage of their “IWD efforts,” which typically is something like “HEY! We’re giving 10 percent of proceeds to X charity for a full 24 hours.

Much like the Women’s Movement, the words “International Women’s Day” don’t mean much without authentic action behind them, and any exploitation by brands to be “part of the conversation” is painfully evident. Truth be told; despite the dynamic year women have enjoyed on the front lines of social and political change across the country, the media landscape is still sadly barren when it comes to portraying women as they truly are: style-conscious, yes, but more importantly: substantive and politically-conscious.

As the shift from print to digital to democratized social content continues to make almost anyone with a social media account coupled with an enviable figure and the desire for fame into an “editor,” the question of whether women are winning or losing in today’s media conversation is a huge one. Unattainable body images, unbridled consumerism and the push for surgical enhancements for teens are just some of the themes young ladies find themselves facing every day, and potentially every hour, as the average millenial is checking her social feeds 150 times a day.

Vogue's not-so-diverse diversity issue that left many people talking Photoshop and phoney inclusion

From emerging female platforms to those coming from established players, it’s clear content creators are still sadly relegating women to cliched tropes: fashionistas, sexual neophytes, or angry feminists. Websites that call themselves “women’s publications” routinely tell readers (in painfully similar posts recycled month after month) how to fuck, how to manicure our body hair, and how to contour our faces into some sort of impossible Jenner/Kardashian/Beyonce mashup. News flash to all of you female-focused sites; this is not the information a modern, socially-engaged woman needs. She needs to know how to speak up in difficult conversations, how to find business mentors, and how to be in touch with her own body’s need for pleasure. You might be successfully baiting clicks, but you are not changing any narrative, you’re not truly supporting any movement, no matter how many #IWD hashtags you employ on any given day.

Our founder Iman Oubou launched SWAAY for one simple reason; to fill a true void she saw in the media; and quite frankly it’s a void we still see. Women with entrepreneurial pursuits have, throughout the decades, done so by reading between the lines of male-celebrating publications, gleaning advice from articles written explicitly for men.

We’ve navigated years of bro business culture, enduring subjection and finding ourselves sadly without any media outlet that authentically represented our struggle or offered advice or comradery. Women, like the young lady who broke the news of Aziz Ansari’s controversial #metoo (?) actions, prove that rather than makeup advice, we are desperately in need of informative, empowering pieces that give us tools for navigating a world where men rule, but women are rising. We need to give young women the actual words to get them out of those awkward situations that make them feel uncomfortable, rather than continuing to serve them proverbial crap on a platter. In general terms, the media’s narrative is off, it’s inconsistent, and alarmingly still enforcing those same dangerous ideals that got us to this point. A half-hearted listicle offering “girl bosses” a smattering of “Feminist Vacation Spots” alongside “Expert Advice for Pleasuring a Man,” to us at least, cancel each other out and call a media brand’s mission into question. We need the media to evolve with the Women’s Movement, banishing the dumbed-down story tropes for women.

Although it can be argued that everyday at SWAAY is Women’s Day, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on the year, from a media perspective, and how far it seems we’ve come, yet how much more is left to be desired. Here, 6 tenants of media that in our humble opinion are doing more harm than good to the Women’s Movement:

Clickbait

We will never understand why clickbait is so often centered on marginalizing women. 5 Ways To Pleasure Your Boyfriend, Why Kim Kardashian’s Cellulite Is All Anyone Is Talking About Today, and The $4k Power Heel You Need Right Now are standard headlines utilized to prey on women’s insecurities in order to attract views or sell a product. How, you might ask, are we still living in an age where these articles are supported by thousands of ad dollars and editors who are happy to bombard social media and impressionable viewers with this tripe? There is no simple answer, other than blatant disregard for the movement spearheaded at last year’s Women’s March. Maybe it’s all about clicks? Maybe it’s because they know women are worried about their looks and desirability, and so preying on this fact is a sure fire way to get a woman to click through?

Keeping a man (10 Full-Proof Ways to Stalk Your Boyfriend) is another one of the “media’s” go-to click bait subjects, as is laughing at the expense of others (read: Worst Dressed At Oscars 2018), mean-girl, trolling, all around- hateful stuff. Cosmopolitan’s 5 Actually-Comfortable Blow Job Positions That Will Change What You Think About Oral Sex, Yahoo’s 10 Pieces of Clothing Grown Women Should Never Wear and The Daily Mail’s Unairbrushed Kim Kardashian Busts Out of Her Skimpy Bikini in Candid Snaps From Beach Break with The Girls are but a few examples from today’s female-facing publications that routinely run pieces on sex, scandal and self-loathing.

Those outlets feigning an interest in the Women’s Movement in order to seem woke, or to ride the coattails of a trending hashtag, are the antithesis of what this Women’s Day actually means, and what it will continue to mean in the years to come. We ask those sites that claim to be here to serve womankind to lay down their sexticles and haterazzi, and lay off the unflattering, embarrassing photos of women in the spotlight, and join the real conversation before more damage is done.

A snapshot of Cosmo's intelligent, female-forward content
Man-Hating

If there’s anything to be learned from the past year, it’s that this conversation is polarizing. There’s right and there’s wrong, really wrong. There is extremism. And such extremism has, in our opinion, seriously impugned the Movement’s progress.

Men are men. They are not evil. They are not out to get us. They have simply been placed in a superior societal position to women because of centuries of gendered indoctrination. They’re not to blame, we’re not to blame, that’s just the way it is. We cannot change history. But we can create change via authentic revolt, and most importantly- through education.

It’s easy to succumb to male vilification in the media, but honestly it’s just the low hanging fruit of this situation. Sure, they do stupid things. Sure, they can be masochistic, misogynistic. They can lie, steal, cheat, abuse, because those opportunities and abuses of power have been afforded them by history and status quo. But this is not all men. Harvey Weinstein does not by any means represent every white male Hollywood film producer. Mario Batali does not symbolize a brooding gang of chef harassers attempting to infiltrate and overthrow the Women’s Movement from within.

In fact, almost every man that has been thrown into the spotlight and his crimes laid out for everyone to see and hear, is the exception to the rule. In the wake of these scandals there were, and still are, many articles written and circulated about how shitty all men are, by virtue of the behavior of these big players in male-dominated industries (and yes, we have seen the words shitty and men used conjunctively many times on such sites). But honestly, how much longer can we shit talk? And, even more honestly, how effective is it at doing anything but making us feel better in the short-term.

Yes, there are more men in positions of power and no, that is not easily changed. But men abusing this power, taking advantage of women in positions beneath them – they are not the rule. They are not the standard. Do not let the gross misinterpretation of power by the few, inform your opinions of the many. And if this sounds preachy, it’s because it is. We are not here for the man-hating. It does not help. We need our men, your men, the good men, if International Women’s Day 2019, 2020, 2021 are to be better. If only 48 percent of the world believes in this and upholds movement, it won’t work. Let’s stop polarizing the other sex, and instead help men understand that to support women’s parity means more money, more innovation, more solutions to the world’s biggest problems, for all of us.

Yoga Pant Shaming

The New York Times, seen as the pillar of modern media for million and an aspirational pedestal of press greatness, really confounded us a few weeks ago when they published this. The seemingly satirical anti-feminist rant shaming women for wearing yoga pants begged the same response from women everywhere; “is this serious?”

Written by one of the Times’ senior op-ed staff writers, the piece offered women a judgey, off-the-wall perspective that wearing yoga pants is somehow merely part of a woman’s plan to rope in a man; Oh! And they are making us look fat to boot. “[Women have] internalized the idea that we have to look hot at the gym,” wrote Honor Jones. “We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?” Not sure about y’all, but we love our yoga pants, and think our dimples and rolls look fab in them. Thank you very much.

Honestly though, was this meant as a joke? A hilarious, hysterical, backward satire, designed for our feminist amusement? A modern Modest Proposal? In what world was an opinion piece like this allowed to funnel down through the channels of copy editing and reviewing, to be published on a site that single-handedly destroyed Harvey Weinstein, and exposed most of the shameful Hollywood misogyny? Yes, we all make mistakes. Yes, it’s a circumstance of modern media. But the petulant ignorance the writer and publication displayed over Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Women, was eminently disappointing, and warranted a cancelled subscription from my roommate, (yoga pants are big in Brooklyn, yo).

A 1950's woman-shaming ad mentality we can't seem to shake
Business Mags

Can we please stop pretending women are not involved in business? Like please. Not every single one of us is a model, influencer, film star, or stay-at-home mom, and these days almost all of us have a side hustle. There are those women that go outside the realms of the expected female professions, that live in the same offices as the men do, that speak business jargon, and excel in high-pressured work environments. Just in the tech world alone, it was a woman responsible for creating Google’s minimal user interface, radically scaling Facebook and for leading YouTube into the future. Imagine what more we can do when we’re actually given a real chance, and most importantly access to real capital.

We are so tired of the jaded roundups we see year after year of older male executives, and splashy young (also male) startup founders who earned X, or lists filled with billionaires that of course, and because of the exceptional circumstances listed above, contain almost no women. Just a quick Google of the phrase “Forbes magazine covers” yields a full response page of smiling yet stern-looking white male faces starting boldly ahead, in various power poses.

If we were to somehow shift the (ratified, proven and indoctrinated) reality that women make 79 cents on the dollar that men do, how many more female billionaires would be on Forbes’s list of 2018 world billionaires? How many more women would color the pages of the increasingly predictable slideshow this legacy media brand stakes so much of their year in content around?

Diversity

Putting a wealthy white woman on the cover of your issue, website, listicle does not equal embracing diversity, in the same way that hiring a ‘Chief Diversity Officer” does not suddenly make a company “woke.” Where are the business-minded members of the LGBTQ community on the cover of Forbes? Where are the multicultural women on the cover of Vogue? Where are the women from different countries, cultures, political points of views and socio-economic backgrounds? We’ve become so lost in this fight for gender equality that once removed, it’s especially easy to see how diversity gets lost among broader women’s issues. But let’s face it, the women who are being celebrated by the media tend to be white, well off and well-connected.

The Women’s Movement does absolutely tend to alienate those women who come from backgrounds that do not match their successful male counterparts, and the media is absolutely largely to blame for this inadequacy. We are not equal to the strength of the multicultural women who go unnoticed in the fight for equality. We are undeserved of their unwavering devotion to the cause. How many times was Tarana Burke substituted by Alyssa Milano during the #metoo conversation? Did Lupita N’Yongo’s Weinstein story receive the same attention as Rose McGowan’s and as his other white victims?

Should we continue to marginalize women of color in this race for equality, it will only serve to widen the gap and dismantle all the incredible work done by the fairer sex thus far. If the media should change anything in the coming months, it’s their attitudes to diversity and inclusion, by again putting their money where their mouth is, and leading by showing.

Tarana Burke. Photo courtesy of The Nation
Influencers

The “Influencer” debate is one we’ve been beholden to for the last two years. What precedent do they set to a younger generation – what positive influence do they wield if they merely continue to perpetrate the female stereotypes that have kept women behind and beneath men? Ladies, ladies. While yes, the benefits of becoming a fashion or beauty influencer are clear to swag and attention-seekers everywhere, we want to remind you to think of the big picture.

The less-than-substantive term influencer (almost) automatically labels the aforementioned ladies as skinny, pretty females. They’re beauty editors (real or aspiring), fashion models, relationship experts and everything else under the sun that will make them money, Are they your friend? Nope. Do they care about what they’re selling to you? Probably not. Are they purporting every stereotype ever assigned to women: vain, self-conscious, self-serving, ladder-climbing, socially-obsessed? You betcha.

Do we sound vitriolic? Yes. Because we’re tired of this faux-feminist bullshit. Cut the crap and get on board or be real and stop with the lip service. Stop twerking half-naked in your camera and pretending it’s a body-positive self-expression when you’re looking for likes and sponsors. Find your voice in a movement that needs your bandwidth and influence. Call your followers to action, and see at the end of the day whether you care more about your like-count or the good you did during that day.

And, just coming from a place of mentorship for all the young ladies out there, we beg you to think about your life’s work as an extension of what you stand for. Getting educated, learning by example, finding and emulating mentors are the only ways to cultivate a life filled with business opportunities. Listen. Learn. There will be a day when “influencing” will cease to exist as you know it, and then what will you do? What will your legacy be if Instagram suddenly changes an algorithm or morphes into some other platform-of-the-moment, making your reach a vestigial asset. A free trip may make you feel like a Kardashian in the moment, but focusing on getting free goods and being idolized for your looks may derail you from your most fulfilled life. Also, many would-be influencers are already reporting that the quest is short-lived, and they may be losing more than they gain.

All in all, the media’s role in the Women’s Movement may be larger and more far-reaching than meets the eye. Even though we are making strides in the real world, if we double talk and undercut those achievements with offensive women-shaming articles and the media’s go-to proliferation of ideas that do anything but empower, aren’t we just shooting ourselves in the foot?

Belisa Silva and Amy Corcoran

Our kickass Editor-In-Chief and Head of Content

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