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Gender Inequality in the Eye of Rhetoric

Updated: Aug 29, 2022


The Controversy  One of the most visible aspects of gender inequality is reflected in the way that women are being portrayed in various media platforms, which often involves dehumanization women by focusing on women’s bodies and sexuality, treating them as sex objects, nullify their intelligence and power. This phenomenon results in many societal ramifications (The Representation Project, 2011). Some will argue that this phenomenon is one of the reasons that increase the number of sexual harassments, assaults, and rapes in the US. To this day, many people do not see sexual harassment as a problem (Zarkov and Davis, 2018). Objectification of women is being delivered to vast audiences thru films, TV-shows, video-games, music-videos, and advertising. In all these platforms women are often portrayed as ignorant, young, sexy, powerless and yielding to men, as well as having a primary purpose of entertaining men (The Representation Project, 2011). In the news platforms, the female’s reporters tend to be very young, especially compared to men. According to the documentary Miss Representation (2011), 71% of women that are portrayed in the media are in their 20s and 30s, whereas their proportion in the population is 39%. In contrast, women older than 40 are 47% of the population yet, on TV they comprise only 26% of women shown. This bias reflects and helps propagate the attitude that when a woman reaches the age of 40, she simply needs to go away.  Besides, women on television tend to put much makeup on, and their professional outfits make them look sexy much more than the way that men’s clothes make them look sexy. The professional dress-code is very different between men and women and seem to serve different purposes – business and pleasure. Moreover, women’s objectification is focusing on a particular type of beauty, not only measured by their youth but by their weight, height, “skinny” body-type, make-up and skin smoothness as well. Young girls receive from their social environment the message that the most important feature about them is how they look, that their personal value, their worth, depends on that. Young boys receive that message about girls too. In these circumstances, it is no wonder that young girls decide to sexualize themselves – they simply and obviously want to raise their worth. The media is greatly contributing to the tendency of women to sexualize themselves, by delivering the message that they need to be sexy and appear sexy to be noticed. Unfourthenatly women who objectify themselves for those reasons, often become the victims of sexual harassment (Zarkov and Davis, 2018). Electronic media, by the content it chooses to present, constantly shapes our society and our politics, art and worse of all – it shapes the way that children and young adults think about themselves and their peers. According to research conducted by Lawless and Fox (2013), “women consistently underestimated their qualifications and perceived themselves differently than men who had nearly identical credentials” (Lawless and Fox, 2013). Besides, women previewed the campaigning as harder, than how man previewed them and was less likely to have somebody (a friend or a party official) encourage them to pursue political office” (Lawless and Fox, 2013). It seems that there is a clear message delivered by the media, no matter what a woman achieves, her value would still depend on how she looks (Miss representation, 2011). The effect of women’s objectification goes far beyond discrimination against women, and beyond contributing to inequality. The misrepresentation of women in the media probably contributes to preventing women from reaching positions of power. Thus truly powerful women who are healthy and strong are rarely represented in the media. The lack of women in leadership positions and in politics undermines democratic legitimacy. According to an article analyzing women’s representation in the government (Kliff and Oh 2017), the U.S. is 104th in the women representation in government, 7 places worse than the year before. It is evident that US politics and leadership is considered to be for men. “Women and girls currently make up more than half the population in the US, but they’re represented by a Congress made up of 80 percent men…the proportion of women in government profoundly affects how all of society views women.” (Kliff and Oh, 2017). The most crucial question is how the young generation is affected by this state of affairs.  Marian Wright Edelman (another woman in a position of power) answered this question saying “You can’t be what you can’t see.” What she meant was that the fewer women we see in the media holding positions of power, the less likely is the rate of women in leadership positions to increase in the future, and this is proven by Lawson and Fox’s research (2013) showing that women are less likely to run for leadership positions. Yet, when women rarely reach a leadership position, or a position of power, the first and primary thing that her audience will judge her by is what she wears and her body image (Miss representation, 2011). Selection of Important Actor The #MeToo movement started in the USA in 2006 by a group of black women that wanted to share their stories about sexual violence. The campaign has increased in October of 2017 after the US film producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment. A few days later, "powerful men - producers, actors, directors, politicians, well-known TV anchors, journalist’s and sports doctors - have been publicly accused of sexual harassment, assault, and rape by a growing number of women." (Zarkov and Davis, 2018). Within a few days, women started sharing their personal stories in public using the #MeToo platform on social media. The movement has quickly spread across the globe and doesn't seem to end any time soon. The campaign is claiming to "let other survivors know they are not alone and create solidarity with the victims" (Zarkov and Davis, 2018). Today, the movement is not only fighting sexual harassment, but another phenomenon’s as well. The movement is bringing to life the objectification of women in media platforms, encourages strong women to speak their truth, reassures beauty is portrayed in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and advocate for equal rights to enhance a societal progression and development. “We won’t build walls, and we won’t see the worst in each other… together we will fight, resist, and oppose every single action that threatens the lives and dignity of our communities.” (Ferrera, 2018 in #MeToo on Instagram, 2018). #MeToo is a public sphere platform that gives access to everyone, not only on electronic media but in real protests as well (Women’s march). However, there is a critique for #MeToo for targeting individual women who are confident enough to stand up and powerful enough to be heard. Nowadays the movement has opened her doors to everyone to speak up, but most people who are using the hashtag are women who are Influential figure: "Today the most visible #MeToo women are powerful: rich and famous celebrities, well-known TV personalities, journalists, and members of political elites. The fact that they are famous and that many are speaking at the same time makes all the difference in allowing their accusations to be heard and believed" (Zarkov and Davis, 2018). According to the hashtag bio, one-third of all women worldwide have/will experience/experienced some kind of sexual violence (#MeToo on Instagram, 2018). Also, most women who suffer sexual violence were evidence to that at their workplace. One of the reasons for that is a lack of adequate reporting options for both the victims and the workers around (#MeToo on Instagram, 2018). I believe that a good target that can empower the exigence awareness and increase the #MeToo movement is involving men in the fight. This is a good idea for two reasons: first, many men experience sexual abuse as well (about 1 in 6 men), and second, involving men in the fight will minimize counterpublics, strengthens the argument and evoke equal education. Firstly, showing that the fight is for both genders will bring them closer together, so the union will create a social change that protects people from being sexually abused or mistreated. When the #MeToo movement first became viral in late 2017, some men have distanced themselves from women, because they didn’t understand that the fight is against sexual violence, not against men. The #MeToo movement strives to create social equality between both genders that will develop a better social reality and benefit the entire world with advanced constraints. Thus, it is both gender’s responsibility, both genders will benefit from equal statuses of men and women. However, men found it difficult to participate in the public debate and rhetoric process, because they feared negative consequences, they feel incredible to speak about this matter. When men shared their thought under the title #MeToo, they received negative responses and were backlashed for their actions that were found inappropriate. The body is tied to the speech, and so the power is changing with whoever is speaking. As a result of intersectionality, different shapes represent different power. According to Palczewski and Fritch (2016), intersectionality is the recognition that there is a lot of structure to an identity. Adding these structure on top of each other, will not come across each other but start the identity as relational, then the oppression biased that the body is coming from. The entity that is speaking delivers the credibility, the ethos of who is speaking.   Correspondingly, having men speaks about equal right for women, appropriate representation and development of all humans as a society will empower the fight and show it as not a minority fight, but a situational rhetorical process of an exigence.  Involving men in the movement is my proposed strategy, and the tactics are as followed: encourage men to speak about their experience with sexual assaults, let men talk the importance of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, and support men to be vulnerable, and connect to their emotional side. These actions will challenge the stereotypical status of what it means to be a male, and what it means to be a female. Defining the rhetorical situation Palczewski and Fritch (2016) explained the definition of a rhetorical situation throw the eyes of communication scholar Lloyd Bitzer as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence.” (p.227). Meaning, a situational phenomenon that is taking place brings up an exigence to the table and introducing the situation to the world. The world who hears the exigence is the situational audience, and the group that brings the exigence to awareness are the public. Publics are “people coming together to discuss a common concern, including concerns about who they are and what they should do, and as a result, constructing a social reality together” (Palczewski and Fritch 2016). In this situation, women’s objectification in the media is the exigence in the rhetorical case, because it is “a thing that is other than it should be” (Palczewski and Fritch 2016) and also demands a rhetorical response – demands a change. The #MeToo movement participants are a part of this exigence publics and the people who bring the exigence to light. The people who are influenced by the rhetorical situation, the audience, are women in the US and all over the world. These women are being treated as if they are not equal to men, and are not capable of the same things as men. Also, the constraints of this phenomenon are the parts of the rhetorical situation that can alter the exigence. In this case, the restrictions are laws and fundamentals in this country that support or delay the phenomenon. For example, equal rights, equal pay, discrimination constraints, sexual offenses laws, censorship, and media appropriateness, education, and advocacy towards equal treatment, etc. In contrast, counterpublics are people who aren’t participating in the public debate, because they are not allowed to do so. Unlike publics, counterpublics are not built around the open discussion. To find their way into a debate, the counterpublics are using counter-actions, which create a new social reality and draw attention. Although these actions are not socially acceptable in a public discussion, they are necessary because this is the only way for them to be heard. Moreover, counterpublics are probably people who do not see sexual assaults as a problem. (Zakrov and Davis, 2018) Applied to the phenomenon of women’s objectification, the counterpublics are people objecting women’s rights and believe that the social reality happened because women have “brought” it on themselves. The counterpublics group thinks that the current status should stay, that it played a reasonable role throughout history, where the woman’s job is to bring children and care for the household, and the man’s job is to provide. This culture was functional for years, and so, it is very strong inherited with biased unjust that is hard to see. The counterpublics believes that leadership roles are for men, and women are not born with the same skills as men. The public, on the other hand, are fighting in various ways to ensure gender equality. Earn the same salary for the same job performed as men, have a fair opportunity to win leadership positions in politics and in the public discourse as men (with equal skills), have fair representation of different women in the media (from different age, race, body type and characteristic) ,be valued for their intelligence and achievements rather than by only how they look, feel safe to show their masculinity or femininity, and to be themselves.  The public is taking actions that create a new social reality. In addition to the #MeToo movement on social media, movies and documentaries are being made about the subject. Gender communication classes are being taught to college and high school students, articles are being written, and other campaigns are being launched (#timesup #whywewearblack, #LikeABoss, #MyHarveyWeinstein, #YouOkSis, #WhatWereYouWearing and #SurvivorPrivilege. Also, the  women’s march, etc.) and slowly laws against discrimination are being passed. Language Analysis  In rhetoric, words have vital importance. What a word literally means continuously attached to the symbolic action of it because the importance lays on what the word does, not what it says. Feelings are always connected to suggestive words and cannot be divorced, therefore in many cases, it is hard to see clearly the meaning of certain words, when the feeling is strongly inherited in it. Different words in different concepts can be read entirely differently since the cause of when we use a word explains how we feel about it. The word "woman" is used linguistically for how women are being treated in our society as a minority, it is a part of the cultural strand of society. When using the word "women," there are inseparable labels and definitions attached to how people treat women, what it means to be a woman and how women should look, act, think and behave. There are also certain expectations attached to the word "woman," that are very different from the expectation set of the word "man." Words contain the truth of information, and listening to how women talk about themselves, and about other things is very concerning and points our the status difference between those two genders.  Argumentative Analysis  Toulmin model:  Step 1: Claim. The portray of women in media platforms involve dehumanizing them into inanimate objects with the focus on their body and sexuality. The #MeToo movement is bringing this exigence to light by sharing personal stories of women who were sexually abused and so encourages other women to do the same. Sharing those personal stories is bringing awareness to the exigence, and the rhetorical audience understands – that things must change to make it better, women’s status in comparison to men is lower, and that is unjust. The movement not only fights sexual abuse but equal rights, equal treatment, well representation and equal opportunities. The change must start from the very primary stage of education.   Step 2: Warrant The misrepresentation phenomenon is showing women's beauty as limited to one type: young, "skinny" body type, skin smooth, often blond and often wear a lot of makeup (Miss representation, 2012). Women receive the messages that to be noticed, you must be sexy, and this message is considered the most important feature of women. The feature is that how they look is what rates their personal value and overall worth as a human being (The representation project, 2012) This is shaping the societies mind about women and follows some ramifications.  Step 3: Data First, the miss representation increases legitimization for sexual harassment against women (#MeToo Bio, 2018), and that is because too often they are perceived as an entertainment feature (Miss representation, 2012). Also, the phenomenon limits the spectrum of what considered "beautiful" to a particular type of beauty, thus disincline women who fall out of that standard. Moreover, the phenomenon makes a correlation between how women look and their value, meaning – their amount depends solely on whether or not they answer the limited standard of beauty. The miss-representation in politics creates a lack of appropriate law legitimacy for both genders (Lawless and Fox, 2013), and encourages women not to run for chairs in politics (Kliff and Oh, 2017) or in other positions of power.  The correlation presented in the media between women sexuality and their personal worth might be one of the reasons women decide to sexualize themselves. The media rarely shows compelling women who are healthy, robust, diverse and performs different types of beauty (Miss Representation, 2012).  Reference ›    Zarkov, D. and Davis, K. (2018). Ambiguities and dilemmas around #MeToo: #ForHow Long and #WhereTo?. European Journal of Women's Studies, 25(1), pp.3-9. ›    Kliff, S. and Oh, S. (2017). The US is ranked 104th in women's representation in government. Vox. [online] Available at: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/8/14854116/women-representation [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018]. ›    Miss Representation. (2011). [film] Girls' Club Entertainment. ›    Palczewski, C., Ice, R. and Fritch, J. (2016). Rhetoric in Civic Life. 2nd ed. Stara Publishing. ›    The Representational Project. (2011). The Representational Project. [online] Available at: http://therepresentationalproject.org [Acessed 31 jan.2018]. ›    Lawless, J. and Fox, R. (2013). Girls Just Wanna Not Run: The Gender Gap in Young Americans’ Political Ambition. School of Public Affairs. [online] Available at: https://www.american.edu/spa/wpi/upload/girls-just-wanna-not-run_policy-report.pdf [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].




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