Reality v. Fiction: Mirroring Each Other in Misrepresentation

Visual Representation of Congrees Make-Up

By Dana Rieck

America’s political reality seems uninspiring to some when it comes to the productive presentation of women, especially since, according to Rutgers, a mere 18.5 percent of the 133rd U.S. Congress is comprised of women. Taking this into consideration, some experts say it’s time to compare the fictional manifestation of women to real-life female politicians within our media system.

Cara Buckley, a Colorado State University communications professor, said she thinks fictional representations of female politicians are much kinder than those found in news media outlets, partly due to the fear of coming under harsher scrutiny for sexist content.  “Unfortunately, I believe it is non-fictional representations that create the most cultural side effects,” Buckley wrote in an email. “Given that these are real politicians being reported about on news shows that we still assume as a society are factual, we begin to understand the news representations of these women as examples of ‘who these women really are’ (even though, of course, it is often just someone’s opinion of them).”

This fear of scrutiny might be why the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that,  “From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male … a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50 percent of the workforce.”

While these statistics can cause alarm in respect to gender role development in children, it’s not all bad. Lauren East, a counseling graduate student at the University of Northern Colorado who holds her undergraduate degree in psychology, said that people in a child‘s life can counteract gender representation found on the screen.

“Although the media representation does lack a female role model presence, childhood career development can be formed by role models in their everyday lives,” East said. “I think the best thing a parent can do for their child’s career and gender role development is model the behaviors they want their children to recognize.”

Even so, it’s slightly comforting for some people to know mainstream television has recently seen several inspiring female roles including Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus inVeep,” Mel Burke in “Melissa and Joey” and Leslie Knope in “Parks and Rec.”

Fort Collins resident Michelle Oldham, an avid “Parks and Rec” fan, finds comfort that Knope’s goofy character still manages to portray power and confidence within the show.

“She doesn’t use her sexuality to get ahead, she uses her intelligence,” Oldham explains. “I feel like it shows healthy relationships between grown women.”

While small improvements are being seen in American media every year, Buckley advises viewers to “…seek out resources outside of the U.S. American mainstream media,” to combat opposing negative representations.  This advice will have to do, at least until America’s mass communicators are pushed by their consumer base to turn toward more true-to-life representations in all information outlets.

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