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Episode 19

In the second part of our conversation with Caroline Heldman, we talk about the consequences of marketers and the media having the power to shape our culture. We learn that the average teenager is consuming 10.5 hours of media a day and we ask: What happens when the people with the most influence over them are the same ones who profit from their low self-esteem — and care more about their wallet than their wellbeing?

We also touch on the mental health crisis of millennials and whether or not social media should be called “anti-social” media.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics with a specialty in media, gender, and race — and the president of The Representation Project.

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No transcript found for this episode.

This week we speak with Caroline Heldman, professor and executive director of The Representation Project. We discuss the influence of media – especially social media, the intimacy crisis we all face, and how marketers have set the beauty standards of our culture. We hope this episode helps you better understand our culture and the unrealistic expectations we are all faced with when beauty is the yardstick by which women are judged.

Background

Caroline grew up Pentecostal Evangelical which was very gender stereotypical, however, she found her awakening through Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which challenged what she was learning and being cultured into at home and at church.

Film Recommendations

  • Miss Representation: Girls and women receive many damaging themes and messages growing up in our culture – most notably that their bodies are the most important things about them, that their worth is in their beauty, and an erasure of women in leadership and positions of power.
  • The Mask you Live In: Pressures to be masculine damage boys and men because they are taught to be emotionally bereft, to be in control, to be emotionless, to be aggressive. “The Man Box” limits male human expression and men suffer the drastic consequences. Because of not wanting to appear weak, vulnerable, or feminine, men seek help less, which is especially damaging when men do not seek out mental health care.

Influence of Media

Parental influence diminishes as kids age – with social media and media being the thing that kids engage with most (over parents and classroom time). Research shows that kids spend over 10 hours a day consuming media. Which means this media shapes a kid’s world in very impactful
ways.

Social Media Engagement

Kids today are interacting more with social media than with humans. And we still don’t know all the short, medium, or long-term effects of this. However, there are benefits to social media as well – so, a push/pull exists between social media being a tool for connecting and also being tool for companies to use to sell products.

Intimacy Crisis and Gen Z

Gen Z – defined as 24 years old and younger – is more conscious of the social construction of gender, and so they are more gender fluid with 56% identifying as gender or sexually fluid. They are also more socially aware, more activist, and more likely to understand intersectionality and its effects throughout society. As soon as you put people into categories, people tend to rank them in a hierarchy. This is especially true for dichotomous categories (i.e. Male v female, Black v White).

Noted: The Atlantic Article: The Conversation

Real World Activism v Arm Share Activism

Arm Share activism, or online social media activism, has given young people a powerful tool in consumer activism (like boycotts and buycotts). Young people are much more likely to use their online power to hold corporations accountable in new ways.

Performative Self

We have always cultured girls to hate their bodies, however, social media exacerbates these issues with everything being an idealized self. From before and after photos to facetuning, these online images have real world effects. The rate of surgeries has dramatically increased.

Girls are feeling so much pressure about their bodies that they will risk their bodies and lives and pleasure to go under the knife, some before 18, to change their physical appearances to be more appealing to men. And this is dangerous “because we are essentially teaching girls that they should be more concerned about how other people view them than by how they view
themselves”. As a culture we have normalized women risking their lives in order to appear more sexually attractive to others is the definition of lacking power in a culture.

There’s a huge difference between being sexy and being sexual. Being sexy is for other people, being sexual is for yourself.

Beauty

The Beauty Yardstick is the most damaging thing in our culture. Imagine how would it be to live in a more meritorious culture where women are judged on who they are and not what they look like! Where effort, work, kindness, empathy, and service matter, rather than beauty, for all humans.

The game is rigged against women to never be happy in their own skin.

Who Sets the Values?

We have allowed marketers an inordinate amount of power in shaping our values: wealth, competitiveness/winning, control, and aggression – men and women alike. And these are reflected in our educational, political, and media institutions. These values are fundamentally incompatible with human happiness, as research shows that close connection and service to
others is what increases our happiness. And yet we are left to wonder why we are becoming less happy with each generation.

No additional resources found for this episode.

About the Expert

Caroline Heldman

Caroline Heldman

Dr. Caroline is the Executive Director of the Representation Project and a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She is also a Senior Research Advisor for the Geena Davis Institue for Gender in Media. Her research specializes in media, the presidency, and systems of power (race, class, gender, sexuality, ability)

Episode Discussion

Home Forums Episode 18 & 19 – “Sex Sells? Or Insecurity Sells…” with Caroline Heldman

  • Episode 18 & 19 – “Sex Sells? Or Insecurity Sells…” with Caroline Heldman

  • Valentina 

    September 21, 2020 at 8:40 am
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    • What did you learn about yourself?
    • What did you learn about culture?
    • What was your favorite quote?
    • What surprised you most?
    • What is one way you can enact what you learned in your own life?
    • How can we each help shift the culture and the conversation surrounding this topic?
  • Amy

    September 21, 2020 at 12:16 pm
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    The thing that I learned about myself while listening to these episodes was that at a young age I was exposed to sexual images and played with Barbie dolls that exposed me to the standards of beauty that women are told to live by. The thing that I learned.about culture is that at a young age girls are exposed to sexual images that tell them that they have to look a certain way to impress a guy and that sexual images tell women to buy a product to live by a certain standard of beauty. The thing that surprised me most was that sexual images have been around for years and that there is pressure on women to live up to those images. The way that I can enact what I learned in my own life is to tell my future children that those images are not something that they need to live up to and that being themselves is what will get them further in their lives. The way that we can shift the culture and conversation around this topic is to educate young people about how companies oversexualize images to sell a product and that those images do not define them. We can also let young people know that being themselves is okay and that no one can tell them otherwise.

    • Hope

      September 28, 2020 at 8:52 am
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      I had my brother listen to this podcast with me and this is how our conversation went:

      Hope: Yeah, did you even realize how at such a young age women are set up with expectations on how they’re supposed to look starting with some of the first toys we pick up and play with. We are expected to read magazines because it is “feminine” and all these magazines do are demonstrate ways we need to be more like the women society accepts. I just feel like it is beyond important for men to understand the side that women are coming from and it is just as important for the women to understand the men. We don’t take enough time to acknowledge the pressure society puts on anyone, not just a specific gender or group of individuals.

      Cole: Wow, no I didn’t think of that. But similarly to women, men are also expected to fill society’s roles starting as young as when we pick up our first toy. Soldiers, action figures, trucks… all of these toys are supposed to represent the masculinity men are “supposed” to have. Then you think about sex ed and how the whole lesson practically discusses masturbation and how boys can look at porn to get them through puberty…so boys are then expected and encouraged to expose themselves to sexual images at a very young age because society wants us to be men quicker. I do agree though, I think I need to pay more attention to everyone as a whole, versus what men just experience so I can get a greater understanding of what women go through.

  • Sarah

    October 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm
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    It was eye opening to realize how our society does not value feminine things versus masculine things because they do not provide the same monetary value. There was a big cultural push to get women into masculine roles, but did not push for men to engage in feminine actions. Therefore, men are more constricted in their sexuality in this “man box”, making them be less human to be more of a man. Also– I love that Caroline mentioned the Feminine Mystique, I learned about the book during a history class in college and found it very inspirational!

  • Sarah

    October 16, 2020 at 1:26 pm
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    “Children spend 10.4 hours on Media.” This statistic is extremely shocking to me, and we are still not completely aware of the repercussions on our social interactions especially concerning relationships and our abilities to be intimacy. It’s saddening because I’m apart of the generation that really saw the birth and evolved as social media evolved and I notice within myself how much social media has influenced my life in both negative and positive ways.

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