Can the media industry lead on gender equality issues, and impact gender stereotyping - while contributing to creating social change?

CAN THE MEDIA INDUSTRY lead on gender equality issues, and impact gender stereotyping - while contributing to creating social change?

By Danna Catabas, Strategy Analyst Intern, The Agenda Agency

This week Dr Heidi Sundin, The Agenda Agency, conducted a guest lecture and tutorial at the University of Technology, Sydney to students studying Ethics in Advertising from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The lecture was focused on providing a gender perspective on the role & impact of the media and the advertising industry on gender equality.

When students were asked “who thinks there is an equal representation of gender in the workplace” a total of zero students raised their hands. It was an insightful event into how young adults perceived gender inequality and stereotypes, with ideas such as “staggering disparity” and “unequal representation” being thrown out in the discussion.

The reality of our perceptions on gender stereotypes and relations are complex, due to the fact that they are a product of our culture-, systems-, behavioural- and attitudinal-based beliefs. As we progress and carry these deeply-rooted perceptions to other environments such as the workforce, we understand that these underlying attitudes to gender roles largely affect how an individual will deal with gender in the workplace – making it difficult to create change on a bigger scale.

There was much talk about how gender stereotypes are inherently formed, what the challenges were around creating change and how gender relations have been portrayed throughout the media industry.

Fundamentally, media is a direct reflection of how society operates. It has the capacity to challenge, reinforce, and create gender stereotypes, and in an age where the consumption of information can start from such a young age, the role of media is as crucial as ever.

This topic was further debated in the tutorial where students voiced and argued their opinions of the role of media in improving gender equality in society. They debated the effectiveness of famous campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp in creating lasting change across industries – have these campaigns contributed tangible and enduring impacts or have they just been another trend in the movement? Should media maintain an objective point of view in raising gender inequality issues? Or continue to push towards a more progressive, pro-gender equality society?

It was impressive to see the level of debate and thinking by both female and male students - my peers - on these topics. It's a topic that matters to them.

From a young age, we are taught what it means to be a man and a woman – or what society dictates is a man and a woman; taught by our peers, relationships and undoubtedly the media. The topic of gender inequality has been a contentious issue in the past and continues to provoke conversation on all platforms, not just through the media. We’re seeing some media campaigns that have created impact beyond conversation, and we’re seeing these milestones within workplaces and the broader industry.

Though there is much buzz around gender inequality and stereotypes and through these media platforms like advertising, social media etc. we as an audience are able to digest important information and continue to develop our own perceptions. And at the end of the day, it is solely up to the individual whether or not to accept or challenge the ideas of gender being presented and contribute to social change.