Challenging female media portrayal central to gender equality

Challenging the ways in which women are represented in our media has been placed at the forefront of establishing gender equality by a panel of female leaders at the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin.

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One Young World Counsellors Maya Sanbar and Meghan Markle

The Special Session comprised a panel of Sabine Chalmers, CEO of brewing company AB InBev, Senior Vice President of General Electric Beth Comstock, digital pioneer Michelle Phan, model and actress Meghan Markle and film director Maya Sanbar and was entitled “bridging the gender gap.”

The session was introduced with a message from COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg in which she told delegates: “You are the generation that I believe will reach real equality.” She also revealed: “No matter where I go I hear the same thing, that we expect men to be leaders and women to be nurturers”; a stereotype she reiterated to delegates that they must break in their respective countries and aim for: “Full representation based on gender and based on race.”

Director Maya Sanbar also challenged the value the media places on women’s beauty, saying that women who do not appear a certain way “can progress to a degree, but not to the oomph degree.” Reese Witherspoon’s success as a film producer, she said, was dependent her “fitting the mould in order to break it.”

Digital entrepreneur Michelle Phan also highlighted the importance of YouTube representing “real women” with the imperfections which she said the silver screen often hides. “Why is there a war against wrinkles? We should start celebrating them more, they are expression lines.” 

Phan sees YouTube as a key tool for individual protest against sexist videos produced by the music industry: “We cannot control what people make but we can control what we consume. Do not watch provocative videos. We now have a two way dialogue which can promote more empowering content and that’s where we can see the change.”

The hiring process was also isolated as an important focus for gender equality. General Electric’s Senior Vice President Beth Comstock reiterated the importance of creating a varied workforce: “Diversity breeds innovation. Men and women, and global diversity, are so important in corporations. People tend to hire people they’re comfortable with and that’s something we need to challenge.”

The idea of the various roles that women have in society was brought to light during the session. Sabine Chalmers explored the idea of challenging roles, not only in business but in the home. Speaking of her Grandmother as the most inspiring and influential woman in her life, having married outside of her religion to a man of a different race, she ran her own business and she still raised her family. 

To Sabine, the fact that she ‘bucked convention’ was what was and is real. A mother herself, she wanted to highlight the role models that real to her daughter. She herself challenges stereotypical roles within the home. Her husband made the decision to stay at home, raise their daughter and support Sabine in her career.  She stated that their daughter now has a different understanding on world view of men and women in partnership. The challenging of roles was not just explored with regards to the home but also in the business sector.

Beth Comstock stated that we have expected more change than we have seen but that was a rise of very strong women’s networks. This active development of women in science and technology. She touched on the advertisement of ‘My Mom Works at GE’. Portraying women in engineering, it opened peoples minds to women working in male-centred sectors. She moved for more of these stories and more of these role models in an attempt to work towards equality. She continued to describe the great tools we have at our disposal to raise awareness and act. There are women in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, putting in power plants, fighting wars.

Education was key in understanding and working towards gender equality. Entrepreneur Michelle Phan stated that we need to start educating people on the problems in the world. She herself has educated her viewers on YouTube on the issue of human trafficking.  The true power of education was seen when a Rwandan delegate stood up to comment. Deemed as a hero and an inspiration by Kate Robertson, he manufactured sanitary towels from banana fibres so that his sisters and then women elsewhere in the community could attend schools while menstruating. 

The session was one filled with thoughts of the future and challenging the idea of the way women are portrayed in all areas of life. A call to action and a call to think about what we do and what we watch. To take responsibility and to hold ourselves accountable.

By Hannah Popham and Dairne Black 

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