Media dehumanizes women, emphasizes modern gender inequality

Sarah Karels, Staff Writer

“Olympian Oscar Pistorius Kills Model Girlfriend” read the headlines on the morning of February 15. On the day before, Oscar Pistorius, 26, is alleged to have shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29. Pistorius, an Olympic athlete, was known to the adoring public as the “Blade Runner,” recognized for his perseverance and courage to run as the first double amputee in the Olympics. This fall from medal winner to killer shocked many, created a hubbub in the news world, and pulled Pistorius into the limelight. But what about Reeva? The “model girlfriend” remains in the shadows, recognized only for her beauty and demise.

Unfortunately, this lack of acknowledgement, of respect even, is not surprising. Today, the dehumanization of women in the media still keeps our country far from gender equality. The media needs to look past what a woman is, and into who she is; to stop treating them like objects instead of women. No more cold “model girlfriend,” language. Look at Reeva Steenkamp for who she was–a person.

Steenkamp certainly isn’t the only recent example of the dehumanization of women. Successful women, such as athletes and politicians, find themselves judged more on their looks than their accomplishments.

Take for example 16 year old Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. During the 2012 London Olympics, Douglas became the first woman of color to win an individual championship, and the first gymnast to win the individual and team events in the same Olympics. Clearly, Douglas is a dedicated and victorious athlete.

Despite her accomplishments, the biggest news story surrounding her achievement at the summer games was about something completely different––her hair. Throughout the Internet, from news sources to Twitter, Douglas’ success was overshadowed by claims that ‘she needed to do something with her hair.’

Would the same treatment befall a male athlete? Probably not. The fact of the matter is, women in sports are frequently judged more on their appearances rather than their performances. When British weightlifter Zoe Smith was frequently critiqued for her physical appearance at the games, she responded, “‘[We] don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that.’”

Elizabeth Plank, a student at the London School of Economics, summed up the anger over comments like these in an article for the Huffington Post: “When you assume we need your validation, you are wrong. What we need is your respect. Once we get it, we’ll take THAT as a compliment.”

Women are more than just a face, or a profession. It is dehumanizing for the media to behave as if this is not so. This is not just a woman’s rights issue; disrespect of anyone is a human rights issue that pertains to everyone.

This disrespect is shown most recently in Fox News’ inconsiderate comments about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On February 6, the news source dehumanized the politician as Steven Doocy of “Fox and Friends” made comments insinuating that Clinton had undergone a facelift. Furthermore, during the hearings addressing the Benghazi attacks, Clinton was accused of faking an emotional response to advance her position. No male politician faces this breed of discriminatory dehumanization.

The media must turn away from this disrespectful reporting. You don’t have to be a proud feminist to realize that the dehumanization of half of the population is a slight problem. If the US wishes to continue its reform in gender equality, we need to adapt our media representation from cold and sexist to fair and accepting.