United States International


Media Action to Encourage Equitable, Diverse, Realistic Portrayals

In conjunction with National Media Education Week, Media Action (formerly
MediaWatch) today released an EKOS research study looking at young women's
responses to dominant media portrayals. Focus group participants in
Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver between the ages of 14 and 24
expressed almost universal frustration with pervasive images of "flawless"
female bodies, and the disproportionate media attention paid to women as sex
objects and "those who mess up".

The EKOS research revealed the conflicted relationship young women have with
pop culture, simultaneously engaging with many forms of traditional and
emerging media, while rejecting and resenting many of the dominant messages
about female sexuality and appearance. They were particularly quick to note
the double standard that exists regarding the greater diversity of male body
types and portrayals.

Sentiments common to all groups included "Society worships guys who come
across as good or bad, tough, responsible, independent and even weird," and
"They don't have to conform to one specific image."

Says Director Shari Graydon, "This research reminds us that despite the
enormous gains women have made in recent decades, many media practices
continue to reinforce limiting and destructive stereotypes. Media Action's
investment in improving the picture and giving women a voice on these issues
remains timely and relevant."

The Media Action/EKOS focus groups also revealed that young women are
enthusiastic users of social networking sites such as Facebook and generally
believe that the site affords them the ability to control their personal
privacy. However, few felt that social networking sites could be used to
disseminate positive messages about young women.

Disenchantment and cynicism feed boycott behaviour

This study builds on a large body of research that Media Action has
commissioned or undertaken during its 26 -year history showing some similar
trends. Teenage girls today, much like the adult women surveyed in 1994,
indicated that as a result of their negative reaction to limited or
offensive media depictions, they often actively boycott related companies
and brands.

EKOS' full report, as well as additional analyses written by Media Action
directors Pat Gentile (Carleton University) and Leslie Shade (Concordia
University) are available at http://www.media-action-media.com .

For more information, contact: [email protected]

Shari Graydon (647) 628-6810 Toronto

Pat Gentile (613) 266-2048 Ottawa

Amanda Parriag (613) 523-8993 Ottawa



In the early 1980s, hair was big, skirts were long, and the film "Tootsie"
was entertaining us with the fiction that the best way for an unemployed
male actor to become a star was to dress up as a woman.

Canadian research proved otherwise.

A CRTC-funded study released in 1981 documented the ways in which women and
girls were either barely visible, or stereotypically portrayed in Canadian
broadcasting. Despite the gains women had made in other realms, on-air
"weather girls" and token newspaper "ladies pages" continued to define the
mainstream media's representation of women.

Understanding the power of media to influence attitudes and set agendas,
MediaWatch was established to work for change. Its mandate was "to promote
social justice and equality by conducting media research and advocating for
change within government, industry and the public…"

For a relatively small, not-for-profit organization, MediaWatch had
significant impact on media makers and consumers over two decades by:

* Conducting research into portrayal trends and audience attitudes;
* Inspiring gender role guidelines for broadcasters and advertisers;
* Developing media literacy materials for use in schools;
* Delivering media literacy seminars to parents, teachers and students;
* Educating Canadian consumers about industry vehicles set up to permit
them a voice;
* Intervening at CRTC hearings with an informed perspective on equity
* Providing context about the social impacts of media through media
* Training women in Canada and around the world to conduct research and
lobby for improved equity in their own media industries.

Since MediaWatch was first established, media forms and outlets have both
multiplied and become more concentrated, regulation has become increasingly
difficult, audiences have become more fragmented, and gender equity concerns
have been pushed aside as trivial remnants of what many consider a 'solved
problem'. At the same time, government funding for equity-seeking
non-profits has declined, making it difficult for MediaWatch to effectively
address expanding media forms with reduced resources.

In the spring of 2005 MediaWatch closed its Toronto office in anticipation
of a liaison with York University that ultimately didn't proceed due to
personnel changes. As a result, the organization has experienced a period of
inactivity and review. Over the past 18 months, a small group of longtime
volunteers and supporters held consultations with a broad cross-section of
academics, students, activists and media producers to explore the level of
support for a revitalized MediaWatch.

The consensus? The challenges MediaWatch was set up to address loom larger
than ever. "Bitches and ho's" are regular features on music television,
female politicians continue to get dissed for being too sexy (or not sexy
enough), and thong underwear and push-up bras are now being marketed to a
seven-year-old near you.


In response, an interim board of directors has mobilized:

* to partner with EKOS on focus group research with young women across
* to launch the renamed Media Action (Action Medias) reflecting the
organization's focus on making change through constructive collaboration;
* to seek new research and media partners and volunteers;
* to build on the organization's strong history of research, education
and action.


Media Action envisions a media environment, which respects and reflects
people in all their diversity, celebrates their capacity and contribution,
and nurtures rather than erodes their self-esteem and opportunities. Media
Action promotes gender equity through media analysis and action. The
organization seeks to:

* Raise public awareness of the impact of media portrayals and practices
on social attitudes and behaviour;
* Engage consumers in constructive dialogue with media producers about
their desire to see more responsible practice;
* Challenge socially destructive myths (e.g. sexuality is the source of
women and girls' power);
* Replace denigrating portrayals with realistic and inspiring ones.

In pursuit of its goals it plans to:

* Bring humour, playfulness and innovation to a critique of media
* Celebrate and draw attention to examples of positive portrayals and
responsible representations of women;
* Use new technologies and viral marketing strategies to expand reach
and connect with diverse audiences in innovative ways;
* Engage and involve young women who are creating and disseminating
their own media messages;
* Develop strategic, project-based partnerships to capitalize on
consonance of interests with educators and media producers and build
independence from government funding;
* Support individuals in making themselves heard by media organizations
in ways that influence changes in practice;
* Provide links between women's organizations, academics, and media
producers, connecting people united by their concern for the issues;
* Popularize relevant research and improve its accessibility and use;
* Coach women to improve their capacity to interact with media,
articulate their issues and express their perspectives.


Nicole Cohen, co-founder of Shameless magazine, PhD candidate at York

Patrizia Gentile. Assistant Professor, Women's Studies, Carleton University

Shari Graydon, Past President, author of two award-winning media literacy

Amanda Parriag, Independent Research Consultant (public policy and public

Leslie Shade, Associate Professor, Communications, Concordia University


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