Speakers discuss media: Positive portrayals needed


Brenna Enos

Fatima Chrifi Alaoui talks gender representation.

Professor at San Francisco State University with a Ph.D., in Communication Studies, Fatima Chrifi Alaoui gave a lecture on “Gender Representation in the Media” at Los Medanos College Tuesday, Nov. 29.  *** revise lead ***

Focusing her presentation on gender, sex and patriarchal representation in the media, Alaoui highlighted the importance of positive and true portrayals of men and women in the media.

Beginning her presentation with a short clip on female misrepresentation from the documentary “Miss Representation,” Alaoui talked about how the lack of positive women role models in the media affects other women.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” explained Alaoui. “The media shapes our narrative — it’s important for us to start questioning the media scene.”

Alaoui followed her talk on misrepresentation by explaining important terms such as feminism, sex, sexism, and gender. She then went on to discuss essentialism, which is the belief that gender distinctions are innate and natural. She explained that this phenomenon is harmful not only in media portrayal of gender norms, but to society as a whole. Essentialism is “not okay… we need to stat talking about it,” said Alaoui.

She then went on to talk about her career as a professor and the differences between the ways that students regard male and female professors. Even though Alaoui has a Ph.D. like many of her colleagues, she recalled that her students would typically refer to her as “miss” whereas her male colleagues were regarded to as “professor” or “doctor.” Despite the fact that her credentials were no different than the male professors at the institution, students did not refer to her with the same title and this “devaluated” the work of her and many other female professors.

      “It becomes micro-aggressive on a daily basis,” explained Alaoui adding that students not only refer to her with the wrong title, but they also expect her to act “nurturing and not bossy” simply because of her sex.

Alaoui reflected back to how female portrayal in the media has inadvertently resulted in the ways she is expected to act as a woman and mistitled at her institution. She explained that typically in media, women are presented in passive and nurturing roles while men are the active, politically dominant and strong characters and this has influenced real life stereotypes. “Men occupy the public sphere.”

Following this idea, Alaoui showed a photo taken during a 2008 Hillary Clinton town speech and in the audience, someone is holding an “Iron my shirt” sign — aiming to devaluate Clinton’s political leadership. Alaoui used this image to showcase that while people think that gender equality is more equal, there are still many stereotypes and negative beliefs that people hold today.

“These stereotypes are still present in our lives,” said Alaoui, adding that the media needs to change these stereotypes by showcasing women in strong and powerful roles instead of portraying them in household spaces such as the kitchen.

Aside from fixing media portrayal on gender norms, Aloaui also highlighted that it is important to not impose “norms” on children. She used images of children in gender normative roles, such as boys playing with guns and girls covered head-to-toe in pink clothing and discussed how it is problematic to force them into those roles at such a young age.

“Advertisements tell us what gender to follow,” she explained.

Before finishing her presentation, Aloaui showed another scene from the documentary “Miss Representation,” in which young girls talked about the struggles they have faced both with how they look physically and how they feel about themselves due to media portrayal of women. These young girls talked about struggling with weight, wearing heavy makeup and changing their hair to fit in with media standards of women.

One of the high school students emotionally talked about how she had a sister that had an eating disorder due to the images of women she had scene in the media and the lack of body positivity portrayed. Aloaui’s presentation was concluded with a heartbreaking question from that high school student: “How long is it going to take for somebody to take a stand?”