Watching television or flipping through a magazine, ads emit a constant flow of gender and sexual stereotypes – women's intimate and gratifying relationship with floor cleaners and laundry detergent; excessive joy at a man's success; women prone over expensive autos or grasping power drills. Soap operas frequently portray scenarios of domestic violence, with women seen as fatalistic victims rather than survivors.

The sexist representation of women in media and its role in perpetuating stereotypes of women as voiceless victims, unintelligent, irrational, driven by competition, greed and consumerism is a constant assault, polarising gender roles and placing women in subordination to men. It is also one of the many contributing factors to violence against women and masking that violence in normalcy.

One out of 3 women have experienced rape worldwide. Sensationalist newspaper coverage reduces rape to another form of information as entertainment and avoids examining the root causes of rape in unequal power relations. When news articles on rape selectively present sexist ideas about power, women and sexuality, they skew our understanding of what rape is really about, and in turn, how to counter it.

A woman's lovely, freshly washed hair is teasingly being pulled by her boyfriend as she holds a shampoo bottle. What do you think she would really like to say? Make her talk back! Let her thoughts run free and have your say on sexist media representation.

Burst bubbles, talk back and label VAW

1. Take a critical look at women's representation in media and ads

  • Scan newspaper or magazine articles and photos – online or off – and examine how women and men are portrayed. In pictures, how often are women featured in positions of political power vs. men? Who appears in the lifestyle section? When women are quoted or highlighted, are they experts in economics, beauty, or crime victims? In sports sections, is there even a mention of women athletes?

  • Surf ads on the internet – look for products frequently geared towards just men or just women. How are women and men portrayed? If you were that woman or man, what would you have to say? What would you have to say to the company that produces this ad?

  • Do a search for technology - computers, minicams, mobile phones - how are women's and men's relationship to technology portrayed?

    A search for “sexist ads” will take you to publicity so offensive that people had to speak up about it. The internet is now host to dozens of initiatives for voting on “the most sexist ad” to pressure companies into reasonable representation and awareness that their consuming public – men and women – do not buy into stereotypes.

Make note of the image locations using bookmarks/favorites in your browser.

2. Burst media bubbles and talk back

  • Give those images voice and have your say by inserting speech or thought bubbles on the photos at Don't be dissuaded by the site's tagline “speech bubbles for dummies”, intelligent humans can use the service too.
  • You can upload an image from your computer, or copy and paste the image's URL address from one of the sites you've reviewed. (If you use a PC, you can right-click on the image in any site and select, copy link location, to then paste it in the URL field.)
  • Once uploaded, you can easily insert text into a cartoon speech bubble. You can move, enlarge or rotate the bubble to change shape and who is speaking, as well as increase or decrease font size.

  • You do have to register to save the “bubbled” photo online, but once you do, you can embed the photo on your website or blog, get a link to it, or email it to a friend. Make sure you email it to ideas AT takebackthetech DOT net. When you write a comment on your photo in the Kyolo site, include “takebackthetech”.


3. Label violence against women

Do any of the images that you reviewed subtly or blatantly express forms of violence against women?

  • Use bubbles to label images that try to normalise violence.
  • Raise awareness about violence against women in all of its expressions, ie
    • Find statistics on the excessively high level of violence experienced by women with disabilities and tell people about it with bubbles.
    • Make sexual violence faced by women in conflict zones visible.
    • Help women in new relationships to detect signs of violence early on.
    • Highlight scenes of sexual harassment at work. 

Label VAW, talk back and challenge sexist representations of women!