Jennifer Pozner Advocates for Media Literacy
by Eshani Chakrabarti on Friday, February 21st, 2014
On February 12th, Jennifer Pozner, media activist, feminist, and this year’s Margo Johnson Speaker, addressed the Milton community about gender inequality in the media, advocating for media literacy and changes in the portrayal of women and minorities in TV shows, publications, and advertisements.
According to Pozner, corporate-dominated media spreads regressive ideas about women, minorities, and gender stereotypes for profit, impacting an unaware, susceptible public. She pointed out that popular reality television shows such as America’s Next Top Model and The Bachelor erase all the progress made in the last hundred years. “It’s like [those years]… never happened,” Pozner said.
Pozner also discussed women in the context of our nation’s politics. Using examples such as Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama, Pozner pointed out that even well-respected, powerful women are subject to constant commentary about their sexuality and promiscuity. Reading aloud from various articles that focus on the clothes and body of female politicians rather than on their accomplishments, Pozner noted, “Nobody is mocking the length of John McCain’s pants.”
When asked what the Milton community can do to help fight degenerative content in media today, Pozner explained that students must first become media literate, learning how to “deconstruct” media, constantly asking a few key questions: Who is creating this narrative? Who profits socially, financially, and politically? Which groups — gender, race, class status, and sexual orientation — are not represented? Pozner stressed that media literacy is our “strongest weapon” against propaganda and manipulation in today’s media-saturated environment. By understanding the “charade,” we students can decrease the weight we put on media and thus its influence. According to Pozner, only with this awareness can we take action to make changes within in media industry.
Pozner’s reputation as a crusading feminist preceded her, and some students were skeptical about her speech. “I was a little wary at first. I thought it would be another one of those clichéd empowering women and gender equality talks, but I really thought the added twist of media and politics was interesting… a fresh twist on a heated issue. After hearing her talk, I do agree with her that women are marginalized in the media,” said Natalie Perlov (III).
“I never thought I would enjoy the speech as much as I did. I have always been skeptical about feminists… only seeking faults in men and blaming the opposite sex for their problems,” echoed Lilly Le (IV).
Mollie Ames (IV) believes that Pozner’s speech was applicable to Milton, saying, “It is prevalent in our community in the way that we unintentionally and unknowingly disrespect women. It’s part of our culture.”
Cam DiGiovanni (III) thought that the speech was good exposure for students, saying, “I found it relevant, because even though, at our age, we may be oblivious to things going on with equality in the real world, it is still there and very present in women’s lives.”
After hearing this speech, Gabriella Etoniru (III) was inspired by Pozner, explaining that the speech showed her that “girls, women, and minorities need to realize that the expectations set for us do not define us. We do not have to sink to them; we can do so much more and prove to others that we are so much better than the standard set for us.”
Others had a more negative reaction to the speech; Helson Taveras (I) said, “Her argument was narrow in its focus… Quite frankly, this isn’t the whole truth, and Ms. Pozner’s failure to show this left me displeased.” Josh Seol (I) agreed, saying that Pozner “didn’t really capture a really wide perspective of the whole gender equality situation. She did reference ‘The Bachelor’ and how they portrayed women as objects for physical appearances, but casually skipped over ‘The Bachelorette,’ where men are treated exactly same way.”
Although reactions to her speech varied between students, Pozner did manage to get the student body thinking and even tweeting about these issues, as “#Pozner14” was trending among Milton Academy students throughout the assembly. Relating an important message to her audience, Pozner urged, “Use the time you have here at Milton… to learn to be as active critical thinkers as possible and to apply that critical thinking to media and to politics and hopefully to gender and racial justice.”
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