By Erin McNeill, Founder, Media Literacy Now
Just weeks after Al Franken announced he would resign his Senate seat for his groping ways, a Boston gynecological surgeon thought it would be funny to include in his presentation to a roomful of professionals… a photo of himself grabbing the breasts of a statue of Shakespeare’s Juliet.
It was supposed to lighten the mood, I suppose. However, as reported in the Boston Globe, many of the female surgeons present were infuriated.
But we should all calm down because this is just a tradition among tourists at this Italian destination. Really? We all grope Juliet’s breasts? This is a “thing”? That explanation only highlights just how much disrespect women are expected to accept in their day-to-day lives.
When I was a child, I attended a Sid and Marty Krofft show with my parents in Atlanta, Georgia. This was supposed to be a funny show to entertain children, featuring costumed characters. Primarily what I remember from the show was that one of the characters at one point squeezed the big fake breasts of the other character’s costume for comedic effect. And that my mother was furious.
Franken – a former humor professional who was shamed after a photo surfaced showed him miming a two-handed grab of a sleeping woman’s breasts for laughs – would have been a young adult at the time I went to that show… honing his comedy in a culture that has taught boys that this sort of dehumanizing treatment of women and girls is funny.
During this #metoo moment, I’d like to see all of us take a closer look at the role of the media in perpetuating a cultural norm that the idea that men and boys who treat women and girls as sexual objects are funny, or cool, or deserve admiration from other men.
The result is not just harm to the individual women who are harassed or touched or assaulted. The widespread acceptance of using women’s bodies and body parts for comment and humor is a cultural phenomenon that affects every woman who has been limited in her personal life or career by a deeply ingrained cultural sexism.
It’s perpetuated more than anywhere else by highly influential Hollywood movies. Consider Selma Hayak’s description of the behavior of Harvey Weinstein during the making of her film about the artist Frida Kahlo.
Besides all the abuse she withstood from him on a personal level, the fact that he demanded that Hayak be more “sexy” on screen in her role as Kahlo stood out for me. It underscored for me how Weinstein’s attitude, combined with his role in producing powerful cultural messages in the form of Hollywood movies, inflicts damage well beyond those women he personally abused, harassed or assaulted; Because women around the world live in societies influenced by the sexualization and objectification of Hollywood movies.
(For a good primer on how the media train boys to be sexist men, watch The Bro Code trailer from the Media Education Foundation, which deconstructs the powerful messages boys are getting from current popular media.)