Stop buying gender stereotypes

Valentine’s Day, the $20 billion investment Americans make in romance each Feb. 14, is beginning to acquire a sharper edge.

That’s because it is now also being called V-Day, a movement spawned by Eve Ensler, whose episodic play, “The Vagina Monologues” invited women (and men) to re-examine the feminine experience and discover ways to gain empowerment and end violence against women.

V-Day, in turn, has birthed 1 Billion Rising, a global campaign calling attention to the 1 billion women who will be victims of rape or violence during their lifetimes, a statistic of staggering dimension.

Last year, on Valentine’s Day (aka V-Day), an estimated billion women and men participated in activities in 207 countries calling attention to violence against women. The movement wasn’t very visible in Sonoma last Friday, but the issue itself got fresh attention when Jennifer Siebel Newsom appeared at the Sebastiani Theatre Feb. 3 (see the page 1 story) to talk about her film, “Miss Representation,” and her work with The Representation Project, to “rewrite the story” on both women and men.

Siebel Newsom appeared as the inaugural voice in a new speaker series launched by the Mentoring Alliance, and she drove home a number of points that reverberated around the re-envisioned version of Valentine’s day.

If you’re a man, of course, you can only approach this issue with a certain humility. There remains in almost every culture – very much including ours – a pervasive sense of patrimony to which, it seems safe to say, most men are consciously or unconsciously, passively or proactively, subject.

One result is male domination of media and the subsequent objectification of women in advertising and programming. Although women now make up slightly more than half of local TV news anchors, they fill only 28 percent of local news director positions, and just 16 percent of general managers at local TV stations. More than 75 percent of the hosts on cable news programs are men, as are 67 percent of their guests.

And on daily newspapers, roughly two-thirds of reporters and editors are male. (Full disclosure: The Index-Tribune has a six-person editorial staff, of which two are women.)

Spin these statistics into a very different context and you discover the stunning fact that, in 2009, about 93 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons were male.

Siebel Newsom’s first film, “Miss Representation,” drew attention to the way women are represented (and misrepresented) in media, leading girls to see themselves as objects. She is now in production on a second film exploring the other side of the equation. Titled, “The Mask You Live In,” the new film explores the ways in which boys are led to believe that strength and power require domination.

Siebel Newsom has addressed these challenging cultural currents with a nonprofit organization called The Representation Project with a mission to use film and other media to end gender stereotypes.

One part of that effort is the “Not Buying It” campaign, which invites citizens to upload offensive media images to Twitter and send them directly to offending companies with the message, “I’m not buying it.”

We salute that strategy and encourage its use. The “Not Buying It” app can be downloaded at therepresenationproject.org.