Women in the Media Attacked Again: That Happened


ColumnVice thinks suicide is sexy, Roxy misses the boat and Goldie Blox offers hope.

How women in the media are portrayed matters. How we’re represented in magazines and ads shapes public opinion. This week, a magazine gets its alleged tribute to women writers very, very wrong, a women’s clothing company sells sexy over sporty and an ad for a new toy for girls offers hope for the future.

Suicide Girls

Hey Dorothy Parker, before you strangle yourself with that pearl necklace, mind if I ask where you got it? Even when the media attempts to celebrate women, as Vice magazine did with its recent Women in Fiction issue, it often ends up a vulgar mess. In that issue, Vice published—and then pulled from its website—”Last Words” a fashion spread depicting models posing as famous women writers in the act of, or just after, committing suicide. At first glance it looks like just another fashion spread where dead is sexy.

But, the fact that these photos are based on real women is sick. Suicide isn’t sexy and it’s not romantic. Even worse, as Jezebel points out, some of the writers depicted died as recently as 2004, meaning their loved ones had to see a model acting out a painful, real scene in the name of selling pantyhose.

A woman took the photos. A woman styled the shoot. The models were all women. At no point did any of them say, “Wait, this is wrong?” In an issue dedicated to women writers, this spread never even mentions their contributions to the literary world.

The fact that these writers are being celebrated for their suicides or attempted suicides and not their writing says more about how women in the media are valued, and negates the rest of the issue. The idea that suicide is glamorous and a solid way to ensure that you’ll be remembered is a dangerous message to the many people out there struggling with depression.

Roxy Misses the Boat

Remember the movie Blue Crush? If not, it goes like this: awesome female surfer struggles with fear, meets hot guy, struggles to balance him and her surfing ambitions and then competes in an epic surf-off. It seems that the beachwear company Roxy missed the girls kick ass message of the movie with its new ad.

The ad features the body, but never the face, of Stephanie Gilmore, a five-time world champion surfer. She walks, the waves lap her body, she throws on a rashguard but she never actually surfs in this ad to promote the Pro Biarritz 2013 surfing meet.

I don’t know if you have ever tried surfing, but that shit is hard. Anyone who can do it at a pro level is a true athlete and deserves to be represented as such rather than as a (to borrow a the highest Blue Crush insult there is) surf Barbie. Can you imagine a Nike ad for the NBA Finals where LeBron James doesn’t shoot a ball? Me either. Get it together, Roxy.

Blox Party

Now, some hope for the future. Not only is there an awesome new toy for girls on the market, the ad spot for the Kickstarter-born toy Goldie Blox kicks ass—and shows that the next generation of women in the media might get better treatment than we have. Engineer Debra Sterling created the combination book and building set to spark girls’ interest in engineering.

Rather than princess-shaming (maybe that’s the new slut-shaming?), Sterling doesn’t shy away from tiaras or the color pink. Instead, she created a toy that looks appealing to girls but engages their minds in a unique way. Girls, she found, are attracted to storytelling. So she created a character, Goldie, who has to get help from the girl playing the game. She has to complete all kinds of engineering-based tasks to move the story forward.

The toy itself is really cool, and the ad—featuring feisty girls reinventing their own toys to suit their needs—will appeal both to kids and to parents hoping to give their girls the opportunity to access all kinds of play and develop an interest in math and engineering. The girls shown here aren’t going to grow up to be anyone’s Barbie.

Image: Vice