In Indonesia, there are not many people who understand the difference between ‘sex’ (refers to male and female) and ‘gender’ (refers to man and woman). Just like what I wrote here some time ago, that there still many people who don’t know the difference between ‘feminist’ and ‘feminine’.
Claudette Baldacchino, a feminist journalist, opined that gender refers to social, cultural, and psychological factors when one wants to define someone as masculine or feminine. Furthermore, Baldacchino also sated that gender is not just an important aspect how “other people” see and perceive “us”, but it also influences “our” way to see and perceive “ourselves”.
Last Friday August 24, 2007, I discussed ‘anorexia’ and ‘bulimia’ in my Intermediate 4 class. The class consisted of 16 students, six boys, eight girls, most of them are senior high school students, and only two of them—girls—are college students. The class took place from 2pm until 4pm, the time where many people are sleepy and tired, due to the hot weather in Indonesia, especially my hometown. We discussed two quite long passages. The passages illustrated a bulimic patient named Melissa DeHart. Her suffering started from her wish to be as slim as Hollywood celebrities that looked so slim; very pretty and attractive due to their slim bodies. DeHart wanted to be as pretty and attractive as them so she started to be on a strict diet to slim down her body.
I asked my class a question, “Why do many people think that being slim is beautiful?” None gave me an interesting and critical answer, but one. One female senior high school student answered, “Because having slim body means healthy, Ma’am. Fat bodies usually refer to diseases, such as hypertension, easy to get heart attack, obesity, etc. The others just said, “I don’t have any idea Ma’am…”
To me, it showed that they didn’t realize that they had been bombarded by media on the idea of beauty. There are many advertisements promoting that beauty is slim, both in electronic media—such as television—or printed media—such as newspapers, tabloids, or magazines. If one advertisement didn’t directly promote slimming product, it would use slim models that would emphasize the idea “pretty is slim” or “slim is pretty”. Some parties that want to socialize an idea “Big is Beautiful” did not succeed yet to change the “old” paradigm.
The fact that my students were not aware of the bombarding media on the idea “slim is pretty” showed the failure of their understanding and perceiving themselves using their own belief, when we wanted to refer it to Baldacchino’s definition on ‘gender’. They did not need to always follow what media said about something, they were supposed to be confident to use their own parameter when valuing something. In Indonesia, parameter of being pretty, besides having slim body—one universal thing I suppose, being pretty also refers to having fair complexion, and having long straight hair.
What is the relationship between media and gender?
If the supporters of the status quo of patriarchal culture use media to eternalise their ‘faith’ in male chauvinism, I am of opinion that people who struggle to create a more equal society use media too; such as publishing newspapers, magazines, tabloids or journals focusing on gender equality. Unfortunately, until now, journalism field is still considered masculine sphere. Research done by the International Federation for Journalist (IFJ) published in Brussels in 2003—involving 39 countries in the whole world—stated that the number of female journalists was only 38%, 11% higher than the similar research done one decade earlier. The number 38% only referred to the number of journalists, not including the decision makers, such as editor, the chief of departments, or even the owner of media.
The National Commission of Women in Indonesia encouraged people to write in public as one way to reduce domestic violence, including to support the non gender-biased media. Write anything. And in my opinion, the easiest media to tell the world is via blog. In addition, don’t forget what Baldacchino said, when writing, use our own way of thinking to understand and perceive our own experience.
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