By Adrienne Burns
Since the world wide web came into existence, there has been talk of the internet and how it was going to change society. Ever since we’ve had the ability to connect person A on one side of the world to person B on the other side, we’ve wondered what this would mean for our communities and our connections to one another. With the appearance of social media, those questions only grew larger and more urgent. The opportunity to view and share in the lives of others has led to crowd-funding everything from funerals to college funds and the instant ability to donate to humanitarian relief from our Facebook profiles the moment a crisis occurs. I can pretty confidently assert that we’ve opened our hearts to one another in the 20+ years that the web has existed. But, what I’ve seen trending even more recently is a shifting of minds.
In particular, I’ve notice a strong movement to change the way women are portrayed in media. The impact social media has in our everyday lives is undeniable. An article from Social Media Today early this year stated that teens spend up to 9 hours a day on social platforms, and your average person spends about 2 hours a day on social media. So, what sort of images and content are we providing these young minds with? Well, the hope is that we’re showing them socially conscious and meaningful content that will shape the way they view the world and the way that they contribute to it. Because, how can they not be shaped by it when it consumes so many hours of their day? So, there is a push now to make more deliberate decisions about the images we present on social media and what sort of ideas those images represent.
Dove, an expert at shaping positivity into their brand and its message, is of course, at the forefront of this. Teamed up with Mindshare in Denmark, Dove recently ran a campaign where they “hacked” an industry photography site, Shutterstock, and altered the algorithm of the site so that when ad agencies or marketing agencies were looking for something like “beautiful woman” their search results came back with something other than the old standard. The new images showed women in non-stereotypical settings, looking strong, capable and much more than just “beautiful.” These were women covered in mud and playing rugby, or in a garage working on a car. These are beautiful women, doing things that real women do, and showing that there is substance that goes along with these bodies. The idea for the campaign stemmed from the fact that 68 percent of women said they could not relate to the images of women in advertising. So, you remember those teens spending up to 9 hours a day a social media? They’re seeing those ads too. Their minds are being shaped about what society expects them to be. The images they see will shape how they feel about themselves and their value in society.
Changing the images from superficial to substantive is one of the small steps we’re taking now to shape a society that sees value in women for more than what they look like. In Hollywood, where a significant source of our self-image is created, there is a movement to do the same thing. Geena Davis, an actress who knows a little something about channeling strong women (Thelma & Louise, A League of Their Own, etc.) has long led the charge in the push to show more women in television and film as engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers and CEOs–jobs they really hold in real life–and making them fully-fleshed, deep characters that can be role models for girls and women. But, she has now delved into the advertising world and is helping brands to make a conscious effort to also create media that shows women in a way that is not objectifying or damaging. In an interview with AdWeek, she said the reason for her work is that, “It’s just very important for every company to realize the potential for unconscious gender bias and take very, very concrete and active steps to counteract it.”
Social media has always had an enormous amount of potential. I think we’ve spend so long figuring out what we could do that we didn’t really spend too much time thinking about what we should do with this technology. I, for one, am looking forward to a world where my daughters look up at a screen and see women who remind them of their mother: strong, capable, intelligent and unafraid to take on the world.