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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: December 17, 2012 NO. 51 DECEMBER 20, 2012
Misrepresented Women
Experts in media and gender studies call for a more truthful representation of women in the media
By Ji Jing

SLIMMING DOWN: An office worker drinks anti-adipose tea even though she is not overweight (JI JING)

SUPER WOMAN: An advertisement features a woman presenting an electric cooker. On TV, women are often associated with family chores like cooking, cleaning and laundering (FILE)

On entering the manned spacecraft Shenzhou-9, Jing Haipeng, the 45-year-old Commanding Officer, is closely followed by his 43-year-old colleague Liu Wang and Liu Yang, their 33-year-old "younger sister" who waves to the crowd with "a sweet smile."

This was how the Hexun website described Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, as she set out on her first trip into space on June 16.

"This report highlights Liu Yang's image as a 'younger sister,' who needs male protection, playing down the fact that she has completed a large amount of training in three years and can operate a spacecraft as well as her two male counterparts," Tan Lin, Director of the Women's Studies Institute of China, said at the Media and Gender Forum held by Communication University of China (CUC) on November 27.

Tan studied 121 news items on Liu Yang's time in space in Shenzhou-9 and found that most stressed her role as a traditional woman while less than 30 percent objectively reflected her image as a professional astronaut. One CCTV report said Liu Yang fulfilled her role as a woman by cleaning up the Tiangong-1 space station during night watch on June 20.

"Liu Yang didn't travel to space as a cleaner," Tan commented. "This report overemphasizes her role as a woman."

The two-day forum aims to explore the media's responsibility in promoting gender equality and achieving a more truthful representation of women.

Women in the media

The Fourth World Conference of Women held in Beijing in 1995 identified "women and the media" as one of the 12 critical areas of concern and called for the advance of women's development and gender equality, a landmark event in recent history. The 2011-20 Outline for Chinese Women's Development issued by the State Council on July 30, 2011, additionally requires the media to raise gender awareness and avoid discrimination.

However, the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 released on September 29, 2010, pointed out that women are still significantly underrepresented and misrepresented in news media coverage. Only one fourth of people featured in the news are female, with media repeatedly reinforcing gender stereotypes. Professional commentary is also overwhelmingly male, with only one female for every five experts.

"In China, gender communication studies are still at a preliminary stage," Tan said. "Gender awareness in the media remains weak, with women often stereotyped and discriminated against."

Cao Zhaoqin, Director of Capital Women Journalists' Association, also pointed out that Chinese media has unconsciously established an unequal gender relationship and reinforced a male-dominated society.

By studying the image of women in advertisements, researchers at the School of Advertisement at CUC found that more than half those represented are housewives while most men are seen in the roles of scientists, teachers, doctors and managers. Women are often shown occupied in housework while men enjoy a time of leisure at home. In other words, women today are still portrayed in the traditional roles of caring wives and mothers. Most seem to focus more on outward appearance while lacking independent thought.

At the forum, Liu Liqun, Director of the Media and Gender Studies Center at CUC, presented an edible oil commercial in which the mother enjoys being a housewife, providing love and care to her husband and child.

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