We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation’s sixth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue facing their generation. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-one states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Bryce Wilson Stucki of Virginia Tech University and Hannah Moon of Brooklyn College Academy in Brooklyn, New York. This is a high school finalist. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. —The Editors
Prior to this day, I never would have imagined myself identifying misogyny, or the hatred of women, as the issue of my generation. I say this not because I am a male but rather because I genuinely believed that the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution marked the end of any form of gender-based oppression in the United States.
Yet today, in less than four minutes, my narrow-minded belief was completely upended.
Three minutes and fifty-one seconds into Eminem’s “Superman,” I heard the highly acclaimed rapper declare: “Put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand.” Evidently, there is no need for quote analysis here. Suddenly, my opinion of a record I had been listening to for over eight years was turned on its head. In his lyrics, Eminem was plainly abusing a woman and telling the world about it. My disapproval then escalated to curiosity. How was such a frequently heard song able to conceal its appalling and misogynistic lyrics for over eight years? At some point in my life, did I ever recite those exact lyrics while singing in the shower? While chatting with my friends? In front of my teachers? Was anyone else in the world aware of Eminem’s subliminal endorsement of misogyny?
In less than four minutes, I had uncovered a corner of the greater picture that is the deeply rooted oppression of women. Songs similar to “Superman” perpetuate the treatment of women as property or objects of sex, and convey the message that men should treat women as such. Somehow, many mainstream songs have obscured their misogynistic lyrics and penetrated the minds of young and developing minds.
Further research led me to a film by Thomas Keith of the Media Education Foundation titled “Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture.” The film presents a variety of ways in which the media portray women through lyrics, music videos, movies, television and magazines. The media are filled with images of models and celebrities with “perfect” hair, “perfect” skin and “perfect” bodies. Scantily clothed women are commonly seen as background dancers in music videos, acting as accessories to rappers who in turn objectify them. Even female celebrities perform songs about how men are seduced when they act in an overly sexual manner. Magazines, tagged with the words “hot” and “beauty” on every other page, encourage young women to spend money on cosmetics and make-up. Unconsciously and helplessly, the media have created a culture in which women must flaunt their bodies and fuel the fashion and cosmetics industry to be beautiful. According to Keith’s film, by fourth grade, 80 percent of all California girls have been on a diet at some point in their lives. Surrounded by images of “perfection,” women are pressured into obsessing over their appearance. The media has shaped women to believe that being impossibly thin is true beauty. Perhaps the frightening statistic that 95 percent of all individuals with eating disorders are women is the result of this underlying pressure.
Beyond Keith’s film, it is estimated that one Barbie doll is purchased every three seconds in the world. Young women and children, the target market of Barbie dolls, are being brainwashed into thinking that becoming a life-size Barbie doll is the ultimate goal in life. Yet the sad truth is that if a woman were a life-sized Barbie doll, her leg bones would snap in an instant, she would be severely anorexic and her breasts would be so disproportional that she would have to walk with both her hands and feet to support her body weight.
Through its portrayal of women, the media has also set double standards and therefore diminished the quality of life for both women and men. Popular culture has labeled certain qualities as either “feminine” or “masculine.” To be “feminine,” women must be gentle, sensitive, nurturing and submissive. To be “masculine,” men must be muscular, aggressive and authoritative. If men do not maintain this “tough-guy” persona, or if they display any of the aforementioned “feminine” qualities, their sexual orientation is questioned. Similarly, if women are not “feminine” and display any of the aforementioned “masculine” qualities, their sexual orientation is also questioned. However, all of the qualities mentioned, regardless of their label, are human qualities. It is the media, with their “perfect” images of men and women, which have labeled these qualities and thus confined people to categories that fall under their gender. As a result, both men and women are being oppressed and devalued.
Definitions of femininity and attitudes about women in popular media and culture are pressuring women to become obsessed with their appearance, forcing women into extreme diets and eating disorders, and setting double standards between men and women in society. Today, I have no doubt that misogyny is the most serious issue of my generation.