Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have teamed with actress Geena Davis and the Girl Scouts of America to introduce and promote the Healthy Media for Youth Act, a bill to facilitate research on how the media affects women, create a grant program for youth empowerment groups and establish a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media to set standards ”that promote healthy, balanced, and positive images of girls and women.”
“Children are consuming more media than ever, but unfortunately, the images they see often reinforce gender stereotypes, emphasize unrealistic body images or show women in passive roles. The need for more positive images of girls in the media is clear,” said Baldwin. “I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will help girls and young women see themselves in a new and stronger light.”
A press release about the event cited a survey from the Girl Scout Research Institute, which found that 89 percent of girls say the fashion industry pressures them to be skinny. The release also pointed to a 2007 report from the the American Psychological Association, which showed that eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem “are linked to the sexualization of girls and women in media.”
“I am proud to join with Sen. Hagan and Rep. Baldwin to promote gender equality, and positive portrayals of women and girls in the media,” said Davis, whose Institute of Gender in Media found that male characters outnumber female characters nearly three to one in family films and television. The discrepancy grows to five to one in background or group scenes. Further, only 27 percent of speaking characters are women.
It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the problem. I just don’t think it’s the government’s role to solve it. By all means, Ms. Hagan and Ms. Baldwin, feel free in your free time (i.e. not on the taxpayers’ dime!) to lobby advertisers, TV and movie producers, magazine editors and others to feature “healthier” images of women. Buy Dove products to reward their “Real Beauty” campaign. Give speeches to middle school girls. Or, copy First Lady Michele Obama and conspicuously order high-calorie shakes so anybody watching knows it’s OK to be less-than-skinny (just not OK to be obese!).
However well-intentioned, this sort of legislation — just like recently proposed voluntary guidelines for marketing food to children — misses the mark. It reflects a kind of utopianism, a naive faith in the power of government to solve problems and a surprising absolution of parents and guardians, who bear ultimate responsibility for what media children are allowed to consume.