In the late 1960s, Virginia Slims cigarette advertising told women, "You've come a long way, baby." Women have come even further since then, but equality remains elusive.
A program at Valparaiso University last week examined the role of female stereotypes in the media — especially advertising, movies and television — in depriving girls of the positive role models they need to help finally attain equality.
Some statistics from the movie "Miss Representation," aired by the Women Lawyers Association at Valparaiso University, are worth considering:
- Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population but only 17 percent of Congress.
- Only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
- The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world.
- One in six women are survivors of rape or attempted rape.
A few days after the program, a Gallup poll showed Americans would prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35 percent to 23 percent. It's further proof of the gender gap.
And don't forget the September study by researchers at St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, Ind., that determined Hoosier girls ages 10 to 19 often have a harder time than girls elsewhere.
These facts are often acknowledged but seldom acted upon. Last week's program urged action.
"Very often women hesitate to assume leadership roles," said Melissa Cohen, president of the Women Lawyers Association at VU. "They sometimes believe they are not qualified or someone else is more qualified, and they hold back. The reason this happens in society, in large part, is due to the bombardment of women's images in the media that show their only value lies in their youth and beauty."
The first step, Cohen said, "is to make all women aware of these portrayals in the media, to stop the cycle of indoctrination for ourselves, our daughters and sons, and our husbands."
She's right. This is an issue all women and girls should be concerned about, but also men and boys. It shouldn't be just women fighting for equal rights, but everyone.
Youths need strong role models, and the media are failing to deliver them, to the detriment of society. That must change.