How the arts and media shape gender perception
I attended a panel discussion at the Lagos X Art fair, recently, and one of the artists expressed that being labelled female artist at various art exhibitions and showcases usually made people focus more on her gender and instead of focusing on the art itself. They would try and analyse her art through the lens of her gender and because of this the audience and potential critics failed to fully assess the art; thus, leaving her without the needed feedback to grow her craft as an artist. I found this other side of the coin pivotal – when a woman is acknowledged only for her gender presence and not her ability, it causes the same effect as if she were invisible all together, the merit is not acknowledged and the work does not stand a chance of advancing.
When it comes to Nollywood, from the cast to the writers and directors, everything we are seeing as viewers is helping to shape our perception. In fact, everything on your screen, from the television program to the ads, are all intentionally placed for digestion into your psyche to make you crave a certain beverage or sofa when next you go shopping. This is why major campaigns, for example those that seek to spread awareness about safe sex and HIV/AIDS, go to the arts to push their message through to the masses such as MTV’s Shuga and USAID’s Love Games which tackle issues of rape, STIs and disease prevention. But what if perceptions and views of the opposite sex were unintentionally perpetuated by a lack of representation in the writer’s room. Without representation of all genders, off-centre gender perceptions can be pushed un-intentionally.
If a room of writers are commissioned to write a 30-minute segment to air once a week on primetime television when entire households are glued to their screens, where do the content of the words, plots and storyline go? They enter into the psyche of the individual(s) watching. Now what happens when it is an hour-long program, aired every day. All these factors must go into consideration with big production projects, and even the smaller ones, if the hope is that someone, even one person will be viewing it: how gender-balanced is the content?
A couple of years ago, the long-running American late-night comedy show, Saturday Night Live (SNL), was under fire when criticisms arose about their cast that after many decades they did not have one single African American woman, except for one who was biracial. Things quickly changed and not only were two African American women added to the cast, but changes were also made behind the curtains with African American writers, some women, being added to the skit writing staff. The lack of representation of a whole gender when creating content, can either result in the misrepresentation or no representation all together. If more African American women were added to SNL’s writing staff years ago, I am sure said writers would have observed the lack of diversity in having someone to act out the content most relatable to their demographic and changes to the cast could have been made sooner. But better late than never, right.
There currently exists a lack of women in children programming content creation, which can lead to imbalanced ideas on gender. From a young age, children who watch television are being programmed to believe the content they are being shown. Currently, there are disproportionately higher number of male content creators for children programming. This imbalance can lead to a lack of representation of the views unique to girls, and without this content, male perceptions and views dominate the mind and psyche of children which doesn’t aid for an inclusive society where all are understood.
The importance of content creation, has since become a rising mode of influence in the generation of social media with real time coverage and daily documentaries – everyone’s a content creator. But what happens when content providers of major brands hire only women or only men to run a gender-neutral brand? (Shrugs). I would say that it could depend on the brand. But what about a brand that is actually specified for one gender. For example, let’s say a brand for men, hired a woman to manage their social media accounts for content creation, does it make a difference? I can say that the amount of research for accuracy can up the ante on how labour intensive her work might be cut out for her and vice versa, if it were a man hired to create content for a women’s brand.
If a man is hired to manage a woman-centric brand, his views on the type of content can be disruptive based on limitations of knowledge of the female psyche. This can be demonstrated by the 1950’s and subsequent decades of advertisement when only men ran the media world and nothing much related to women except they were stay-at-home mothers with no careers. I am confident to say that the men in our generation have evolved from this myopic view of the woman and see her many offerings to the world. The ramifications of her exploring her world and the world of art and media, and sharing them on the screen, means that the many facets of all genders can be embraced and showcased.