Sexist Norms Sneaking back into Acceptance, Columnist Warns

Sarah Clark

Society is slipping back into the sexist norms of the times before the feminist movement warned Rekha Basu last night at her lecture How the Media Looks at Women.

Basu, award-winning columnist for the Des Moines Register, argued that the media negatively portrays women and often fails to accurately report on important issues about women.

She referenced a series of segments from the Today Show where topics ranged from how more women would prefer to be thin than have a smart child, to how half of men claim they would leave their women if they were to gain weight.

“If the intended audience is women,” said Basu, “Why not empower them with examples of strong women who are doing great things all over the world? Why not build their confidence instead of undermine it?”

Basu spoke of the inequalities that women fought so hardly against in the feminist movement and argued that those inequalities are now visible once again in today’s society.

“How is it that 35 years into the women’s movement, the culture is still teaching men to assert their power over women through violence?” asked Basu.

“One reason,” said Basu, “is that we feminists assumed society had changed forever and didn’t realize that upcoming generations need constant reminding of the need to keep reasserting our rights and our movement.”

Basu pointed out that gains have been made to forward the positive visibility of women in both media and the journalism industry, but the sexist norms are slowly slipping back into acceptance.

“Since the seventies, serious efforts have been made to expunge sexist , demeaning and irrelevant language and information from news stories,” said Basu.

Basu thinks one resolution to break the attitudes is through the media.

“We need to get rid of the limiting notions of masculinity by telling more stories and showing more TV programs in which men break out of those sex roles to be competent and satisfied caregivers or to win women’s hearts by being vulnerable rather than macho,” said Basu.

Basu also thinks that a solution to the problem is through the new wave of upcoming journalists.

“Young reporters need to be guided to ask the hard questions or approach people of different backgrounds than their own.”

Dean Prestemon, whose columns have been featured in the Ames Tribune, was pleased with Basu’s lecture and thinks she is a great role model for students.

“I think she’s a good role model for people,” said Prestemon. “You have to stand up for what you believe in. She has that experience of expressing something, getting beaten back by critics and then bouncing back.”

“She’s a very strong woman. Students should take a look at her life, she’s a good example for them.”

Basu’s lecture was featured in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Women and Gender Studies program at Iowa State University.