A good friend shared Cracked Magazine’s online article, 5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women. It’s another of the continuing series of pop magazine articles that make the claim sexist media are warping our children into adopting sexist, misogynistic viewpoints. (Tough Guise is a somewhat dated documentary making a similar claim)
And I’ve got to be honest, I am really sick of this argument. Because all of them I have seen to date are so methodologically flawed. I know, I know. It’s Cracked. But in all of these, there’s no attempt at applying basic methodological rigor. They never try to discern the path of cause and effect or using some type of experimental setup to define a clear causality. Rather, these various pieces simply recognize that there’s something of a correlation between media presentations of male behavior and observed male behavior and assume that the media is causing boys to act badly – because, hey, it makes sense!
But the argument that sexist media causes sexist boys is really, really weakly founded. Yes, we can find a number of media examples of nasty portrayals of women. All kinds of movies show women as sex objects, or as Cracked puts it, the prize for winning a battle. But why do we assume that the movies actually have an influence on how boys think of women? Developmental psychology doesn’t even list mass media on its criteria of influencing factors – instead, we talk about Mom, Dad, siblings, friends, and the womb. As far as I can tell, the entire basis behind an approach of “the media made me do it” is that it’s feasible it could have an influence.
Sounds an awful lot like the whole boob tube argument – TV makes people stupid despite the fact that we’re a lot more knowledgable than our grandparents were.
So I started thinking – how could we test for media’s influence on boys’ views of women? A controlled experiment is really out of the question. Methodologically impossible and highly unethical. But we can look for natural experiments. Let’s look for cultures that have been exposed to Western depictions of women and those who haven’t. If we can see some kind of positive correlation between media exposure and negative views of women, then we can at least claim a causation is feasible.
I decided to run this experiment very informally (read, in my head). The results? Not good for Cracked and Jackson Katz. Let’s name regions that have been exposed to the corrupting influence of Transformers, Star Wars, and Karate Kid:
- Western Europe
- Central America
- Post-Soviet Russia
And how about regions that haven’t been? I’m going historical here to get a larger sample pool. But I don’t see issues in analyzing developed historical cultures if we’re simply trying to measure the effect of mass media.
- Rural Africa
- Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other conservative Middle Eastern countries
- Much of South America
- U.S. and Western Europe before 1945
- Ancient Greece and Rome
- Europe during the Middle Ages
- China and Japan during the Imperial Eras
- I’ll stop there
Think of attitudes toward women as objects to be possessed. Where is it more common? By my count, overwhelmingly in the un-exposed regions. It’s not even close. Sure, my sample is incomplete and most likely skewed, but I don’t see those dynamics changing the conclusion.
So the result of this highly informal, highly un-rigorous experiment? There is no correlation between exposure to Western media and attitudes of women as prizes. In fact, if anything the reverse is true. Exposure to Western media goes alongside viewing women as fellow humans.
Why, then, would Cracked and so many like them try to claim that media exposure warps little boys’ minds? It’s not a simple confusion of correlation vs. causation. Rather, it’s a case of wishing something to be true. We’d like to blame the views of men toward women on some type of corrupting social influence. It means that the views (and all their resulting problems) are something that can be fixed. If we can just have higher quality movies, all would be right with the world.
I just haven’t seen any evidence to support that view. Sorry, Cracked.