propaganda as sexism

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There is a substantial amount of feminist research on sexism in language and various forms of media sexism (children’s literature, print, radio, and television advertising and programming, and motion pictures). However, after an extensive search for studies linking language and media sexism to unintentional propaganda that occurs in small groups and one-on-one, nothing specifically linking them was uncovered. This literature review hopes to fill that gap.

Keywords: feminism, sexism, language, media, unintentional propaganda


Research Statement

While my fascination and study of propaganda began several years ago, I did not make the leap and link it to language and media sexism until a few years ago through a feminist psychology course. My research began with the definition of unintentional propaganda supplied by Leonard W. Doob (1966). This definition allowed me to make the connection to language, small groups and unintentional influence. When I began researching literature for this bibliography, I was hopeful that I would find unintentional propaganda, or at least propaganda linked to language and media sexism within the research. After an extensive search, I found nothing directly. Instead, I found references to overt, subtle, and unintentional sexism embedded in language, literature, and media texts. I was able to tie these directly to unintentional propaganda based on discussion material in each source.

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Growing up, I had enough struggles to keep out of the way, to understand what was going on around me, and to navigate my own way through puberty in junior high and high school.  As it was for everyone else, it wasn’t easy for me.  I had no conversation with my parents about any of it because I did not feel comfortable talking with my parents or my father about anything.  Understanding came later with my father and it is still difficult to have any conversation with my mother.  Oddly, the one person I felt completely safe with, my grandmother, never brought up the subject and I never thought to ask.

I was different.  I read a lot of books and my socialability developed late, so I was shy and appeared withdrawn and awkward.  Where other boys were abusive and rude to teenage girls (which in retrospect is “normal” in this society of male conditioning), I made an effort to be kind, understanding, and as protective as I was able because that’s what I projected from childhood.  I am still that was in many aspects.  When boys stole purses to torment, I attempted to play along when they were playing catch and once I had the item, I returned it.

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Media propaganda is vitally important, whether advertising, marketing, movies or television shows, to the reinforcement of stereotyped images of women and persons of color, most of it subconscious and embedded within the very imagery of language that each of us use and the conditioning propaganda that all of us have been subjected to and programmed with for centuries, especially the twentieth and the twenty-first.  This conditioning propaganda surfaced in a recent Facebook conversation with a friend who emphatically and seriously believes that feminism, through a government interventionist conspiracy, destabilized and destabilizes societies worldwide.  He apparently has “evidence” of this and would not even consider that patriarchal control and domination of corporations, and hence government, is responsible for destabilizing society by not treating everyone equally in the eyes of the law, letter or spirit, or even within the wider society in general.  Just this one example convinces me that this is an important and insidious issue that must be overcome, but like racism that is tied into the feminist issue of true equality for all, it will take decades, if not centuries, of intentional and intensive counter propaganda, aided by assessments of imagery and semiotics until it becomes a truly subconscious and unintentional propaganda influence that pervades wider society from person to person and group to group.

The readings in Chapter 2 of Women and Gender, Images of Women and Men, discuss beauty, whiteness as a social construction, stereotypes, sexism, and language imagery as means to perpetuate the status quo of sexism throughout the media.  Gender propaganda is not discussed specifically, but I believe it pervades and influences every other aspect of inequality that is discussed throughout the chapter.  It is the underlying subconscious shorthand re-enforcer that conveys immediate ideas without conscious thought, to sell products, to reelect politicians, to perpetuate the white social construct, male-dominated societal power structures.  To the advertising and corporate executive or even most of the masses, this propaganda conditioning is part of their very being.  They don’t even think about the words of the script or the imagery used because they believe in the rightness and normality of the status quo and so are unable to see the underlying damage that is perpetuated. Here is why I can understand somewhat that someone would believe that feminism is responsible for the so-called destruction of the very fabric of society. To the public, this is reinforced conditioning of stereotypes that do not allow anyone to evolve or to be treated with equality. The gender propaganda reinforces unacceptable behavior as a norm while moving product is of primary importance, not the propaganda behind the methods used to sell it.

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