Reading Emily B.’s piece on good and bad cyberbullying PSAs reminded me of the gender stereotyping that often accompanies Internet safety messages. Let’s start with the video produced by the education committee of the Antitrust Section of the American Bar Association that Emily flagged. The dialogue among the young women-besides being laughable-could not be more stereotypical: the gossiping mean-girl persona. This portrayal is one-dimensional and it lacks any sort of educational or prevention-message value. Instead of being a learning tool about the varied roles girls actually play, the video regurgitates an archetype that is as passé as it is offensive.
The creators also throw in a hefty dose of “body-snarking” references to the physical appearance of the mean girls’ target, along with “slut-shaming” labels. Guess what? Portraying these kinds of sexualized and gendered forms of harassment in the way this video does creates significant opportunities to actually harm those who view it. The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls released a report that addresses the deleterious effects this type of representation has on girls. The report found that three of the most common mental health problems among girls-eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem-are linked to the sexualization of girls and women in the media.
Which brings us to David Schwimmer’s new movie, Trust . In Emily’s piece we learn that, “after the rape, her mother talks about how her daughter is ruined and the father acts as if she is.” In this scene we are treated to an age-old double standard-a young woman is “ruined” after she is raped. The sentiments expressed here perpetuate the almost subconscious acceptance of girls being evaluated or valued by their sexual status. While Schwimmer may have consulted with a rape foundation for the film, it appears he missed a chance to dismantle a stereotype and educate his viewers about the social-emotional implications for girls dealing with the aftermath of rape. That’s too bad.