Flash Friday: Women Who Inspire…from the 20 and 40-Something Perspective

Today is Flash Friday – when 40:20 Vision tackles an issue from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s topic is gender images: What portrayals of women in media are inspiring, and what are not? Who are your media role models, and why? I went on to explore how women feel about how women are portrayed in the media. Here are the answers! As always we welcome comments and discussion…it’s all about creating conversation.

Inspiring Women in Media: The 20-Something Perspective

By Molly Ford

Today, viewing media is almost inescapable. Whether watching television, browsing YouTube videos, reading articles, or following persons of interest on social channels, media can easily engulf a 20-something’s daily life. The upside to consuming so much media, however, is that 20-somethings are exposed to many potential inspiring female role models in fields like television, business, journalism, and film.

So who do 20-something women today find inspiring in the media? When the question was posed on Twitter, Facebook, and to my friends, the answers came back as varied as Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Bethenny Frankel, Zooey Deschanel, Sophia Bush, Reese Witherspoon, Campbell Brown, Erin Burnett, Sandra Bullock, Giuliana Rancic, Ellen DeGeneres, “most of the cast of Buffy,” Rachel Maddow, Nancy Meyers, Kate Middleton and Lauren Conrad.

While the choices of which women in media are inspiring to 20-somethings vary, one common thread I saw over and over again was why someone labeled that person inspiring. The three most common characteristics for why a 20-something chose someone as inspiring were that the woman was perceived as smart, positive, and/or genuine. Almost everyone gave some variation of those characteristics as a rationale for their picks.

What I also thought was particularly interesting was that many 20-somethings want to see women in media making a real impact and difference with their fame and influence. For example, Holly writes that Zooey Deschanel is inspiring “for providing a positive platform for women writers on Hello Giggles,” while Sophia Bush inspires her by working with the non-profit moment To Write Love On Her Arms. Having an interesting and unique point of view, and not being afraid to share it, also helps make a real difference: “I’m inspired by strong female journalists with a message: Campbell Brown, Erin Burnett…they portray themselves quite well,” writes Ellie.

To me, the biggest takeaway from pointing out inspiring women in media is that the traits identified for why these celebrities are inspiring are also characteristics that women of all ages, income levels, and professions can apply to their own lives.  We can all work at valuing intelligence, spreading positivity, and being genuine to ourselves: a powerful message for all women!

Inspiring Women in Media: The 40-Something Perspective
By Christina Vuleta

I love the responses from 20-soemthings in that they are empowering women who are making an impact. Agreed they do provide a powerful message for all women. And while I’m sure many of these women are inspiring to 40-somethings as well, the discussion was a bit different for 40-something women.

In some ways media images become less influential as you reach your forties. The process of defining who you are transitions to fulfilling who you are as you age. We are not looking to how women are portrayed in media as a cue to who we would like to be but rather reinforcing who we are and what we believe in.

Reinforcing women as game-changers:

Katie Couric came up with more than one 40-something. She broke the boundaries of women in media and rose to the top without losing her “spunk” and femininity in the process. Similarly, Ellen Degeneres was called out for being inspiring, reinventing daytime TV and proving you can come out and be yourself.

One woman admired Oprah Winfrey for her determination and vision.

“If she had said as a child, I want to have a huge broadcasting empire, people would have laughed. It wasn’t available then. But in her head she had this faith that she could have it and didn’t’ let anybody tell her no. It’s that determined, I’ll be damned, attitude. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back.” – 40-something, wellness coach, entrepreneur, NYC

Interestingly, another woman had a far different opinion on Oprah.

“I personally find Oprah to be a poor role model – she often speaks to people/guests on her show in a judgmental way. I think she uses philanthropy as a way to promote herself rather than just the right thing to do.”

Connecting to issues we struggled with….

Often times, gender images in the media that we respond to at 40 connect to something we don’t want others to struggle with…or found strength in and want to pass that on to younger generations. One 40-something mentioned the woman behind Miss Representation Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Her documentary aims to expose the gender fallacies we see portrayed in the media:

“She’s smart and gracious but trying to change things for women in a positive way.”

The film brings awareness to the onslaught of media images that send the message that “women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality.”  There has been a surge of support for the movie indicating that women do feel pressure from the media in terms of how they should look and act. This woman agreed with the movies premise that we should all be judged for our talents rather than sexuality.

We choose the media that reinforces our beliefs…

Another reason 40-somethings seem to have fewer “gender” role models is that we tend to filter our media more. Several women commented that they have stopped reading fashion magazines as the images are unrealistic. One woman cultural trend expert and 40-something noted that media portrayal of gender is self –selecting in todays pull vs. push world. We pick and choose what we want to read and view:

“The media is so wide and varied now that you can always find a tone to suit you. When I was in my 20s there was no Internet so you had limited portrayal and the situation was quite different. Today, I don’t think I can summon up the energy to get cross about Go Daddy commercials.”

She finds the recent discussion about the new female CEO of IBM, Virginia Comity and Masters Tournament to be more reflective of the extraordinary state of gender issues than who are role models are:

“The company sponsors the Masters to the tune of millions of dollars, but women are not admitted to the club. I think the media is very tempered about it and have dutifully been reporting her wearing a pink jacket. The Wall Street Journal came close to exploring the arguments – but stopped short of voicing an opinion.”

She went on to comment that women of all ages are more likely to choose role models closer to home – their mom, grandma, a teacher or local figure rather than from pop culture. When it comes to celebrities, she notices women often pick and choose “parts” of the women to aspire to versus emulate as a whole. For example, Angelina Jolie is so beautiful; Megan Fox so sexy, Jennifer Garner a good mom. This reflects our more multi-faceted view of ourselves.

We want images that realistically portray our life’s ups and downs….

However there are some portrayals that seem to hit home for many women because they are more realistic. The women in Modern Family come to mind for many. One 40-something single women liked the fact that both characters, the sexy step mom and the average mom both share feelings of inadequacy at times.

I was curious if this plays out differently for moms who want their daughters to have positive gender images to relate to as they grow up. Many mothers try to give their children positive role models…Michelle Obama and women pioneering in technology math and science over the glamification of children a la teen pageants.

This woman gave considered thought to her point of view as both a woman working in advertising, a mom …and in relation to the evolving role fathers play.

 “One key factor I think plays into the role of women in today’s media is the evolving role of men, specifically as it relates to fatherhood. I think there are a couple of shows that have gotten this right. Modern Family is one of them. Clair Dunphy’s role as a slightly neurotic mom is lovable in that it’s quite relatable. She is sort of “today’s traditional” which looks and feels very different than the mothers of yesteryear.

And though Phil as her counterpart is clearly scripted as a bit hapless, his role as an active father in his kids’ life is unmistakable and allows the audience to accept both the slightly neurotic mom and the goofball dad.”

She went on to talk how the show brings to life the overt struggle over the question of whether to work or to stay home:

“It’s an issue many women I know still grapple with as it relates to doing “what’s right” and being happy…and how that might come across to other people.”

She also believes the show Parenthood is noteworthy for its reflection of, parenthood today despite some corny writing. The characters of Christina (Monica Potter) and Adam (Peter Krause) in particular:

“Her daily excitement and frustrations feel very contemporary, as do his, and it is their role as hands-on co-parents that makes them both feel very real, and likeable.”

On the flip side, she finds the over-exposure of women in reality TV to be insulting and frustrating, from The Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant to the Real Housewives of Anything: 

“WHY of all the many accomplished women out there, are we glorifying this lot? The reality TV collective diminishes women to caring mostly about clothes, haircuts and workouts. And, lest I come across too pious, I’m the first to admit, I DO care about all of those things, as do most women. But it’s common denominator thinking of the largest proportion and a sad commentary on society, to have the takeaway be about that and only that.”

In the end, we neither want to see the perfect June Cleaver …nor do we want to see a train wreck. We want to see that life is imperfect but that doesn’t mean it’s not joyful.

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