The media are often criticised for the way in which they report issues of gender violence, writes Marbeline Mwashekele for Gender Links. But in reality, they simply reflect the values of broader society.

Marbeline Mwashekele writes for Gender Links:

Media has always, and will always, have a major impact on the lives of human beings, simply because it has the power to influence! In fact, one of the main objectives of media is to influence change. With 16 Days of Activism just around the corner, it is an appropriate time to reflect on media and gender, and media’s role in helping to put a stop to gender violence.

Individuals interpret or misinterpret media, just like everything else, based on their experiences or background. The media exists to tell a story. In most cases, we are hoping the journalists telling the story are unbiased and ethical reporters in order for us to get an accurate version of the story!

When it comes to reporting on issues concerning women, yes, the media tends to portray women as the eternal victims. In the same vein, most of our sources are men. Women sometimes shy away from letting their voices be heard because they probably believe that what they have to say is not good enough. In addition, usually the media does not delve deep into the underlying causes of such issues as domestic violence, sex work, or such social problems as “baby dumping.”

Regarding the abovementioned, the media certainly becomes part of the problem in that it does not report in such a way to influence women to positions, and feeling of power! The media could have a far better impact if it reported in such a way that women emerge as survivors, rather than victims.

It would make sense that women will be the main source of information where issues of gender and violence, or anything else is concerned. One can imagine an environment in which women would feel positive and empowered enough to express themselves without thoughts and or feelings self-doubt.

Perhaps one problem is that many women fall prey to the pressures of society, and are from a young age conditioned to play the roles of eternal victims, and to speak only when spoken to. From a young age, girls and women are taught (explicitly and implicitly) to be docile and obedient, and to always make way for men because they are providers; they deserve respect and their word is final! Even fairytales portray the little princesses as victims who can only live happily ever after if a prince comes and saves them on his white horse with his strong arms, and so on and so forth!

The media is a powerful tool, and the media is part of the problem because it perpetuates the message that women are victims, unreliable sources and need to be saved.

So, to start with, what if the media focused on reporting on a story of domestic violence, but tells it in such a way that the women concerned survived the incident! Also, what she did to survive! Her struggle. Her process. Her fight! Imagine how many women can read that and think – “oh, if she can do it, so can I!”

Imagine if little princesses did not have to wait for a prince on a white horse, and solved their own problems! How many women would say, well if Sleeping Beauty could do this, so can I!

However, it Is not fair to entirely think that all the blame should be pinned on the media, because as much as the media perpetuate the problem, the media can also be the solution. In fact, it is the only way! However, we have to remember that the media is only a medium!

Enter Marshall McLuhan! He coined the phrase “the medium is the message”!

McLuhan's insight was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. Meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences the perception of the message.

This basically means that, the media is not really the problem, but the society that feeds the media is. How we as women, and society as a whole, decide to make use of our media, will influence and determine the way we interpret and misinterpret the message of the media.

What if more women came forward to tell their stories? What if women felt responsible to use the media to say their say without self-doubt and fear! What if women had survivor instincts form birth! Can you image the type of headlines we would have! “Woman tell her story of domestic violence to help other women!” as opposed to “Another woman becomes a victim of domestic violence! It defiantly suggests that it is almost expected to happen!

No. The media is not to blame for the state of mind that society has created. The media reports what is already there. Therefore, if what is already cannot be changed, by society, then we will only get more of what is already there.

Women and society should use the media, twist and turn it into a tool that will work for all of us. There is no use in criticising the media – unless you are willing to stake a stand and change your thinking process – and thereby changing the message! Hence, turning the problem into a solution!

* Marbeline Mwashekele is the Acting National Director of MISA Namibia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.