This Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation at the Youth 2 Youth conference held here in Columbus. The performance, titled “The MANufactured and MISSrepresented Image,” brought to light the negative gender stereotypes which pervade media and empowered the youth audience to be critical consumers of media and positive voices in their community. The coolest part about it was that the entire production was written and performed by high school leaders in the Youth 2 Youth program.
These students were inspired by the documentary film Miss Representation, which addresses issues of gender in the media, to find a way to find a way to communicate this message to the youth audience. Months of hard work went into staging the production which was accompanied by a high-quality multimedia presentation, costumes, and props.
Their work paid off. The performance was very well done and the audience was energetically engaged throughout. By incorporating raps, skits, video clips, music and lots of audience participation the show was very entertaining and perfectly tailored to the teenagers watching. Peers are powerful influencers and the messages that come from peers are often viewed as more credible because they share the same experiences. The impact of peer-to-peer communication was apparent on Wednesday as the teen performers elicited thoughtful responses and raucous cheers from the crowd.
One segment of the presentation was an especially big hit, and my personal favorite. Boys were seated on one side of the room and girls on the other. On stage, two performers took turns asking questions to their respective sides of the room. The audience was directed to stand if the question applied to them. “Have you ever hidden tears because you were afraid people would think you weren’t manly?” “Have you ever dumbed yourself down to protect a man’s ego?” In each group, almost everyone would stand. It demonstrated that we all face the negative ramifications of gender stereotypes.
Next, the performers asked if anyone would like to say anything to the other side of the room. Several girls and boys stood up and shared what they wanted the others to know. “Don’t judge girls on what they are wearing.” “Not all boys are 6’2” and play sports.” It was cool to see the boldness of these teens, but even cooler to hear the room’s applause in support of their peers’ remarks. There was an atmosphere of such respect and enthusiasm.
It was encouraging to see teenagers engaging with issues that are complex and challenging. It was also a privilege to be there as a representative of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio who has helped to make this program possible.
At the end of the performance there was a recap, an activity that drove it all home. The performers passed out fans that were printed “I’d Buy It” on one side and “Not Buying It” on the other. Then advertisements from magazines were shone on the screen and the audience voted with our fans whether we were “buying it” or “not buying it.” Ads that were degraded or limited the roles of women or men were met with boos and orange “Not Buying It” signs held high in the air. It was a great way to practice being critical consumers of advertisements. The performance was remarkable not only because it was pulled off by high schoolers, but because it exposed the often limiting messages of gender in the media and empowered a group of teenagers to demand a change.
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