Masochistic Happiness on Young Women and Girls in Media

“Strictly speaking,“women” cannot be said to exist.” (Julia Kristeva)


The statement from Julia Kristeva (1941— ), a linguist and feminist born in Bulgaria, opens a question related to the theme: “How do we identify women as herself? As a whole human being?” Women already become a social property since she was born. She could not understand herself besides from the others understanding. This formation begins from the family level, friends, schools, and also influenced by the media. In this modern time, media have expanded their scope into the social networks via internet, and making much easier for the spread of information. The implication of this modern technology is more affected on women. The stigma on women’s image was build since childhood to create a false consciousness—accepting the masochistic happiness.

Feminist media studies’ has come to stand for a range of approaches to popular culture that have the political project of feminism at their core. Feminist media studies have followed and sometimes led feminist theoretical debates more generally. Feminism has moved from a focus on the repression of all women in general and a politics based on the concept of shared female experience, to the recognition and embracing of difference within the category ‘woman’ which removes the possibility of there being a singular truth about womanhood. This move from sameness to difference can be charted through a critique of the politics of representation. This development has not been linear or straightforward but has resulted in more complex accounts of media practice, representation and consumption. As Charlotte Brundson et al. note in Feminist Television Criticism (1997), feminist media studies reject the ideology and scientism that so many television historians, audience researchers and policy analysts employed when media studies was dominated by the male-centered concerns and empiricist/positivist methods. The idea of difference—sexual, racial, ethnic and otherwise—so central to feminism, mitigates against universal truth and the methods that aspire to it.

Masochistic happiness comes when the women’s image has been determined as a specific type such as slender body, straight hair, white skin, etc, require women to suffer and sacrifices in order to achieve the “perfection”. This image comes from the masculine perspective inside the media. There is no room for women create their own identity. Helen Haste, in The Sexual Metaphor (1994), wrote that there are types of ideal women image: the virgin and the good wives, which been created by the masculine perspective. These typed of images has been formulated in the media such as television shows, magazine, and advertising. A lot of idols had been appointed as the ideal of women and many young women and girls try to be them—as the perfection in their life.

Young women and girls in Indonesia was also formed from the media image. Jurnal Perempuan’s poll in 2004 in “Young Women Media Literacy” shows that young women in Jakarta is very affected by the reference teen magazines and television shows. In general the results of this study shows that they were in an ambiguous position. The results showed although the girls have their own attitude will her lifestyle, but girls have no choice on following the bid that had been media socialized. For example, they may not agree with the image on the media, but when they were asked about the using of cosmetics, mos of them answered that they also use the cosmetic for shaping their image. Through media, there are set of values that promoted into the ideal size of women. As young women and girl figures shown in the media such as television programs and magazine, they enter the reality and internalized the mind and act of this girl.

Media in this context plays a major role in definite a discourse of the ideal in public sphere. The ads also re-image the women’s body—starts from the young ones—with all the kinds of products. Definition of beauty becomes more political in the lives of the young women and girls. There is only one definition of beauty, according the media control. The effects of this universal definition of beauty are distrust of self and others. It is possible to create a discriminative thought in live as violence. This sacrifices are moreover becomes a masochistic act of women and makes more distance on women as subjects in media.

Media should maximize its role not as a place to form a stereotyped image of women, but to raise various issues related to women’s issues. There are many problems of young women and girls in Indonesia that can be appointed. Such as sexual exploitation, violence, trafficking, sex education, and many more. In fact, media in Indonesia has not do anything to help this girls protect their rights. This rights must be understood by media, among others, to spread the right information, to increase confidence, free from discrimination, protected from harassment, violence and sexual exploitation, education for all, and many more positive ways to stop violence against women, especially in this context for young women and girls. If media spread this kind of information without mix it up with the value of masculine perspective, it will be an objective way on sharing information. Giving a guarantee on young women and girl rights could not just happen without the help of media. Because even thought the previous role of media on forming women’s image, we must admitted that media is a very strategic way to share the women’s issues. In many countries, the government would require the media to allocate the public ads aimed at educating people on some various of women’s issues, such as anti-violence messages, stop sexual harassment, stop trafficking (trafficking), and many more.

Unfortunately in Indonesia, the media has not been enforced to this kind of messages. It is more used for commercial interests and makes many young women and girls became a victim of the masochistic happiness by the “ideal image”. Society itself also forget that they must protect the interests and rights of young women and girls from this violence images in media. And if necessary, as done by other countries, governments have intervened in various regulations in order to protect women and children from the negative effects from the media. And so young women and girls would not longer trapped in a masochistic happiness and they can independently live as themselves as a subject in every sector of lives—includes in media.


*This paper presented at March 27th 2011 in the 8th Regional Women Ministers’ and Parliamentarians’ Conference on Young Women and Girls: Enhancing Parliamentary Support for and Monitoring of Gender Equality (session 7: Media and Young Women and Girls).


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