A lot of parenting experiments were played on me as a first child. My mom and dad had to get things right for the rest of their kids, you know?
One of these experiments was being super picky about what I was allowed to watch on TV. Instilling good morals in me was important. The impact of mass media on me wasn't clear yet. Letting me engage with it all slowly was a safe approach.
So, when I met Ariel from The Little Mermaid as a three-year-old, I got super excited.
She was pretty, sweet, and had friends who were talking fish.
I’d been conditioned from other movies to believe you fall in love with cool and pretty people.
I told my parents. My parents said I was too young to love people that way.
Sometime before this, they also said I shouldn’t look at pretty people who don’t have a lot of clothes on. It wasn't good for me for a reason they wouldn't explain.
Conflicted about all of the new information I was receiving, I made a rash decision. I could never watch it again.
I told my mom she needed to throw away our VHS of The Little Mermaid.
She was proud of me for having a conviction, even if it was over the top, and she got rid of it.
You still find me 20 years later wrestling with different ideas and beliefs about women. This time it’s me leading myself in convictions rather than my parents. Bless them, they’re the best, but today we’re nowhere close to being on the same page about a lot of things.
My parents were aware that popular culture influences how we perceive the world. I’m thankful they knew that because now I know that.
Now I’m hyper-aware that I and every other man in the world treats women differently because of popular culture. It’s a prevalent issue both on and off our screens.
How we treat them collectively culminates in a culture with lasting effects. I know I contribute, inevitably, to the negative outcomes. But I desperately want to contribute more to the positive outcomes. I don’t just want to see change, I want to be change.
My first active step towards change came when I was nine-years-old.
I spent a lot of time watching VH1 behind my Mom’s back.
One day I caught myself super attracted to Jessica Simpson in a music video about a song featured in The Dukes of Hazard. For the first time in my life I started objectifying a woman.
I say this was my first time objectifying a woman because I always found something else to value that was deeper than the skin. In this moment, however, I was completely mesmerized by how gorgeous she was and how little she had concealing her beauty.
How I responded wasn’t inherently wrong, but it did establish a negative pattern that was fueled by an increasingly sexualized culture full of objectifying media that contorted how I perceived beauty in people by the time I reached adulthood.
I wanted to be different. So I kept telling myself I wouldn’t let it get to me.
America’s Next Top Model, anything that featured Paris Hilton, Sports Illustrated, Britney Spears music videos, GoDaddy commercials, and more had me sold growing up on what beauty could or should be.
No matter what contrary information my parents fed me, popular culture had the upper hand.
I wrestled with guilt and pleasure for years.
By adulthood, I had enough. I was tired of all these assumptions and expectations and misrepresentations of gender roles bouncing around my head.
I wanted to look like Channing Tatum and have Sophia Bush and watch the world spin in chaos while I was safe and happy somewhere warm and expensive because I deserved it.
“Want,” “have,” “safe,” “happy,” “warm,” “expensive,” and “deserved” are privileged words that overflow from my last sentence. My priority was objects I could be possessive over and win with limited effort because I assumed I should already have them.
I hated this and it wasn’t natural of me.
So I’ve spent a lot of time in my 20s taking classes and having hard conversations. The classes and conversations analyze gender roles in society, gender roles in media, and gender roles in my own life.
They help me critically process things I love like music, movies, television shows, news media, and more.
The best way for me to engage with these topics and to articulate what I’m learning well with the world around me is to write about it.
It is important and good practice for me to share what I’m learning with others and explain how someone can routinely engage with hard things.
I’m passionate about women and their representation in popular culture because it is my duty to take my identity off of a pedestal and elevate others in whatever ways reveal to be most appropriate.
My current crush is Wonder Woman, another fictional character but a strong one. Like The Little Mermaid, I think she is cool and pretty. But today I find even more value in her virtues, her history, her character, and what she is doing in pop-culture for women around the world.
I’m experiencing a huge shift in how I engage with the world. I realize I'm apart of the problems I want to fix.
I guess my parents’ experiment paid off.
Interested in learning more about gender biases in popular culture? Start with these intersting facts from the Huffington Post: