How to change girls' and women's representation in the media | Plan International Skip to main content

It seems impossible for the media to create content without stereotyping girls and women.

Perfume adverts show women lounging in lingerie. Music videos show multiple women laying by pools in barely-there swimming costumes while the men remain fully clothed. And movies are constantly relying on classic Hollywood tropes to get them their big box office numbers - the dutiful wife and mother, the damsel in distress, the superhero who must save the world in a wildly impractical outfit.

Films and media have the power to influence how the world views girls, and how they view themselves. These industries must stop reinforcing damaging stereotypes and tell a new story about girls' power and leadership.

It's time to change the narrative and start letting girls and women tell their own stories.

Start with a hashtag

Social media provides an instant way to inform people about injustice and invite others to join the conversation. Hashtags can be an effective way to kick off a campaign.

Recently, one of the most successful campaign hashtags has been #MeToo. In 2006, activist Tarana Burke started using it on Myspace to promote empowerment for women of colour who had been sexually abused. 

In 2017 the hashtag became more widely used after it was picked up by actress Alyssa Milano around the time of the abuse and harassment scandal that rocked Hollywood. This was followed by a host of high-profile celebrities using the hashtag, along with millions of people across the globe who had also experienced sexual harassment and abuse.

Having prominent Twitter users engaging with a hashtag is an effective way to get your message noticed by a wider audience. Tag prominent users you think may be interested in your campaign and make them aware of what you are trying to achieve. If they use your hashtag you gain the support of them and their following.

Use social media to highlight good and bad

As well as spreading your campaign message, you can use your social media accounts to highlight problematic content. 

For example, you could define the industries, production houses, directors etc. who misrepresent girls and women and call for a boycott. Make your audience aware of who and why you are boycotting and urge them to do the same.

However, be aware that if someone or something is trending on Twitter, under their algorithm, it is seen as positive. To avoid this you could, for example, use Wa*rner Br*thers rather than using their proper name.

You can also use your social media to focus on the people and companies that are portraying girls and women in a positive way - or empowering girls and women to tell their own stories - and encourage your followers to join in.

For even better reach, make your criticism funny and shareable, like the video below which mocks the decision to have the lead female character in 2015's Jurassic World spend the duration of the film running around a dinosaur theme park in heels. 

Engage your audience with a challenge

Getting others to engage and interact with your campaign is vital.

In 2015 Protein World launched an advertising campaign for weight-loss supplements that appeared across the London underground network. The slogan, black against a bright yellow background, read: “Are you Beach Body Ready?” and was accompanied by a slim model's body, likely heavily photoshopped, in black and white.

Charlotte Baring was sick of women being shamed and objectified in advertising in this way and so began a protest under the hashtag #EveryBodysReady.

In the process of the campaign, supporters began creating spoofs of the advertisement. Posters such as, ‘Are you Peach Body Ready?’ and ‘Are you Beer Body Ready?’ appeared on social media.

Setting a challenge or game along with your hashtag is a great way to engage supporters and help your campaign spread. Let people know that you want them to be actively involved in your campaign and encourage them to have fun with it.

Gain media coverage

Getting media attention for your campaign can massively increase supporter numbers.

If you can prove your campaign's supporter-base is growing through hashtag reach, your pitch will be even more tempting to journalists who are always looking for interesting stories and new digital trends to cover.

Tell them what you are campaigning for, why it is important and why, to be seen as ahead-of-the-curve, they should be writing about it right now. 

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We'll soon be sharing details on how to join in on our day of collective action campaigning for equal representation for women and girls.

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We will not stop until girls can live, love and lead without fear or discrimination.

This is a movement for us all. We won't stop until #GirlsGetEqual.

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