New Club WhitWomen Fights Media Misogyny

Sam Grainger-Shuba

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Photo by Marra Clay

After watching the 2011 film “MissRepresentation,” which focuses on the media’s portrayal of women and how it negatively affects society, senior Nilce Alvarez was inspired to create a group to raise awareness.

Thus, WhitWomen –– a diversified program focusing on media literacy, or the idea of educating people to be critical of the gender-based images they see in the media –– was born.

“I started watching documentaries and delving through national statistics, and I realized that body image issues and objectification were not ever brought to discussion in my social groups,” said Alvarez.

She was unsure what to do with the information she found, but was certain that she wanted to reach out to younger females, who, according to Alvarez, are the most vulnerable to the influence of media images. Because she lacked knowledge or experience teaching media literacy, Alvarez looked to curricula used by organizations like the Media Literacy Project and the Center for Media Literacy, who are leading the way in gender-based media awareness.

Alvarez says WhitWomen plans to lead workshops for the Walla Walla community. They have connected with the Mom’s Network in Walla Walla, and together will explore avenues for them to spread their message. Things are still in the works, but they hope to make significant progress by next semester.

According to Alvarez, one program WhitWomen is planning incorporates dance as an empowerment workshop. She has found dance to be personally healing in the self-exploration and control of one’s body, and wants to use her past experiences as a dance instructor to provide that opportunity to the Walla Walla community. At the end of this year, WhitWomen’s efforts will culminate in a symposium, which Alvarez hopes will exhibit the results of the club’s work to campus. While the members are preparing curricula on media literacy to take into local schools, the club will be doing other things.

“We were disturbed by how the media portrays women, and how it’s very one-sided,” said WhitWomen Project Manager and senior Kayla Erspamer. “One of our short term goals is making people aware of the way media portrays things, and voicing women’s opinions about that.”

Erspamer plans to start letter-writing campaigns to advertisers, hoping to pressure them into changing the way they advertise to female youth. Erspamer says she once saw a Google ad featuring a fit and athletic woman with a caption reading, “Surprise your boyfriend with a new body.” Ads like these, according to Erspamer, are just one example that perpetuate the idea of a woman’s body not belonging to her, or that health is not a good enough reason to become fit.

“I think this group is doing great things and I’m excited to see how they can extend their influence into the Walla Walla public school district. I attended their screening of “Girl Rising,” which was a phenomenal film and had a really good turnout,” said FACE Co-President and sophomore Katie Steen.

Erica Nkwocha (junior), Nilce Alvarez (senior), Kyra Arnett (freshman)

Photo by Marra Clay

WhitWomen has put on two screenings of “Girl Rising” but has larger plans next semester. They already plan to screen “The Mask You Live In,” from the makers of “MissRepresentation,” which comes out in February of 2014. WhitWomen members can also be found tabling in Reid Campus Center, and they send out cards of encouragement to Whitman students at random.

So far there are only females in the organization, but they hope to branch out to males as well.

“WhitWomen’s direction has been developing after that initial naming, and we definitively do not intend to discriminate,” said Alvarez. “As a matter of fact, our acquired curriculum is intended for boys and girls alike, so we will be able to get this message across to many more kids.”

Another area Alvarez hopes to address is hyper-masculinity in the media. According to Alvarez, WhitWomen is not built upon a feminist platform, but rather a media literacy approach to fight gender violence, foster gender equality and empower individuals with respect to their bodies.

“Portrayal of women in the media also affects how men see them,” said Erspamer. “But we’re not sure how we plan to incorporate that yet.”

A meeting time and location has not been finalized, but they usually take place on Fridays after 4:00 p.m. Interested students should email Alvarez at [email protected] for times and location, as they may change per week.

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