It is all too easy to dismiss the importance of the press because so much of it is unimportant. There are endless videos of car chases on local news programs. Skinheads throwing chairs at the hosts of what are putatively news programs. Endless stories of alien kidnapping in the tabloids. And all-too-frequent blurrings between advertising policy and editorial content.
But the news is, of course, more than this. Or at least it can be. No democratic nation can be run without a free press because no society can be run without giving more power to some people than to others. Without a free press to ensure that those with substantial amounts of power are not being corrupted by it is to have watchdogs alert to what they are doing. This is the role that the press serves, as a proxy for the people.
Most citizens have probably never been to a city council meeting or a water district board meeting or a county board of supervisors meeting - or to a Senate hearing. And yet what is decided at every level of governmental meeting has real and lasting affects upon each citizen or resident. Without responsible mass media the citizens of a society cannot do their work as citizens.
Mexican television news fails its viewers dramatically in this regard in no small part because of the ways in which larger cultural attitudes about women's role in society are reflected in and reinforced by the on-air personalities. Especially in border towns like Mexicali, the worst gender stereotypes of both nations are often acted out on the air. One of the results of this is that what serious journalism is done within the realm of broadcast journalism is done by men. This relegation of women to reporting about scandals and gossip and other forms of "yellow journalism" not only degrades the quality of the news in terms of informing citizens about the important issues of the moment but it also lowers the status of women in Mexican society. This engendering of news is certainly not new or unique to Mexican television (as Gans 1979 notes) but it remains fundamentally harmful both to the body politic and to women - both those on the air and those in the audience.
There are feminist protests against the ways in which Mexican women are depicted on the small screen, although these tend to be aimed primarily at images in advertising, such as a recent campaign by the Grupo de Educacion Popular con Mujeres, A.C. (Group of Popular Education for Women) and Themis designed to fight sexist stereotypes.
Even though advertising tends to be highly gender stereotyped worldwide, Latin American ads may break records for their misogyny, said Veronica Romero, an advertising professor and researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico). She noted that advertisements frequently portray women as perfect housekeepers literally obsessed with their family's well-being and having no other interests or abilities -- a representation that is not so recurrent in American or European advertising (http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/943/context/archive).
Many feminists argue that there is an intentional connection between the stupidity of women on the air and the their place in society: Presenting only dumbed-down images of women on television undercuts the efforts of women to make progress in terms of achieving political, economic and social equality.
But the problem isn't just that ads are sexist, Romero says. Citing Mexican ads in which women are portrayed as so stupid that they don't even know how to drive, she said, "This image doesn't come from the commercials. It comes from Mexican society in general." (http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/943/context/archive).
Men who feel challenged or threatened by the small gains that Mexican women have been able to make in society strike out against them by using the power of media images. Men on the air make fun of women while women are forced by male mangers to make fun of themselves.
Part of what is being mocked when women are forced into the role of the idiot on television is what many Mexican men perceive to be American values - as if equality could not be a value that Mexican women could have come to value on their own:
Social and economic changes in Mexico over the past three decades - from the increasing number of working women to the explosion of supermarkets, which cater…