Media Literacy Program

Violence, Media Representations and Families

by Angela Marie MacDougall

Battered Women’s Support Services has developed an innovative collaboration with Sociology Department, First Voices Lecture Series at Kwantlen Polytechnic University to engage sociology students in theoretical frameworks and actions to support the work to end violence against girls and women.  The collaboration started last year when we presented Making the Theory Real a session where we presented the theoretical frameworks that inform our direct service, training and advocacy work.  This term we were invited back with Violence, Media Representations and Families. Students were led through a process that included a historical, social and legal framework for understanding violence against girls and women, as well as, media literacy skills.

Fresh off our Resist Media Campaign as part of Violence Against Women Prevention Week, Violence, Media Representations and Families solidifies Battered Women’s Support Services commitment to media literacy as key in the work to end violence against girls and women. Silvia Almanza Alonso prepared this report reminding us why media literacy matters.

“TV shows, advertisements, magazines and fashion displays are some examples of media that construct and represent women in a very standardized, offensive and stereotypical way. These media forms tell women how to look, and which behaviours are acceptable by creating a unique recipe for beauty, success and happiness: be white, be ridiculously small, and be perfectly ok as an object of sexual desire. Not conforming to this ideal is not considered different, it is wrong and shameful. Race, class, gender, ability, education, sexuality are some of the intersectional categories which are ignored most of the time in the way media socially constructs and represents women. While not all women are equally affected, younger women become more vulnerable to this misleading reality. But the question is: What can women do today, tomorrow and in the future to resist and challenge these messages? How can we fully realize that what we see in the media is an inaccurate representation of what womanhood is supposed to look like?”


What is Media Literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It’s the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media (Media Awareness Network). As Joanna Chiu wrote in How Media Literacy can help end Violence Against Women:

“The daily bombardment of degrading and oppressive messages in the media makes it very hard to not internalize some of those messages. A recent study by the Parents Television Council found that since 2004, there has been a 120% increase in depictions of violence against women on television, and even more disturbingly, there was a 400% increase in the depictions of teen girls as the victims of violence.”

Killing Us Softly 4 Trailer

No media literacy initiative is complete without the inspired documentary by Jean Kilbourne Killing Us Softly 4.

Killing Us Softly 4 Trailer from Media Education Foundation on Vimeo.

Killing Us Softly 4 from MagHon on Vimeo.

Beyond Beats & Rhymes

We were encouraged by the work of Byron Hurt, his documentary and inspired media literacy exercise Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Tough Guise

We were further encouraged by the work of Jackson Katz and his film Tough Guise, Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity where he makes the case for media literacy.


Battered Women’s Support Services media literacy programming includes the development of skills to help understand how media messages create meaning and understandings within society. It helps us identify who created particular messages, recognize what media makers want us to believe or the action we are to take, identify the “tools of persuasion” used, recognize bias, spin, lies and misinformation, uncover aspects of the story that is not being told and critique media messages.

I have fond memories of my social studies teacher, Mr. Alphonso, at Frank Hurt Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, he was the very first, in my world, to encourage analyzing and evaluating the information found in media. Up until then the media messages washed over me uncritiqued. These first exposures to media literacy skills were the essential, though, I don’t think he was calling the skills media literacy at the time, but he knew that students liked to examine and talk about media, and that this was an engaging way to explore a wide array of topics and issues.  In the work to end violence against girls and women, at BWSS, we know that medial literacy skills can empower individuals and communities.  There are a handful of giant corporations that control the news, entertainment and advertising media.  The economics of media mean that we are being fed representations that seek to disempower, create insecurity while encouraging us to consume.  The empowerment process must include the telling of our own stories, creating media, sharing our perspectives as we work for media justice.

Media literacy and media advocacy are very accessible ways to take back our power and Violence, Media Representations and Families includes a volunteer component where students participate to apply their learnings to help change the world while earning credit for their studies. As of this post ten students have been selected to participate and over the next month we will feature their work at, via facebook and twitter. Students chose between news, entertainment, advertising media to analyze, critique and engage the online communities through the development social media messages which include micro blogs, blogs and/or vlogs (video blogging). Working with a BWSS mentor (me), students must complete required reading and apply a theoretical framework in their analysis, critique and engagement.

To read the blogs by students who are participating in Violence, Media Representations and Families- a media literacy program, please visit here.


Violence, Media Representations and Families required reading/viewing list:

Introduction to Media Literacy by Media Literacy Project

How Does She Resist: Resisting Media Representations to end Violence Against Girls and Women by Battered Women’s Support Services (including the links)

How Media Literacy Can Help End Violence Against Women by Joanna Chiu

Killing us Softly 4 by Jean Kilbourne

Violence Sells? Time to Say ‘Enough’ to Twisted Advertisers by Joanna Chiu

How to Get your Messages Heard and Hold the Media Accountable, with Strategies from Jennifer Pozner by Joanna Chiu

Indigenous and Women of Colour Media Makers Resist!: How to Create the Media You Want to See in the World by Joanna Chiu

Women with Disabilities: Understanding Media Representations to Empower one of the Most Victimized Groups in Society by Joanna Chiu

Your Message, Your Voice: Blogging to Fill the Need for Independent Critical Analysis by Joanna Chiu

Resisting Media Representations: How Women Can Effectively Challenge the Way They Are Represented A Literary Review by Silvia Almanza Alonso

Survivors Speak Out to Break Silence about Systemic Violence Against Women and Girls by Joanna Chiu

Intersectionality and Mapping the Margins by Kimberle Crenshaw

Fanpires: Audience Consumption of the Modern Vampire by Anita Sarkeesian

Toy Ads and Learning Gender by Anita Sarkeesian

About Face Gallery of Offenders


Optional Media Awareness Websites


First Voices Lecture Series

Kwantlen Voices Lecture BWSSLearn more about Kwanlen Polytechnic University First Voices Lecture Series. Thank you Dr. Amir Mirfakhraie for his vision and commitment to social justice.

The aim of the First Voices Lecture Series is to provide a supportive, multicentric, scholarly, and community based space for Elders, intellectuals, cultural workers, researchers, and service providers to present and to share their worldviews, analyses, and interpretations of various topics, issues, and themes pertaining to First Peoples and other marginalized groups both locally and globally. Our goal is to highlight the histories, cultural practices, environmental worldviews, and epistemological contributions of First Peoples and other marginalized groups in Canada and British Columbia. We promote dialogue and reconciliation through critical introspection and debunking of past/present injustices and dehumanizing structures of power.

First Voices Lecture Series is a free public forum that strives to provide culturally and politically safe learning spaces in order to engage and to involve various elements of civil society in the processes of decolonizing knowledge and promoting justice and equality. We believe in collective and multiple approaches to education. Our goal is to produce and develop unique, innovative, inclusive, relevant, and holistic educational resources for various disciplines and to disseminate inexpensive curriculum and pedagogical materials that are critical, de-colonizing, and anti-oppressive.

BWSS | Every 5 days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner