Media: a Stereotyped Portrayal of Women
Media’s Usage of Stereotypes
Mark Twain observed that when it comes to media you have two choices: ignore it and be uninformed or adhere to it and be misinformed1. Media has become a black hole of information, and most people cannot distinguish accurate statements from the inaccurate. Over the course of media history, women have been defined in very narrow roles. For example, women were set in a domestic atmosphere, their lives revolved around housework and nurturing, or they were seen as sex objects. Even in today’s progressive era, women are most likely to be seen in advertisements about baby necessities, beauty care, or house products. This essentially reinforces the gender stereotype of women by portraying them as domesticated and materialistic. Since people have such an abundance of information, we tend to oversimplify the information we have received. This leads to the usage of cognitive schemes: a representation of reality displayed as its most typical and fundamental element (Valdivia). One of the largest cognitive schemes used are stereotypes. According to Oxford Dictionary, a stereotype is “a relatively fixed and oversimplified generalization about a group or class of people, usually focusing on negative or unfavorable characteristics”. Gender stereotyping in media is commonly used to develop character traits and to create situations that will adhere to these characteristics. The excerpt “Looking- Glass House” from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, tells the story of a girl, Alice, who is half asleep and experiences elements from both the real world and her dreams. She enters the “looking glass-house” through a mirror in her dream right before scolds the kitty for unraveling a ball of string, something kittens are known for doing. While reading this, the “looking glass house” seemed to be a good example of a stereotype. “The looking-glass house” was a mirror image of Alice’s real environment however, it was an ideal, simplistic picture of Alice’s house, so simple that it would all fit into a single dream. The representation of women is a lot like the representation of Alice’s house. One single dream describes the house, just as a single interpretation is meant to describe every woman. This is what a stereotype is, an illusion what it might be, and the refusal to see it any other way. Since media is a potent tool used to influence large audiences, it can help women have a greater voice in society, be treatedbe seen as equallys, and create a real identity for women. However, mass media continues to reproduce discriminatory stereotypes about women and portrays them in outdated and sexist ways.
Stereotypes & its Effect on Children
Messages that underrepresent female roles are exhibited to children from an early age. According to the non-profit Geena Davis institute, 83% of film and TV narrators are male and 80.5% of workers depicted in G-rated movies are men. Which contrasts drastically with the comprising 50% of the real-world workforce. The absence of female characters in movies allows children to accept the stereotypes represented. “What they see affects their attitudes toward male and female values in our society, and the tendency for repeated viewing results in negative gender stereotypes imprinting over and over again” (Lowe). Since young audiences are easily manipulated, the lopsided views of media can easily allow them to think that the G-rated version of the world is reality.
Family entertainment also portrays female’s characters with drastically more skin showing than males and are portrayed as inferior to men. They are also depicted with tiny waits and other exaggerated body parts to appeal to standards of beauty, for example, Disney Princesses. The reoccurring themes of Disney movies is of a heroine longing to get married, the restriction of females during puberty, females can be saved and/or succeed only through the help of men. Female characters in children’s entertainment are portrayed as submissive and fragile with low self-esteem, confidence and individualism. Because of the influence media has on children, this can lead to unrealistic body ideals through the objectification of female roles. (Malfroid)
According to the social learning theory, we imitate the behaviors we observe in same sex role models. Behaviors seen as socially inappropriate will be looked down upon (Brodolini et al.). Along with movies, advertising also delivers gendered stereotypes. In the 1970s women were never seen in work places in advertisements, except for stereotypical roles such as a hairdresser. Majority of women advertised kitchen and bathroom products while men were seen in authoritative roles such as business men. Advertising agencies continued to sexualize female bodies in order to pervade pop culture and to appeal to mainstream trends. However, in recent years’ women are seen as independent and sexually powerful. At first glance this may contrast to the sexist views of advertising, but it only feeds into the male-dominated culture by showing women as smart and powerful rather than unintelligent and passive. This is because this leads women to be seen in a male gaze, subsequently reinforcing the gender stereotypes of conventional advertising (de Anca).
Whether video games foster violence and misogyny or creates an environment for people to explore is often a debated topic. This $7.4 billion industry however displays majority of their female characters scantily clad and are often highly sexualized. Unfortunately, many popular video games portray, and some even glorify, violence against women. A study done by the National Purchase Diary (NPD) states that 92% of video gamers are between the ages of two to seventeen years old (Mou). Because of this, scholars have expressed concern for the inappropriate content in these video games such as violent scenes, bloody adventures, and gores. A study revealed at the International Communication Association compared male and female characters to see which role was represented more sexually. Females were featured with unrealistic body images and gowned in revealing and inappropriate attire. This emphasizes the way women were displayed to their general audience, majorly consisting of adolescents and young adults, and how this can affect the way women are perceived in public eye.
In chapter one of “Looking Glass-house”, the black kitten is condemned to be at fault without a doubt, while the white kitten is seen as innocent. This has to do with the colorism that media portrays. Black is seen as evil and guilty while the color white is associated with purity and chastity. Lewis Carroll sticks to these generic perceptions of color, just as media sticks to the generic perception of women. Carroll could have easily made the black kitten pure and the white kitten guilty, but he doesn’t because the audience will have a hard time grasping a concept that is out of the norm. Likewise, media binds with stereotypes in order to stay within the norms.
Stereotypes Effect on Women
Media pressurizes women to look and act in an ideal way that is deeply ingrained into our society. By doing so, they fail to realize the amount of damage they cause to an average woman by displaying surreal women in their propaganda for marketing. Women may feel as though they need to change their personalities to fit the criteria that media portrays (Gevorgyan). This is because women are normally portrayed as highly sensual, kind and compassionate, and smart. Many advertisements, books, movies etc. show parts of a women’s body instead of whole. The dismemberment of female bodies often reinforces the message that women are solely objects rather than human beings. Many of the proactive way women are displayed can be hazardous to women because this has a very powerful influence on how women view themselves. Along with this, media attempts to make women’s value and worth smaller (Chapman). This is depicted through how women are seen as waiting for a man to help her to solve her problems. This gives off the idea women cannot achieve goals on their own and cannot be seen as independent. Female audiences can feel as though beauty, sexuality and youthfulness are the defining characters behind a women’s values.
Women are often underrepresented in the news industry. Women are on camera about 32% of the time and only write about 37% of the news stories. Unfortunately, between the year 2013 and 2014, these credits have increased a drastic 1%. (Lowe). In 2016, the election a women presidential candidate. Even with this change, 65% of political stories having to do with the election were reported by men. Science coverage is dominated by men, 63%, world politics coverage is by 64% of men, criminal justice news is covered by 67% of men. On morning talk shows, most of the commentary is done by men (70%). The only places with a more equal representation of women was in the education and lifestyle coverages (Kay). These statistics shows that a women’s voice is not really seen through the news portal all while undermining the value of a women’s opinion. These examples showing the lack of progress does not allow either society or the audience to grow in knowledge of what is a women’s true identity.
What Changes Can Be Made?
One of the biggest changes that could be made is giving women the voice. As we see in the news and other occupations, women are underrepresented in these fields. Many women back down from a certain position solely because of the reason that it is a “man’s job” (Kay et al.). Media encourages these stereotypes by showing them in context: man works a nine to five shift, while the woman stays at home and takes care of the work there. If women are given a voice in the media, the role they play outside of the kitchen can be shown clearly. This will also allow young minds to peel away from the stereotypes they have grown up with.
Speaking of children, media needs to be handled with more care than it is now. According to a recent poll, “22% of teenagers’ log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents’ log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media” (O’Keeffe). Statistics like these shows that media is an essential part of this generation’s social and emotional development. Because of this, the media presented to children needs to be regulated. Stereotypes in general can have an immense impact on children’s self-esteem and can cause these stereotypes to be implemented longer in society.
The stereotypes portrayed in media was not implemented by media. These stereotypes were put into place by society and its standards of acceptance. Cancelling out stereotypes in media does not promise to diminish stereotypes from society. This is because these stereotypes were put into place by people. However, media can aid in the riddance of gender stereotypes by being in favor of women. Media portrayal of women in male dominated work forces can allow women to be represented differently than a housewife. Independent women are a key tool that needs to be shown to both children and adults alike. Since many women are portrayed as dependent and domestic, independent women can help get rid of the stereotype of women being submissive.
By portraying women as more than a physical object and a means of advertising can allow stereotypes of sex symbolism to become useless. Unfortunately, the term “sex sells” is completely accurate. Media portrays women as sultry because that is the way society has led them to be seen. Media sticks to these norms since that is the way they can make a profit out of women. However, the objectification of women reaches far beyond the boundaries of media. These standards that media has implicated over and over again has been seen in the work force, home, and by the individuals themselves. Media is a very powerful, influential piece of entertainment however, it is also very dangerous. Influence can either have a positive or negative impact on a society, group or individual. The submissive environment that was spread through media, can be changed through media.
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