Media and gender

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Media and gender refers to the relationship between media and gender and how representations of the different genders created for and by mass media. Media can range from newspapers, magazines, comic strips, novels, CDs and music videos. These representations can influence the general public's perception of the different genders. It is important to continue exploring interactions of media and gender to dismiss personal choices, but to see the larger context, and potential consequences for ourselves and others. Advertisements and pictures in magazines carry significant messages about cultural norms and values, but also norms of gendered relations for both men and women.[1]

In the 20th century[edit]

Representations of genders[edit]


Betty Friedan, American feminist and writer, analyzed American women's journals (such as Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, Good Housekeeping and Woman's Home Companion) in her book The Feminine Mystique published in 1963. She discussed the role of women in the American society, after World War II, noticing that until 1939, media spread the idea of a modern woman, happy and willing to get the right to build her own life. In those stories, heroines are women with a professional life, who are determined and independent. After the Second World War, media broadcast a new propaganda of a housewife's lifestyle as the only proper way for women to reach happiness. These magazines addressed women as housewives who aimed to impress their authoritative, working husband, and gave them advice that focused on bringing happiness to their families. Media, gender and identity femininity has thus been associated with the concepts of maternity and housekeeping. Friedan also underlines the overlap of media representations with social relations between sexes. It produces the paradigm of masculinity's superiority over women.

When Helen Gurley Brown took over the editorship of Cosmopolitan in 1964, it enabled the "assertion of a strong sexual identity from the outset". The readers of the magazine represented a new generation that had gone to college, were often on the pill, and had high expectations of the world. Cosmo suggested that women were entitled to enjoy sex and talk about it, which at the time was "radical" and brought some changes: for example, men "were no longer treated with reverence, but could be seen as inadequate, or the butt of jokes.[2] Other magazines focus on gendered norms for women, such as house cleaning tips, recipes, tips for children and parenting, and crafts such as sewing, or knitting.

Today's magazines[clarification needed] focus on the construction of womanhood. Some of these key themes that appear in these magazines both men and women are sex objects, sex and sexuality, relationships, fashion and beauty and transformation and empowerment.

Other themes that these magazines focus on are body image, such as Victoria Secret models. Victoria Secret magazines are filled with women models who are often times digitally altered. "In 2011, the American Medical Association denounced the alterations of models' images. The AMA stated that "any alterations to a body image can create unrealistic expectations that children and adolescents are subject to".[3] Victoria Secret models that are non-white, or ethnic, models, are oftentimes put into "jungle clothes", which can be both offensive and racist. In addition to jungle-like attire, they also wear tribal-like make up and face paint.[4] Victoria Secret magazines are guilty of hiding their models' faces with their own hair or shadows. This is a problem because it dehumanizes the model, and portrays the model to be seen only as an object for sale, like the products they are trying to sell.

The gaze is frequently found in today's magazines.[clarification needed] The gaze is to assume that the sex of the viewer is a male, but even with the viewer is a female, she still sees herself through the eyes of the man. An example would be when a woman looks at herself in the mirror, she views her body image as if male was looking at her. "the gaze" perpetuates the feeling that women are only seen as objects to men, rather than human beings. While the gaze targets the negative affects of women, it also creates a negative view of men. The gaze assumes that men are not able to look at women for humans, but only as objects, which is a stereotype.

Frequently magazines also entertain the theme of commodification, which is "the selling of cultural, sexual, or gender differences in a way that supports institutionalized discrimination".[3] An example of commodification is an online dating site, because the users are then thought of as being "bought" or "purchased". Another theme is the sexualization of both men and women. Both men and women can be sexualized in ways that allow the value of a person to only come from his/her sex, appearance, or behaviors, and physical characteristics. Sexualization can also mean that individuals are held to a high standard that will equal physical attractiveness and sexiness, which is narrowly defined.

Men's lifestyle magazines are a relatively new phenomenon compared to women's magazines, having taken off[clarification needed] in the 1990s. Even if each has a different focus, they cover aspects of modern men's lives that weren't included in previous magazines for men, helping define the social construction of men, and most have reviews of films, music, video games, and books. Some of the most common topics that appear on these magazines include photo-shoots of women (usually semi-clothed and topless), advice on how to get along with women, be better in bed, and other advice on relationships with women cars, gadgets, and sports, grooming advice, and advice on addictions.

TV shows[edit]

On TV, marriage, parenthood, and domesticity have been shown as more important to women than men.[5] From the mid-1940s to the 1960s, women (predominantly white, middle-class women) were portrayed mostly as housewives who had seemingly "perfect" lives: their houses were always impeccably clean, their children were always healthy, and they were always beautiful and organized.[6] TV didn't portray the reality that by 1960 "40 per cent of women worked outside the home ... [and that] divorce rates spiked twice after World War II."[6] According to a study from 1975 conducted by Jean McNeil,[7] in 74 per cent of the cases studied women's interactions were "concerned with romance or family problems", whereas men's interactions were concerned with these matters in only 18 per cent of the cases.[5] Furthermore, female characters often didn't have jobs, especially if they were wives and mothers, and were not the dominant characters or decision-makers.[5] The boss is usually a man.[8] Men are portrayed as more assertive or aggressive, adventurous, active, and victorious, whilst women are shown as passive, weak, ineffectual, victimized, supportive, and laughable.[5]

However, in the 1970s, TV critics, academics, and women started to point out the way TV shows portrayed female characters.[6] TV Guide magazine called out the industry for "refusing to rise above characterizations of women as pretty, skinny, dopey, hapless housewives or housewife wannabes", and a poll conducted by Redbook magazine in 1972 showed that "75 per cent of 120,000 women ... agreed that 'the media degrades women by portraying them as mindless dolls'."[6] In that sense, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a television breakthrough because it introduced the first female character whose central relationships were not her husband or boyfriend or her family, but her friends and coworkers. The main character was a sort of stand-in for the "new American female" ,who put her job before romance and preferred to be alone than with the wrong men, but still had to do stereotypically female office work (like typing and getting coffee) and didn't speak up to her boss and other male coworkers.[6]

Another female TV icon from the decade that was not characterized by a romantic relationship and motherhood was Wonder Woman. The character was actually created for comics in 1941, but it wasn't until 1976 that a TV series, which aired until 1979, was made, starring Lynda Carter as the title character. By the time the series premiered, "television was just starting to embrace female action stars with Police Woman, Get Christie Love!, and Charlie's Angels."[6] Wonder Woman followed the formula these shows put forth: the main character was powerful, yet beautiful and feminine. Nevertheless, even though the show avoided the stereotypical housewife trope, the protagonist was "positioned ... as a sex symbol above all", and, as in Charlie's Angels and The Bionic Woman, women had to respond to and take orders from a man, didn't talk about their wants and needs, and had provocative clothes.[6]

In the 1990s TV show producers "arrived at comfortable, not-particularly-offensive models of masculinity and femininity", which the public seemed to accept.[5] The three main male characters in the sitcom Friends (1994-2004), for example, "fit easily within conventional models of masculinity, but are given some characteristics of sensitivity and gentleness, and male-bonding", and the three female protagonists are "clearly feminine, whilst being sufficiently intelligent and non-housewifey."[5] The fact that the show centered on the friendship of the six main characters was also a "refreshing modern replacement" to the traditional family.[5] Other TV shows of the decade also used the model of equal but different genders, like ER (1994-2009), Dawson's Creek (1998-2003), Frasier (1993-2004), and The West Wing (1999-2006), even if they revolve mainly around one or more male characters.[5]

Some shows focused entirely on successful professional women and their "quests for sex, pleasure and romantic love", such as Ally McBeal (1997–2002) and Sex and the City (1998–2004).[5] Even if the main character in Ally McBeal was portrayed as desperate to find a husband, the show had other non-stereotypical female characters and "sided with the women".[5] Sex and the City had assertive female protagonists, especially in matters of sex, and did not punish them for wanting pleasure, knowing how to get it, and being determined to do so, which can be seen especially in the case of Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall.[5] Another female icon from the 1990s is the title character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a teenage girl who starred and became hugely popular in the "typically male-dominated world of sci-fi fans".[5] Buffy Summers, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, was powerful, heroic, confident, and assertive, characteristics that were generally ascribed to male characters.

For the past several years reality television has dominated mainstream television programming, providing relatively inexpensive entertainment.[9] Reality TV depicts another side of female and male stereotypes. The premise of reality TV requires that individuals place themselves on public display, thus forfeiting all claims to personal privacy, for the sake of transient fame and the possibility of monetary compensation.[9] Reality shows include Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Teen Mom 2, Teen Mom OG, The Bachelor/ The Bachelorette, and Jill and Jessa: Moving on. The Bachelor debuted in 2002, sensing a new resurgence of a classic anti-feminist media meme.[10] With the showing of The Bachelor, which is continuing on with its 18th season as of 2015, appears a seemingly downhill climb away from females being stereotyped on TV shows. Since then [the debut of The Bachelor], reality television has emerged as America's most vivid example of pop cultural backlash against women's rights and social progress.[10] Power imbalances in heterosexual relationships are codified in relationship shows.[10] On The Bachelor, men and women are seeking to find love in the "non-traditional way", by going on live TV and falling in love with someone after going on only four extravagant dates with them and then being thrown back into reality where they fight for what they had with each other in their one on one dates. During these episodes, people's feelings and emotions star to come out. "I'm a loser... what is so wrong with me that someone cannot love me for who I am?" wept Heather in 2002 during a tear-stained money shot found in every Bachelor elimination ceremony.[10] The Bachelor/Bachelorette depict women as desperate and needing a man so they can live a happy and whole life. Producers focus on a narrow, regressive interpretation of marriage in which all single women are pathetic, all couples are straight, parenting and housecleaning are women's work, families can survive on only the income of a strong male provider, and "love" is the sole domain of skinny white women and rich white men (not one person of color has headlined any of the 14 seasons of The Bachelor or six seasons of The Bachelorette).[10]

However, shows are starting to break through this glass ceiling as women, not only white women, are becoming the main character and leading lady. Shows that have expanded our knowledge, after the early 2000s, of women being the dominant, powerful, ruthless, funny, and independent main characters are in Revenge, How to get away with Murder, Scandal, Nashville, and Gilmore Girls. These shows have gotten women out of the stereotypical housewife, need a man to survive, type of view. "Positive depictions of women challenge negative stereotypes even when the content includes sexuality and violence."[11] How To Get Away With Murder is a show full of sexy and intriguing characters followed by confusing character relationships and murder mysteries. "Humans are hard wired to respond to sex and violence–but most strongly to sex."[12] Even women in strong roles are still depicted as sexual objects. For example, The Big Bang Theory, in its earlier seasons, had only one consistently present female lead—Penny, played by Kaley Cuoco. Penny's character was that of the stereotypical female: the ditzy, attractive neighbor, who existed solely to create sexual tension between herself and one of the show's leading men, Leonard Hofstadter.[13] But Shonda Rhimes has created strong and independent heroines who are in male-dominated positions. Ms. Rhimes, who wrought Olivia Pope on Scandal and Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey's Anatomy has done more to reset the image of African-American women on television than anyone since Oprah Winfrey.[14]


Cartoons display an irresistible and inaccessible representation of femininity, especially for young girls. Almost like small adults with big muscles and generous breasts, characters already determine gender at a very early age. As with TV shows, most cartoons' main characters are male, who are also the main decision-makers and portrayed following most of the stereotypes seen in television programs' characters. According to a study from 1998[15] with four cartoons (The Jetsons, Scooby Doo: Where are You, Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures, and The New Adventures of Captain Planet), the characters all followed "one of four different gender types: the masculine male, the inadequate male, the delicate female, and the more modern female." For example, in the television series, "Scooby Doo: Where are you", the young adults that feature in this show are led by a well dressed, masculine male who makes all of the decisions for the group named Fred. Shaggy is also a male and a main character who has baggy clothes and a skinny frame. The show portrays these characters as opposites while they are working together for "The Scooby Gang", solving mysteries.[16][15] The author of the study goes on to explain what each of these types mean:

'Masculine' means the male who fits in with American society's stereotypical 'manly man', or a handsome (according to current American culture) man with definite muscles, and a conservative style of dress and hairdo. The inadequate male lacks many characteristics of the masculine male. He is weak and fearful, lacking both physical stamina and any significant amount of courage. This was demonstrated in the cartoons analyzed not only through actions but also by body type and bone structure, as well as dress and hairstyle. The delicate female was patterned in the cartoons studied as a woman of delicate physical structure, who is thin and dressed in such a manner as would not allow her to complete tasks traditionally meant for males. The modern female is one who is dressed in a more neutral fashion, such as jeans or pants, and does not have a noticeably tiny waistline.

— Kelly Eick, "Gender Stereotypes in Children's Television Cartoons"[15]

Regarding the characters' roles in those cartoons, all had a male character as the lead, three of the four "had the main male character in a heroic role, and one had an inadequate male as the main character." The female characters "were also portrayed in heroic roles, but their actions were supportive in nature to the males ... and much of their input into verbal discussions of the daily dilemma was less valuable than the males." Furthermore, the male characters "were never seen portraying roles that could be construed as feminine in any way, but females often took jobs that could be traditionally seen as male."[15]

Another study showed that "both male and female characters were portrayed stereotypically. Compared to female characters, male characters were given much more prominence, appeared more frequently, engaged in more of almost all of the noted behaviors, and talked significantly more."[17] However, this study also attested that after 1980 there has been a significant change "toward a less stereotypical portrayal of the characters, particularly female characters."[17]


From the 1950s to the 1980s, films in general "tended to give men all the primary clever and resourceful roles, which made them the lead character(s), whilst women usually got to be love interests and helpers."[5] Even when women's roles were complex and remarkable, they were generally not the lead characters, did not make the central decisions, did not save their male counterparts, and were not the lead characters.[5] Since the 1990s, however, male characters tended to be different from the masculine heroes of the 1980s action movies, and female roles have become tougher.[5]

In the 1950s, the most popular movies, like High Noon (1952), 12 Angry Men (1957), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Hitchcock classics such as Rear Window (1954), Strangers on a Train (1951), and North by Northwest (1959), had male heroes who were the decision-makers, led the story, and were assertive, confident and dominant, whilst women, though they had important roles, were more likely to be frightened and in need of protection and direction, besides offering love and support to the male character(s).[5] These heroes were not like the macho heroes of 1980s action films, but they presented some "buttoned-down, statesmanlike, quick-thinking" characteristics linked to masculinity which "contrasted with the feminine beauty and lack of assertiveness of key women characters."[5] Some Like it Hot (1959), in which the male leads (played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) have to dress in drag to escape from gangsters, "played with the performance of gender, but only hinted at a challenge to masculine and feminine roles."[5]

In the 1960s the gender roles in movies did not change much from the patterns of the previous decade. Even though not all female characters were shown to be inept or cast as housewives, male characters were more intelligent, assertive, and much more prevalent.[5]

This started to change in the 1970s, when popular movies introduced characters like Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise (1977-), who has a more active role although she needs to be rescued by the male heroic lead, and Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise (1979-).[5] Woody Allen movies such as Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) feature intelligent women and the director playing the role of a "witty but neurotic and un-macho leading man", which is different to the norm; however, portrayals of female characters from other popular films of the decade, like Lois Lane in Superman (1978) still followed the model from previous decades.[5] One movie that challenged the representation of gender roles was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The film, which was aesthetically influenced by pop art and glam rock, has a gender bender main character, Dr. Frank N. Furter (played by Tim Curry), whose appearance is "clearly meant to disrupt conventional notions of gender."[18]

Even though "the reliable heroic male still featured prominently in most films" from the 1980s, for example the Indiana Jones series (1981-2008), the Rambo series (1982-2008), Crocodile Dundee (1986), and Die Hard (1988), Ellen Ripley became stronger in Aliens (1986), the sequel to Alien, and The Terminator (1984) presented the courageous heroine Sarah Connor."[5]

In the 1990s there are also examples of male action figures that don't challenge the stereotypes of previous decades (for example in movies like The Rock (1996), Air Force One (1997), and Batman Begins (2005)).[5] However, there is a difference between the action heroes from the 1990s to those from the 1980s: since the 1990s, those heroes are "more cynical, weary, and perhaps aware that violence may not be the solution to everything."[5] Female characters have also become "more-or-less equally powerful" as the male leads, as movies like The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000), and The Mummy Returns show.[5] In addition, more movies "centered around leading female action-hero roles" have been produced: the Scream series, Mulan (1998), Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003), etc.[5]


In radio and advertisement, women are targeted for cosmetic and housekeeping products. They receive a vocabulary evoking beauty and are usually judged on physical criteria, for instance, their age and appearance. Conversely, scientific topics are attributed to men. Adjectives used to qualified men are usually turned to foolishness and humour.[19]

In Gender Advertisements,[20] Canadian-American sociologist and writer, Erving Goffman gave his 1979 anthropological study of visual communication and gender representation in advertising. The book is a visual essay about how sex roles are depicted in advertising, with stereotypical differences between men and women that communicate subtle, underlying, symbolic messages about the sexual roles projected by masculine and feminine images used. Goffman examined over 500 advertisements to analyze and find general and stereotypical patterns in how genders were represented in advertisements.

Advertising promotes their products using women's sexuality, but without abandoning images of women in the kitchen and women as housewives. Advertising embody "A highly sexist view of men and women with roots that stretch back in the 19th century, suggest the most important elements in women's life, first one is the pursuit of beauty, and the second one is the cult of domesticity" (Griggers, 1990). Advertising shows that the only objectives in women's life are being a mother and being beautiful. One of the most important findings about the way women are presented on advertising is that women are rarely depicted as authority figures. They usually look weak, while men look authoritative and powerful (Courtney & Whipple, 1974). In advertising, women look dependent on men, and men look independent.

Commercials exploit women's sexuality by using her bodies to sell products. Two examples are Ferrari and Lamborghini, which have ads where women are used to make the cars more desirable, and therefore attract more consumers. Other examples are women in bikini promoting trips to sunny places, commercials for alcoholic beverages (especially beers, like Corona and Modelo), or Victoria's Secret, which uses the body of the models to sell clothes and underwear.

Advertising does not represent men and women the same way. Men are frequently presented as the central figure in the ads, and women are just accompanying them.[21] Men are usually portrayed with more authority and proficiency than women.[21] The results of research about this were that in advertising over 85% of voiceovers were men. In advertising, usually the man acts and the woman appears.[21] For example: On television commercials of condoms, when a man and woman are together, the woman usually just laughs and stays quietly beside the man, while he talks and acts as the central figure.[21] In other ads of condoms when the women talk, they are only talking about how great the guy was, and how happy they feel after being with him. In advertising, men and women don't receive the same value.[21]

Some television monitoring studies found that in advertising, men are portrayed with at least two occupations, and they usually seem very active and logical. Also, when a man is promoting on an advertisement, they usually do not use the product, they just talk about it. They usually seem to be the beneficiary of the product or service, which is performed by girls.[21] In advertising, men usually promote alcoholic beverages, banking services, credit cards, or cars. Although women also promote cars, advertisements involving women are usually highly dependent on their sexuality, which is not the case for those with men, who are shown in these ads in an elegant and powerful way. Also, when men are acting on a television commercial, they are usually performing activities such as playing sports, driving around girls, repairing cars, drinking, relaxing, and having fun.[22]

Sports media[edit]

Media representations of sports and athletes contribute to the construction of a dominant model of masculinity centered on strength and an ambivalent relationship to violence, encouraging boys and men to take risks and to be aggressive.[23]

Even if women's participation in professional, Olympic, intercollegiate, and interscholastic sports has increased, "media coverage of female athletes still lags behind that of men's" in quantity as well as quality.[24] When talking or writing about female athletes, commentators and writers allude or refer to their "attractiveness, emotionality, femininity, and heterosexuality", while male athletes are depicted as "powerful, independent, dominating, and valued", which shows that the media tend to represent female athletes as women first and athletes second, while men are talked about solely in regards to their athleticism.[24]

One of the explanations for this gender-biased representation of female and male athletes is schema theory, "which proposes that people have implicit cognitive structures that provide them with expectancies when processing information".[24] In the case of gender, this means that people are led to believe (by parents, teachers, peers, toys, the media, society in general) that gender differences are significant and worth maintaining. Thus, when these well-ingrained ideas of gender are broken, they are perceived more negatively, which is the case with female athletes because "being an athlete is consistent with the traditional male role".[24] This explains why the media emphasizes other aspects of female athletes' "femaleness".

Feminist critics[edit]

In the 1960s and 1970s, feminists such as Clare Short, Gaye Tuchman, and Angela McRobbie denounced unfair representations of gender in media and especially in magazines. Germaine Greer, Australian-born author of The Female Eunuch[25] (1970), offered a systematic deconstruction of ideas such as womanhood and femininity, arguing that women are forced to assume submissive roles in society to fulfill male fantasies of what being a woman entails. Greer wrote that women were perceived as mere consumers benefiting from the purchasing power of their husband. Women become targets for marketing, she said, and their image is used in advertising to sell products. American socialist writer and feminist, Sharon Smith wrote on the first issue of Women and Film that women's roles in film "almost always [revolve] around her physical attraction and the mating games she plays with the male characters" in contrast to men's roles, which according to the author are more varied. [26] In 1973 Marjorie Rosen, an important contributor to feminist film theory, argued that "the Cinema Woman is a Popcorn Venus, a delectable but insubstantial hybrid of cultural distortions."[27] In 1978 Gaye Tuchman wrote of the concept of symbolic annihilation,[28] blaming the media for imposing a negative vision of active women and making an apologia for housewives. She feared that stereotypes would discourage young women from professional ambitions, which are essential for the American economy.

From media representations, feminists paved the way for debates and discussions about gender within the social and political spheres. In 1986, the British MP Clare Short proposed a bill to ban newspapers from printing Page 3 photographs of topless models.[29][30]


Even though the number of women in media professions, such as journalism, is growing, the media is still statistically dominated by men, who hold the vast majority of power positions.[31] Men are more likely to be quoted than women in the media, and more likely to cover "serious" topics.[32] The Bechdel test was originally created to evaluate popular fiction's representation of women, and subsequently adapted to employment in the media professions, with results showing that a number of women are employed but do not benefit from an equal voice. For example, women's presence on radio is weak due to the topics they are hired to cover (e.g. weather, culture). In the television industry, in 2011, Miriam O'Reilly successfully sued the BBC for age discrimination after she was dropped from presenting a show. The details of her case also showed gender bias because she had been told to be careful about her wrinkles, to consider Botox and dying her hair.[33]

In the videogame industry about half of the gamers are women but their presence is still limited in the production of games. Those who tried to publicly challenge this situation have been subjected to harassment (for example A. Sarkeesian).[34]

In cinema there is concern about the low number of female directors and the difficulties of older actresses to find roles.[35][36] According to the report investigation of female characters in popular films across 11 countries, 1 woman for 2.24 men appeared on the screen between January 1, 2010 and May 1, 2013. They also earn 2.5 times less income than men in the same jobs.[37] In 2009, the Screen Actors Guild (US) also found that males continue to make up the majority of roles, especially in the supporting category, where they contribute around two roles for every female role, whereas females hold a slightly larger proportion of lead roles compared to their proportion of supporting roles, but still a lot less than lead roles occupied by males. For males 40+, roles are on the rise in both theatrical and television productions, whereas female 40+ roles represent only 28% of female roles.[38] Actors such as Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood continue to undertake major roles as ageless heroes, whereas the normative structure for older women is that their ageing is part of the plot (for example in Mamma Mia! (2008) and Sex and the City (2010)).[39]

The same is true for television programs. In general, from the 1950s to the 1970s, "only 20 to 35 per cent of characters were female" in American TV shows.[5] The female roles increased in the 1980s, but there were still twice as many roles for men in television.[5] However, these disparities change depending on the type of program: in mid-1970s sitcoms there were "nearly equal proportions", whereas in action-adventure shows "only 15 per cent of the leading characters were women".[5] In the 1980s, female characters represented 43 per cent of roles in comedy shows and only 29 per cent in action-adventure programs, however, they had outnumbered male characters two to one in dramas.[5] Since the 1990s, "gender roles on television seemed to become increasingly equal and non-stereotyped ... although the majority of lead characters were still male."[5]

Representations: Gender identity built through media[edit]

Our identities are built in relation to cultural processes, including the production and reception of media content. The media will impact, for example, the dominant ideals, expectations about beauty, age, gender, and what is considered normal in a society.[40] The Western ideal of female beauty is that of the fit, young and thin woman, and the media spreads this ideal through movies, TV shows, fashion shows, advertisement, magazines and newspapers, music videos, and children's cartoons. For women to be considered attractive, they have to conform to images in advertisements, television, and music portraying the ideal woman as tall, white, thin, with a 'tubular' body and blonde hair.[41] We can find many examples of this in advertising campaigns. Interestingly, some cases where companies tried to show different models of beauty were met with success whereas others have been rejected. For example, the Dove campaign for real beauty have been successful, but the more recent Go Naked campaign by Lush (company) was disputed.


The mainstream media is a profit-making enterprise, which aims to attract the largest possible audiences. People watch what they feel concerned about. Thus, stereotypes are often used in mass media because they are subjective pictures of one's life and sensitize the audience.[42] Media affects behaviors and is "of prime importance for adolescents' general ideas of romance, sex, and relationships".[43] In the U.S., for example, exposure to TV has been associated with "more stereotypical sexual attitudes [like the idea that men are sex-driven and the notion that women are sexual objects] and evaluation styles". Also popular is the idea that appearance or sexiness is essential for men and women.[43] Additionally, pop music and music videos have been shown to increase stereotypical gender schemas, and promote the ideas that gender relationships are adversarial and that appearance is fundamental.[43]

Mass media provide a dual picture of sex. Stereotypes are recurrent in every main media (television, radio, magazines, newspaper). In its final report[citation needed] on the assimilation of sexist stereotypes by youths, the French government describes three types of clichés: First, the report points out the systematic behavior dedicated to women and to men; secondly, it stresses the way men and women are qualified in the media; and finally, the report observes that the shooting techniques reflect a biased vision of gender. Women are fetishized in mass media: their bodies, faces, silhouettes, thinness, breasts and legs are highlighted, as there is a clear purpose to emphasize their sexuality and attractiveness. On the contrary, men have more diverse representations in programs. The only common manly characteristic the report has noted is the musculature.

This affects women particularly. Studies show that women are under-represented, and when they "are present they are typically scantily dressed and relegated to stereotypical roles".[44] For example, a content analysis of video games found that "41% of female characters wore revealing clothing and an equal number were partially or totally nude," whereas the male characters were not.[45] However, sexualization is not the only stereotypical way in which women are represented in the media. As one study about gender role portrayals in advertisements from seven countries shows, women are more likely to play the role of the housekeeper and men are more likely to play roles of professionals.[46]

Consequences of stereotypes[edit]

Stereotypes influence the way we perceive femininity and masculinity. The stereotyped portrayals of men and women are internalized and valued by teenagers during the construction of their sexual identity, especially during puberty.[47]

As Malgorzata Wolska wrote in her article "Gender stereotypes in mass media" in 2011, the media creates messages that create opinion. And since "what does not exist in the media does not exist in the public mind" according to Manuel Castells,[48] stereotypes used by the media become real through people's construction of reality. Because we see, hear and watch stereotypes on genders, we know them and unconsciously reproduce them in real life.

Body image[edit]

Psychology Today conducted a survey and observed that "of 3,452 women who responded to this survey, 23% indicated that movie or television celebrities influenced their body image when they were young, and 22% endorsed the influence of fashion magazine models."[49]

Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors have increased in the UK, Australia, and the US due to a "perceived environmental pressure to conform to a culturally-defined body and beauty ideal" which is promoted mainly by the media.[50] This ideal of unrealistic and artificial female beauty is "impossible for the majority of females to achieve".[51]

Sexual harassment of women[edit]

The media plays an important role in defining prevailing social norms concerning sexual harassment, especially television, which is "widely accessible and intentionally appealing and engaging, [making] massive use of stereotypical messages that the majority of the people can easily understand."[52] The objectification of women in the media is transmitted verbally and nonverbally, as well as directly and indirectly, and it is not only visual but can also be expressed subtly by commenting on women's appearance in a humorous way, making jokes and gags, and using double meanings.[52] Thus, objectifying media has important social consequences, among which the greater acceptance of stereotypical attitudes. A study has found that "exposure to objectifying TV programs encourages male viewers' proclivity to engage in sexual coercion and gender-harassing behavior."[52] The findings of the study suggest, according to the authors, that "harassing behavior might depend not only on people's personal predisposition to view women as sexual objects, but also on mere TV exposure to objectified women that enhances the accessibility of women as sexual objects."[52]

Challenging stereotypes[edit]

Greater representation of women[edit]

A survey conducted by Stacy Smith of the University of Southern California shows that only 7% of directors, 13% of writers and 20% of producers in film and television are women.[53] However, increasing numbers of women work in the media as journalists or directors. Therefore, they deal with topics tightly related to women's needs and tend to provide a positive role for women.[54] No longer only consumers of media but also contributors to media, they get more involved in decision-making and agenda of activities. This empowerment of women gives them abilities to promote balance in gender representations and avoid stereotypes. Media becomes a suitable ground for expressions and claims.[55]

Virginie Julliard and Nelly Quemener remark that even though the dominant conception of sexuality in media is heterosexuality with construction of traditional models of femininity and masculinity, sexually diverse versions are being used in media which can also be a source of identification by the audience.[56]

Ageing women and media[edit]

As is the case of gender and ethnicity, for example, the media contribute to the production of images of ageing and the creation of work environments that perpetuate a negative vision of ageing or a vision of successful aging. Women tend to be valued as sexual objects and the superficial (apparent) effects of ageing on their body are presented as something to be hidden.[57][58] Older women appear less frequently in movies than their male colleagues and younger women.[59] They continue to be defined mainly by their appearance.[60] For example, many websites show pictures of what is considered "ageing beautifully" for women in their 50s, 60s, and sometimes they include women in their 40s.[citation needed] In gossip culture, the older female body is represented in largely negative terms unless it has been modified "correctly" by cosmetic surgery.[39] Ageing female celebrities have become one of the mainstays of gossip magazines and blogs, which endorse a culture of consumption in which cosmetic technologies and procedures are not questioned but in which female celebrities who have used them are either figured as glamorous for getting it right or as monstrous for going too far.[33] However, this visibility of older women is not necessarily progressive because these representations are first and foremost framed in terms of how well they are managing their ageing bodies.[39]

The commercial potential of older consumers is becoming more significant (an increased 'active lifespan', the babyboom generation entering retirement, retirement ages that are raising). There is a multiplication of images of successful ageing that are explicitly tied to consumerism by the anti-ageing industry and older female celebrities advertising their products.[33] Examples abound: Sharon Stone for Christian Dior, Catherine Zeta Jones for Elizabeth Arden, Diane Keaton and Juliana Margulies for L'Oreal, Christy Turlington for Maybelline, Ellen DeGeneres for Cover Girl, etc. These advertisements are paradoxical in that they allow older celebrities to remain visible while encouraging an ageist and sexist culture in which women are valued for their appearance. Baby boomers are an increasingly important audience group for the cinema industry, resulting in more and new kinds of stories with older protagonists. Romantic comedies in which women protagonists take on the romantic heroine role provide one of the few spaces in popular culture showing appealing representations of older women, such as I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), Last Chance Harvey (2008), and It's Complicated (2009). They are part of a phenomenon called the "girling" of older women, where the protagonists and celebrities are portrayed as being just as excited and entitled to be going out on dates as younger women.[61]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


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  8. ^ Byerly, C. M., 2011, 'Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media', International Women's Media Foundation, Washington DC
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  10. ^ a b c d e "Reality TV (Re)Rewrites Gender Roles". 
  11. ^ "Strong female portrayals eliminate negative effects of violent media". 
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