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In contemporary society, media plays an important role in the formation of social norms and pervasive cultures that have been criticized for misrepresenting reality. Various forms of media that include radio, television, film, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements play an important role in shaping the public’s perception and understanding of gender and gender roles. The manner in which men and women, as well as the roles they play in society, are presented in the media highly influence the public’s perception because of the focus on aspects such as marginalization, stereotyping, and bias (Gauntlett, 2002).
The most common topics explored by various media platforms that shape the gender and gender role discourse include relationships, sex and sexuality, transformation and empowerment, beauty, health and fitness, careers, and fashion. Of the two genders, women are the most misrepresented and stereotyped.
Society’s perception and understanding of gender and gender roles are primarily shaped and influenced by media. The role played by the media in influencing the societal perception of gender is augmented by the fact that technology is a vital aspect of life in contemporary society. For example, people use different forms of media on a daily basis, and as a result, subject themselves to different sources of biased influence that occur at both the conscious and subconscious levels (Gauntlett, 2002). The media presents biased images of men and women that promote unrealistic, limiting, and stereotypical perceptions that have been used to determine the roles that each gender plays in society. Three most critical themes that are worth exploring include underrepresentation of women, stereotypical representation of men and women, and flawed depiction of relationships.
Stereotypical representation of men and women
One of the most insidious roles played by the media is the creation of stereotypes through biased and erroneous representation of men and women. In media platforms such as television, films, and magazines, men are presented as strong, aggressive, domineering, intelligent, and independent (Gauntlett, 2002). In contrast, women are presented as weak, dependent, submissive, less intelligent, caring, and emotional (Gill, 2007).
In movies and television shows, men are depicted as confident, go-getters, powerful, competent, assertive, and worthy of respect. This representation has been taken by society to mean that men are supposed to take leadership positions because of their exceptional qualities that women lack. This bias toward masculinity has led to an erroneous creation of gender roles that have relegated women to low positions in society (Lindsey, 2015).
For example, women are considered fit for positions that do not require aggressiveness. In that regard, careers such as politics, engineering, medicine are deemed most appropriate for men (Gill, 2007). Women are deemed fit for careers in fields such as psychology, education, and arts. This misrepresentation of women as weak, emotional, and sensitive is evident from the low number of women in the fields of politics, management, and engineering. Politics is one of the fields that require tough, confident, and aggressive qualities that are mostly associated with men.
Movies and television shows are famous for popularizing the concept of masculinity. The largest percentage of movie stars are men, and a very low percentage are women. Women are given roles that are considered feminine due to societal socialization (Hengeson, 2012).
In many movies, cultural ideas of masculinity such as sexual aggressiveness, independence, toughness, and strength are explored (Gill, 2007). On the other hand, women are usually awarded supportive roles that focus more on their feminine roles. For example, women are given feminine roles, such as household chores, while men are given roles that involve violence and struggle. Men are never shown doing household chores because culturally, such activities belong to women. In addition, women are shown taking care of children, cooking, washing, cleaning, and doing simple tasks (Lindsey, 2015).
Advertisements are another form of media that shape and influence how society perceives gender and gender roles. In that regard, women are represented as sexual objects that exist to satisfy the needs of men. This is evident from their demeaning depiction in ads. Ads use women mainly to advertise beauty, fashion, and household products (Lindsey, 2015). This is achieved by incorporating images of women that depict their roles in society as taking care of families and working on their beauty. Many ads promote the idea that beauty and motherhood are the most important aspects of the lives of women (Gill, 2007).
Few advertisements depict women as authority figures. In fact, many ads present went as submissive and inferior to men. Women are presented with sexual objects intended to satisfy the fantasies that men have (Lindsey, 2015). The media takes advantage of women’s beauty to create certain perceptions. For example, the beautiful model is usually used for advertising high-end car models such as Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The models that appear in such ads use their beauty to make the products more desirable and attractive to customers. In advertisements where both male and female models appear together, the male model takes an authoritative role while the female model takes the submissive role (Gill, 2007). For example, the male model could be talking about the product while the female model is displaying or tossing or playing around with it. In other ads, the man simply talks about the product while the woman is shown using or enjoying it.
The media also influences gender roles by determining the ads in which men and women appear. Women usually appear in ads that promote fashion, beauty, health, and household products, while men appear in ads that promote alcoholic beverages, cars, industrial machinery, financial products, and banking services (Kosut, 2012). Women usually appear in ads that promote products that depend on their sexuality to sell or appeal to customers. In contrast, men appear in ads that promote elegance and power. In such advertisements, men are shown performing activities such as drinking, playing sports, and repairing cars and machines (Kosut, 2012).
The depiction of men and women in advertisements creates the perception that men are supposed to take leading roles and positions of authority while women are supposed to be led and act as followers (Hengeson, 2012). In addition, it shows that women are supposed to use their sexuality to advance in careers and life, while men should use their natural disposition that is characterized by toughness, aggressiveness, and authority (Lindsey, 2015).
In sports, women are highly sexualized, unlike men who are depicted as powerful, aggressive, and strong. This happens to both female athletes and female sports journalists. Sports that require aggressiveness and strength are reserved for men, while sports that do not require the use of aggressiveness and strength are reserved mainly for women (Kosut, 2012). For example, American football is reserved for men while volleyball is reserved mainly for women.
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The media coverage of sports played by both genders varies significantly. For example, the media coverage of sports such as basketball, golf, football, wrestling, and kickboxing is biased toward men (Kosut, 2012). The media rarely gives adequate coverage to women sports and when it does, the coverage is primarily concentrated on the beauty of female athletes and not their athletic capabilities. Many sports programs usually cover football, baseball, and basketball that are dominated by men (Lindsey, 2015). Women sports are sidelined and receive little coverage despite the fact that approximately 40% of athletes are female (Kosut, 2012).
The media also demeans women who play sports considered masculine. For example, women who participate in boxing, wrestling, and football are considered more masculine than feminine.
The media also uses sports journalism to create erroneous perceptions regarding gender and gender roles in society. Male journalists are highly regarded than female journalists. In the case of female journalists, beauty is more important than talent and skills (Lindsey, 2015). The media has created a culture that reduces women to sexual objects and inferior human beings who are compelled to rely on their beauty and sexuality to thrive on society.
On the contrary, men are placed on a pedestal because according to their depiction in the media, their strength, toughness, and confidence make them superior to women. As a result, women are given roles that do not require aggressiveness and strength. The concept of stay-at-home mom has been discussed in the media for many years. Women stay home while their partners work and play the role of their families’ breadwinners (Lindsey, 2015). Even though there are many stay-at-home dads, the media has ignored that reality because such men ignored the cultural rules of masculinity.
The depiction of relationships between men and women in the media promote the idea that women are inferior and men are superior (Kosut, 2012). In the media, women are presented as dependent while men are presented are independent. Women depend on men for financial and emotional support because men are strong and tough (Lindsey, 2015). This is clearly evident from the supporting role that women are awarded in movies, films, and television shows. Few movies and films portray women as lead characters. This portrayal returns women their traditional role of being housewives.
The media portrays women as the primary caregivers and men as the primary breadwinners. This promotes the idea that men’s position in society does not allow them to perform domestic and nurturing roles that are considered feminine (Kosut, 2012). For the women who work, the media gives little or no attention to them because they deviate from cultural norms. In relationships, women are supposed to take back seats and support their men in their careers and other endeavors (Lindsey, 2015). The media depicts women as ready and prepared to support and serve men. This concept is augmented by the media’s representation of a good and bad woman.
A good woman is caring, submissive, dependent, considerate, sensitive and domesticated while a bad woman is independent, tough, rebellious, assertive, and aggressive (Kosut, 2012). Assertive and confident women are viewed as unappealing to men because of their deviation from the feminine disposition. This representation influences women into acting or behaving in certain ways, develop flawed self identities, and embrace lifestyles that prevent them from living to their fullest potential (Hengeson, 2012).
Women are also shown to be men-pleasers who obsess over their looks in order to be accepted. This representation is worsened by ads that portray female beauty as characterized by thin bodies. Such standards pressure women into adopting lifestyles that endanger their health and wellbeing in efforts to attain the beauty standards depicted in the media (Kosut, 2012). On the other hand, men are also pressured into gaining muscles in order to fit the media’s standards and definition of strong, tough, and powerful. Recent studies conducted on gender and gender roles in the media have reached a consensus that there is unequal representation of men and women in the media (Lindsey, 2015). The representation is a reflection of how society views and treats both genders.
The representation of men and women in the media influences and shapes how society views and treats them. Men are respected and included in more aspects of life than women because the media has created a culture that defines men as superior and women as inferior. Therefore, women are given roles that are considered inferior while men are given roles that are considered superior. More men are found in careers such as politics and management because they are viewed as masculine.
Women are paid less than men and they experience more instances of discrimination and unfair treatment. In today’s society, the media plays a great role with regard to socialization of gender. This socialization affects how people interact and view the opposite sex. The attitudes and behaviors that people embrace are influenced and shaped by the representation of the men and women as well as the roles they are supposed to play in society.
Gauntlett, D. (2002). Media, Gender, and Identity: An Introduction. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Gill, R. (2007). Gender and the Media. Boston, MA: Polity.
Hengeson, V. (2012). Psychology of Gender. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Publishing.
Kosut, M. (2012). Encyclopedia of Gender in Media. New York, NY: SAGE Publications.
Lindsey, L. L. (2015). Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.