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Media Role in Social Construction of Reality Research Paper


Abstract

Media is a powerful social system, and it plays an important role in building a person’s sense of reality. The media industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. Media has a tremendous influence on our everyday existence. This paper is going to discuss the role of media in shaping the social construction of reality. It further analyzes how TV commercials and films play a major part in building real images of gender stereotypes in society. The present research is the combination of qualitative as well as quantitative analysis of the given topic. An explanatory survey is done to find out to what extent the media images shape the reality and how Hollywood movies shape the images of femininity. By using the questionnaire technique, the hypotheses of the research questions can be measured. The questionnaire for the survey was prepared in advance.

The population, which was targeted for this study, was 20 people-10 men and 10 women from different occupations. The survey was a face-to-face interview. Each participant was asked 11 open-ended and 3 close-ended questions. The survey outcome was mixed. Some men and women agreed that the images depicted in media directly affect their perception about themselves, but according to some men and women, these images were responsible for an unrealistic and idealized perception. Gender roles are changing. A male can be risk-taking and dominant but can exhibit qualities of traditional femininity like affection and compassion at the same time. In a similar way, a female can be tender and soft-spoken but can also be ambitious and sporty.

To what extent do the media images shape reality? And the role of the Hollywood movies in particular in shaping the images of Femininity?

Introduction

The media industry is one of the biggest industries in the world that can affect our everyday lives, construct our social pyramid by dividing people into different categorizations depending on different elements such as their language, or their religion, or their ethnic group. The media plays a vital role in shaping the social construction of reality.

Therefore this paper is going to discuss to what extent the media images shape the social construction of reality? TV commercials and films play a significant role in shaping the images of gender stereotypes in society. The first part of this paper will introduce the media industry, how these images have emerged? Which part of the media plays the most significant role? For example, some articles agreed that advertising is the most influential part of the media, the paper is going to examine how this part particularly plays the most significant role?

The present research is qualitative as well as quantitative analysis of the given topic. It uses a descriptive survey design to do this investigation. By using this methodology, the hypotheses of the research questions can be measured, determined, and analyzed. The study involved the use of questionnaires. These were prepared in advance, and the questions were reviewed to find their relevancy in the concept being investigated.

The second part of the paper will examine the role of the media in shaping the categorization of the following:

  • Hegemonic Femininity and subordinated Femininity
    • Types ( Traditional Femininity, Romantic Femininity, Manipulative Femininity )
  • Hegemonic Masculinity and subordinated Masculinity
    • Types ( Traditional Masculinity, Intellectual Masculinity)

Racial and ethnic groups

The mediated stereotypes have contributed to the creation of hegemonic masculinity and femininity, subordinated masculinity and femininity, and racial and ethnic groups in the society. For example, the traditional femininity usually projects an old fashion kind of women, who are usually associated with the idea of family and children, women who are housewives, usually those women should be 30 years and younger in the movies, or advertisements, romantic, emotional, sensitive, and sexualized. On the other hand, usually, the traditional masculinity represents the old fashion kind of men, who are 30 years and older, competitive, athletic, strong, aggressive, and risk-taking. And the rest will be more examined in detail in this paper (Eschoholz et al., 2002)

The third part of the paper will discuss the role of Hollywood cinema is supporting these images.

History of public relations and media development

In today’s time, the media has a strong presence in people’s lives. By media, people mean, the medium that delivers a message to large, diverse audiences. Media study includes the study on media effects, its influence on its audiences, and its representations amongst various cultural groups. Media, as a powerful social system, plays an important role in creating a person’s sense of reality (Gregen, 1999 as cited in Kurylo, 2013, p.235). The exposure to this media around us is called Media Consumption. Unconsciously people take in a lot of messages that they get from the media. It is an impossible thing that one cannot get influenced by this overexposure of media.

The first thing that comes to our mind when we talk about media is Television; where is, this is just a medium. Media comprises of different types of medium like printed media, recorded media, radio media, movies, and television. Recent technological advancement led to the increased use of computers – creating easy access to different mass media mediums. Each of these different mediums collectively and individually works to shape our perceptions of others, and directly or indirectly our communication exchanges. The oldest mass media medium refers to newspapers, books and magazines. Historians traced back use of print media over 4500 years ago when clay tablets were used to publish the narratives by different religious, legal and person/s (Kurylo, n.d.). According to McLuhan, 1962,”The earliest books were limited to the elite members of the society, technological advances like the printing press allowed the medium to enter popular culture with increasing influence” (Kurylo, 2013, p.237).

Like books, newspapers were an early medium of mass communication. Despite people shifting away from traditional way of reading news from newspapers to reading news online, Newspapers still are the main source of information. History of Articles is also very exciting; where in the first article in the United States can be traced back to 1740s. In United States alone by 1900, more than 5000 different articles were being published. Today, a number of articles are published including those specifically targeting women, men, sports fans, families, professionals, youth, and different cultural and religious groups. The invention of, Talking Machine, by Thomas E. Edison in 1877, revolutionised the development of a powerful recording medium of mass communication. This medium produces audio images for mass consumption. It popularised various types of music, speeches of prominent personalities – like Martin Luther King Jr., religious preaching’s, etc to the mass (Kurylo, 2013, p. 238).

The wireless sound sent across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901 by Guglielmo Marconi revolutionised the radio as a medium of important cultural needs. Political leaders like President Roosevelt used it to communicate important issues directly to the U.S public. Even today, Radio plays an important and influential source of information and entertainment. Even with the technological advancements like computers and satellites, etc., radio still is used as an important medium for mass communication and influence a large group. All different mediums of media namely books, newspapers, radio, television, etc- greatly influence our perception of ourselves and others.

They function as cultural socialization agent. Of all these, Television has the strongest impact on personal, cultural and societal perceptions. The images broadcasted on Television through news, soaps, dramas, etc. tremendously influence the perception of people on how they view themselves and others. As a result, government in many countries have banned the airing of certain types of program or shows that support certain agendas. Throughout the world, most of the time the programs produced has political, religious, cultural and social agendas. With new technological development happening all around, the impact of these media is becoming stronger. We can listen to our local radio channels even living thousands of miles away, can read age old newspaper, and can view an unreleased movie that never made to the theatre (Kurylo, 2013, p.239).

Public relations have been a significant aspect of human communications since ancient times. However, it was present in different forms in different ages. The use of printing press as a powerful medium of public communication was initiated in 1940.The 1800s was the age of rapid and shrewd exploitation of media for promoting individuals, products or services. Exaggeration in the advertisements and press releases went beyond the limits of genuineness. The 19th century witnessed more ingenuity in the field of press and advertising in the form of massive advertising fancy language and exaggeration, debate and promotion by showmen like Phineas T. Barnum to make people happy.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, emphasized on the propagation of accurate and truthful information and discarded any type of misrepresentations and hypes. In the 1920’s Edward L. Bernays promoted the concept of ‘scientific persuasion’. He is also known as the Father of Modern Public Relations. Berneys believed that, “public relations should emphasize the application of social science research and behavioral psychology to formulate campaigns and messages that could change people’s perceptions and encourage certain behaviours” (The Evolution of Public Relations, n.d. p.47).

The period post World War II saw abundant growth of public relations with separate departments and expansion of the existing ones in public as well as private organizations. It was only in the 1950s that the mass media and Television came up as a national medium for communication (The Evolution of Public Relations, n.d).

Communication is a medium of negotiating reality. We can share our subjective and personal experiences through this medium. This exchange of experiences results in the construction of social structures of reality. The repetitive establishment of inter subjective meanings and structures leads to the establishment of the social institutions of reality. These negotiations establish the social construction related to legality and conformity of our actions and the appropriateness of our behaviour in given situations.

Communication plays the most significant role in the creating the inter-subjective consensus for social construction of reality. We obtain experience of the world and information about a large number of topics such as events, individuals and places through media. However, there is a significant influence of media on the reality itself. Hence, media does not only affect how people observe reality but it also affects the reality itself by influencing the behaviour of people and institutions (Stocchetti and Kukkonen, 2011).

The Role of media in shaping stereotypes

In our consumption-oriented society, whatever is considered significant and is made known to the audiences is produced and publicized through different forms of media such as radio, television, press, cinema etc. Media plays a crucial role in influencing people’s perception regarding their identity in the society they are living in. Hence, media works as a determinant in signifying our social realities. Gender and race are not only the biological categories but also social constructs that make people identify them as masculine or feminine and white or black (Dow & Wood, 2006).

The images presented by the media give us a picture of what women and men should be. The women population in the U.S.is more than men, however, media biasness in their representation makes us believe the contrary of it. The British and American advertising has been dependent relentlessly on the stereotypical roles that consider women to be passive, subservient and nurturing while men with power in all spheres like physical, domestic, social, intellectual etc. The males are considered as more convincing and authoritative by the television advertisers. However, it is surprising that these traditional stereotypes did not get affected much by the feminist movement and were depicted rigidly during the 1980s and 1990s too (Feasey, 2009).

Bretl and Cantor (1988) revealed in their study on American television commercials in the mid-1980’s, that though men and women occupied equal number in portraying main characters, men were shown enjoying much liberated life and were seen outside home in most of the scenes, whereas women were, more often, shown confined to their domesticity. Further, male voice dominated the text in advertising (as cited in Feasey, 2009). Lovdal (1989) asserts that males dominated occupational roles on television and women were frequently shown in stereotyped traditional feminine roles like good wives, nurturing mothers, brides and servers. Female representation on the small screen advertisements, according to Lovdal, is still the same as it persisted about 10 years ago (as cited in Feasey, 2009).

Gender images related to idealized, racist and sexist images of men and women are highly communicated through advertisements. Women are shown in that would be awful if portrayed by men. Women are more often shown as dropping their pants, skirts, or bathrobe, or squirming on beds. However, men are also portrayed as sex objects in the advertisements but not so often. “The demeanor of women in advertising on the ground, in the background, or looking dreamily into space-makes them appear subordinate and available to men” (Andersen and Taylor, 2007,p.310). Melissa Milkie, a sociologist, attempted to find out the image construction of femininity in the media.

Women are represented with distorted images in the media. These images present an idealistic image of women that is liable to form their self-concepts about their possible appearances, relationships and careers etc. The cultural gatekeepers of the society take up the charge of defining femininity in the media. Producers of these idealistic image constructions have constantly faced criticism by their audience. Melissa Milkie interviewed 10 prominent editors of popular girls’ magazines and tried to find out how these people, as the cultural gatekeepers, responded to the criticism relating to their projection of unrealistic images of women in the media. She also tried to discover how these images are sustained in the media. She found that these prominent editors of girls’ magazines are bound to carry on their work in this manner sometimes due to the artistic process, sometimes due to the requirements of advertisers or mainly due to the prevailing culture. The editors who were more sensitive to the girls’ criticism showed their helplessness in doing something in this regard.

Milkie’s study of the unrealistic representation of feminine image in the media revealed “the organizational complexity of media institutions limits how much change is possible in how images of femininity are constructed. Market forces, advertisers, the values of the producers, and the values of the public all intertwine in shaping the decisions of the cultural gatekeepers” (Milkie 2002 as cited in Anderson and Taylor, 2007, p.310). Milkie also contends that these media images of women have a significant influence on the people’s perception about the image of women in the society (Anderson and Taylor, 2007).

Role of media in constructing gender hegemony through stereotypical representation

The cultural theories and the communication theories argue that the reproduction of hierarchal relations is due to the disproportionate bulge of hegemonic snapshots. They believe that misrepresentation of class, gender, and racial discrimination in the films and on television affects the audience’s perception of the world. Media has been engaged in projecting the weary image of females and minorities and depicting them as the insignificant part of our society. The media endorsed exclusions and stereotypes led to the exploitative and oppressive treatment of gender and racial minorities having less power in the society. The unrealistic portrayal of females and minorities by media is responsible for making the consumers take up hypocrisy related to race and gender (Eschholz et al, 2002).

In the mid-1980’s, study of the dominant gender group became the focal point of political sociology. Hegemonic masculinity was normative and ideologically supported male domination over women. This hegemonic male, according to Connell, symbolizes strength, authority, capability and success. Kimmel (2004) describes hegemonic manhood as ‘a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power’ (as cited in Feasey, 2009, p.358). This ideal image of masculinity is a model expected to be followed by all men. Connell believes that gender hegemony is not restricted to subordinated femininity and hegemonic masculinity, but also presented through the subordinated and marginalized masculinities (Schippers, 2007).

White men are represented as the problem solvers and goal achievers in American media and films. Minority males are normally subjugated in the goal-oriented cinema and are offered to play the comic roles to seek unintentional attention or cast as merciless criminals and the minority males’ representation in the films reflects subordinated masculinity (Hall, 1995; Rhodes, 1993 as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). These studies exhibit the prevalence of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ traits associated with the white males in the television and film. They dominate the images presented on screen (Schippers, 2007).

Feasy (2009) found in the study of representation of British Masculinity in view of the recent Lynx advertisements that tend to undermine the hegemonic masculinity ideal and build up a more identifiable image of the male. However, these images created by “The Lynx everyman begins to dislocate, unwrap and unmask the predictable representation of masculine men, the fact that the men in question tends to be overwhelmingly youthful, white clean shaven, lightly muscled and heterosexual does little to present the myriad versions of masculine identity on offer in contemporary society” ( Feasey, 2009, p.367). MacKinnon (2003) suggests that these men represent ‘commonsense’ notion of masculinity in order to maintain their dominance over women. They are becoming ‘less hegemonic in order to stay hegemonic’ (as cited in Feasey, 2009 p.367).

Female presentation on screen is inclined towards traditional femininity. They are presented in stereotypical roles lacking significance in the workforce and the legal system (Eschholz et al, 2002). Pyke and Johnson (2003) interpreted the concepts of hegemonic femininity and subordinated femininity through their work on Korean and Vietnamese women. They proposed that the white women possess the characteristics of hegemonic femininity such as independence, self-confidence and performing tasks successfully whereas the Asian women symbolize subordinated femininity (as cited in Schippers, 2007).

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) showed its disappointed to see the scarcity of roles available to the minorities including women and racial minorities in the television and films (News- Leader 2000 as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). It is evident that the biased media representation of certain social, gender and class stereotypes influences the public opinions and supports the developments of such stereotypes within the society. Moreover, the studies of Gerbner and Gross (1976) Hall (1997) and Meyers (1997) suggest that biases such as capitalism, patriarchy and the white dominance are replicated in and through both fictional and non-fictional characters.

The women’s rights movements during 1960s and 1970s brought about some changes in the state of minorities in the form of their increased political participation, greater female power over reproduction, and legislative advancements to shield both groups from unlawful victimization. It was assumed that a media perception of these minorities would also follow this transformation. According to Signorielli (1989), Muts and Soss (1997), Chiricos et al (2001) films and television play a vital role in fostering the perceptions of American people. Hence, it is crucial to examine the images produced by them (as cited in Eschhloz, 2000).

The modern society is experiencing changes in gender roles and expectations. Traditional femininity embraces characteristics like gentleness, sensitiveness, and soft-spoken whereas traditional masculinity refers to behaviours like ambitious, self-sufficient and sporty. A male can be competitive, risk taking and dominant, but can exhibit qualities of traditional femininity like, affection, compassion and cheerfulness at the same time. In the same manner, a female can be tender, receptive and soft-spoken but can also be ambitious, self-reliant and sporty at the same time. However, sex –discrimination still is a significant problem in the society but its intensity has decreased over time and will keep on doing so (Bem, 1974).

Methodology

This section will provide an overview of the methodology and the data collection tools used in doing the survey about if media images shape the reality and the role of the Hollywood movies in particular in shaping the images of Femininity.

Research Methodology

This part of research deals with research methodology that was employed in conducting the study. The study is the combination of qualitative as well as quantitative research methods. By using this methodology, the hypotheses of the research questions can be measured, determined, and analyzed.

The study involved the use of the questionnaires. These were prepared in advance, and the questions were reviewed to find their relevancy in the concept being investigated. The language used in the questionnaires was relatively moderate to be understood by the people and the procedure was understood.

Population and Sampling Procedure

The population of interest for this study is 20 people-10 men and 10 women from different occupations. A large no of participants is used in the sample.

Instrumentation

Survey questionnaires were used as the research instrument. The survey was a face-to-face interview. In a face to face interview, all the participants were provided with survey questionnaires in order to determine their perceived level of explaining their views on media if it shapes the reality and the role of the Hollywood movies in particular in shaping the images of Femininity. There were two types of questions open-ended and closed, targeting different groups from different occupations.

Reliability

In order to uphold the reliability of this study, the participants were selected according to their various occupations. The questionnaires targeted people from different occupations as per the setting of its questions.

Data Collection Procedures

The questionnaire was used for in depth interview. Each participant was asked 11 open ended and 3 close ended questions. Every question was explained by the researcher to make sure that the respondent understood the question and was comfortable to answer. This survey lasted for half an hour.

Primary Research Findings

This dissertation presents the finding of the primary research. The primary research was conducted by making questionnaires and those questionnaires were distributed among 20 participants. The participants were divided in two groups- 10 men and 10 women. This research was carried out to collect data. Each participant was explained clearly each and every question.

The results of the interview are shown below

While asking about types of male bodies that media show some said that the advertising industry often shows toned, svelte, Brad Pitt-like- jocks. But other said the entertainment industry shows a fair share of pot-bellied men like Jack Black. In response to the question if these images directly affect the males’ perception about themselves. A few men said that perhaps it does affect the perception of young men to believe that they need to have a six-pack but some men mentioned that the message for middle-aged men is that they will have a gorgeous female partner, no matter what their own body type.

While asking about the types of female body that media shows, some of the female said that female bodies of all ages and across media appear to be thin and petite. And some of them mentioned that there are exceptions like Melissa McCarthy, but these exceptions are still few and often confined to comedic genre. In response to the question if these images directly affect the females’ perception about themselves, some answered that it is absolutely true that women need to remain thin and gorgeous all through their lives but some said that they are happy with their own personality whatever they have. When asking about if such images are considered to be ideal in the society, some females answered that it is not definitely there since these images perpetuate an unrealistic and idealized perception that has led to the epidemic of eating disorders and low self-esteem across a whole generation of young people, across the world.

They also mentioned that such images are not realistic looking around the people in any city in the world, it is clear that such body-types are the exception and not the norm. When asking about if there are false impressions prevalent in media about men and women look, some of them answered that the air-brushing hides the real texture of a natural skin. The preponderance of Caucasian models send the message of the “white” standard of beauty. Photo shopping unnaturally morphs the figures of real people into androgynous bodies without any flesh on them.

In response to the question if any movies feature men as a principal character about the importance of men in our society relative to women and children, a few said that a recent release “Monuments Men” glorifies the actions of a group of men who valiantly protected an art treasure from being destroyed by Nazi Germany. However, the real story had a number of women who helped with this dangerous task. By erasing all but one of these female characters, the movie perpetuates the world view that women are dispensable to our society and its history. In response to the question if the character of a female in a movie can be compared to her role in the ‘real world’, a few mentioned that women are often as background characters in most movies, mostly two dimensional characters – wife, girlfriend, partner – but always relational to the men in their lives.

Real life women are tougher, smarter, and play a much bigger role in the lives of their families and societies. Some said that women characters in movies are often stereotypes of – soppy, vamp, slutty, witty, etc. Women in real life are much more complex and often combine many attributes of the stereotypes, and more. While answering about the question if females in movies function as role models, some females said that women’s portrayal in movies reflects their secondary position in the society. Despite them being half of humanity, the media only recognizes them as half the “market” for its products. There are not many good role models for women in the movies, despite the recent growth of women centred themes with strong women characters, such as “The Hunger Games” or “Frozen”.

Discussion

The survey revealed that half of the men and women were influenced with media for their body image. Most of them answered that they observed these “ideal” “stereotypical” male/female bodies in movies. Some of them mentioned they liked to act like their favorite actor or actress at their homes.

The survey result gave mixed type of answers that the images depicted in media directly affect the females’ perception about themselves sometimes and women need to remain thin and gorgeous all through their lives but some women were not influenced with these images. Some females contradict this idea that such images are considered to be ideal in the society. According to them, these images perpetuate an unrealistic and idealized perception.

The Role of Hollywood Cinema in Shaping the Images of Femininity

In the post World War period, the focus of Hollywood movies inclined towards the representation of the suburban life. The portrayal of females was confined to the feminine housewives, who is sweet and subservient and remains confined to her home. Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ (1963), initiated the debate over the inner secrets of the middle-class housewives who were living a weary and lonely life. This contributed to the gender upgrading, whatsoever, was taking place in the society (Perruccio, n.d., p. 55). In 1967 and later years, films started portraying this upheaval in the form of housewives having affairs and looking for therapies and facing mental breakdowns. The films depicted the prevailing turmoil in their lives but did not provide any therapy (Perruccio, n.d.).

Representation of Females in leading roles: The studies conducted on reviewing the place of females including a time span of 50 years suggested that they did not occupy any significant place in the films or the prime time programs. The works of Jones (1942); Clarke (1969); Seggar et al (1981); Douglas (1995); and so many other researchers reveal that the media representation of the women is not genuine and depicts them more compliant in comparison to their real state in the society (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). These studies also assert that they are offered only less significant and stereotyped roles.

Eschholz et al. studied 50 top grossing films in 1996 to examine the representation of females and minority males on screen in the 1990s. They found in their study that “Although both women and minorities have crossed many traditional boundaries in the work force and in terms of social norms, the Hollywood film industry is still owned and run predominantly by white males”(Eschholz et al. 2002, p. 313). It revealed the white male persistently dominated the screen representation. Women comprising 51 per cent of the total population in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau 1990) were presented only in 35 % of the leading roles showing the prevalence of traditional femininity in 1990s too. In view of the representation of the racial and ethical minority the similar pattern of subordinated masculinity persisted. The African American or Hispanic played only 20 % of the lead characters. Further, these lead characters were chiefly cast in films with mostly non-white population. Films comprising action and adventure represented men over women.

Representation of females’ age in Hollywood films: The previous studies on the treatment of femininity in the Hollywood films suggest that great importance was attached to the physical appearance of the females and portrayal of their youthful attractiveness. Middle age and older women were almost excluded from playing the roles in films. The portrayal of male characters differed entirely as they were projected as growing sexier and wiser with maturity. This reflected the values of the American advertisers and consumer stereotypes that perceive that the females attain the zenith of youthful beauty and charm in her teens and twenties.

Their physical attractiveness vanishes with age and change in role as mothers, however, men were stereotyped as growing intelligent and attractive with age and maintaining sexuality even as fathers and grandfathers (Wolf 1991; Faludi 1991; Douglas 1995 as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). Hall (1995) and Rhodes (1993) found that this discrimination was incorporated in stereotyping the masculine and feminine intellectual capacity too (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). The minorities were depicted mostly in young, comic and criminal roles. Baptista- Fernandez and Greenberg (1980) discovered that the white Americans were depicted in more matured and older than their African American counterparts were (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002).

These studies supported the findings of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Report (1977) that “white men tend to be older and more mature, while females and minority males are more likely to be younger and less mature”( as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002, p. 306). Eschholz et al (2002) found that the discrimination in the age criterion for the males and females remained consistent in the 1990s too. The majority of the females were presented under age 30 or younger whereas males were presented older, matured, and even in their 50s.

Representation of marital and parental status of women: In the previous studies the patriarchal family unit is shown as the model where female characters are expected to stick to the traditional feminine role of carrying out their responsibilities as wives and mothers. Their career aspirations are not considered significant. On the contrary, men demonstrate highly masculine traits such as having the right and liberty to pursue challenges and achieve success separate from their family. Mothers were more unlikely to be working outside home than males attaching importance to marriage and parenting (Eschholz, 2002).

Sex roles in the labour market and occupational prestige: It is evident in the studies of Clarke (1969); Roberts (1970/71); Long and Simon (1974); Northcutt et al (1975) that males dominated the occupational field on screen. Screen reality could be called as the white man’s world even when the feminist movement was pervasive (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). However, Japp (1991); Graham and Maschio (1995/96); Signorielli and Bacue (1999) revealed that there was some improvement in the portrayal of occupational roles of women due to the feminist movement. However, there was paucity of quantity and quality both for significant and prestigious occupational roles for females (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002).

Vende Berg and Streckfuss (1991) found that“67 per cent of the work related activities were exhibited by male characters. Employment sectors where female characters were frequently found included retail sales and service. There were no women in industry and males tended to hold the higher organizational positions (as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002). Eschholz et al (2002) also found in their study of 50 grossing films of 1996 that male film characters dominated in the field. However, this study did not relate with the previous studies with respect to employment status and racial minorities. Although the review of the sample reveals that the majority of the non-whites did not hold the employment till the completion of the movies. The three African American female lead roles in the movie ‘Set it Off, who were employed in the beginning but didn’t hold it until the end exemplifies this trend.

Whereas, the three white female lead in The First Wives’ Club’ was represented gaining prestige towards the completion of the film. The representation of white females was shown as financially dependent on their male counterparts. The gender difference related to occupational prestige representation was revealed as negligible in the study of the 1996 50 films that was much close to the social reality at that time. However, racial differences were noticeable with much lower prestige attached to the African Americans occupational prestige in the films. The projection of this difference on screen was larger as compared to the real state in the society. The study suggests that there was occupational liberty in the movies for the female and racial minorities, but the manifestation of men in the female dominated occupations was limited in the female dominated movies (Eschholz et al, 2002, p.319).

Hundred films released between the periods of 1946 to 1989 to find out the transformation in the role of women in the Hollywood films. He discovered that the male female ratio did not show any change in the place of females as they represented only twenty-five per cent of all characters in these films. However, the films after the feminist movement in 1960s women were depicted as working outside home. Sixty-one per cent of the females portrayed in the films from 1976 to 1989 were shown serving in the non-traditional occupations. Besides this, he reveals that the modern woman is depicted as more liberated in initiating sex, having sexual relationships outside marriage and engaged in violent activities. The female portrayal does not require them to be necessarily married. This study seems to be in contradiction with the majority of the studies that find masculine hegemony in both workplace and in sexual relationship (Rothman et al 1993 as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002).

Gender: The studies on the subject of masculinity and femininity projection in the 20th century cinema reveal that white men are shown indulging in violence and aggression. They are projected as the problem solvers and can go to any limits to achieve their goals. Minority males are normally subjugated in the goal oriented cinema and offered to play the comic roles to seek unintentional attention or cast as merciless criminals (Hall, 1995; Rhodes, 1993 as cited in Eschholz et al, 2002).

These studies exhibit the prevalence of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ traits associated with the white males in the television and film. They dominate the images presented on screen. Female presentation on screen is inclined towards traditional femininity and the minority males’ representation in the films reflects subordinated masculinity. They are presented in stereotypical roles lacking significance in the workforce and the legal system. It was found in the study of gender and racial minority representation in the 1996 films that male characters were more inclined towards traditional masculinity and female characters were more inclined towards traditional femininity and romantic femininity.

However some exceptions existed such as “Jerry, played by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire scored well above the average on traditional masculinity, intellectual masculinity, traditional femininity, and romantic femininity” (Eschholz et al, 2002, p.320). Quite a few female characters also demonstrated soaring levels of masculinity and femininity in the 1996 Hollywood films. The characters of “Reene (Renee Russo) in Tip Cup, Karen (Sally Fields) in an Eye for an Eye,Tally (Michelle Pleiffer) in Up Close and Personal, Stoney (Jada pinkett) in Set It Off, and Brandi (Lynn Whitfield) in Thin Line Between Love and Hate exhibit intense levels of both masculinity and femininity”(Eschholz et al. 2002, P.320).

Generally, these characters traversed the gender limitations due to some major experience in their lives. Jerry’s increased sensitivity (Jerry Maguire), when his career was on line and Karen’s (Eye for an Eye) increased masculinity as a result of her daughter’s rape are the examples of these shifts of gender traits. Manipulative femininity traits (deceitfulness, untrustworthiness and manipulation) were more apparent in males than the more positive feminine traits like traditional femininity and romantic femininity. These findings were suggestive of the accuracy of the previous research findings. However, white males, as an exception, showed greater scores in portraying manipulative femininity than the white females (Eschholz et al. 2002).

The twenty- first century American cinema has developed as an active force in the perception of gender relations. However, in the earlier part of the century the producers and the public did not see the media image of women as a representation of social inequality. Gradually, critics and audiences became more concerned about the role films play in determining the social values, institutions, and outlook. American writers like Molly Haskell and Marjorie Rosen along with Joan Mellen in the mid-seventies started showing aggression against the demeaning ideologies on gender roles and female sexuality in Classical Hollywood cinema. Haskell believed that Classical Hollywood movies were more focused on portraying ‘man’s soul and salvation’. The female characters had hardly any appearances and significance in the films. They worked as the point of reference and exhibition for the masculine leading roles who had no ambition and opinion of their own. They posed a danger to masculine reality and therefore, made passive, non-interactive and submerged in the patriarchal social system (Wardak, 2013).

The Hollywood New Wave was a period between the mid-1960s and early 1980s.

To understand the role of Hollywood movies in shaping femininity in reality, we need to have a close look into some of the popular movies based on typical feminine theme and their influence on shaping the image of femininity in society.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

This is an example of the new wave of feminism that was taking place in Hollywood at that point of time. This film portrays the character of Bonnie Parker as an idealistic female lead that is quite different from the traditional roles of wives, mothers or sex objects. The character of Bonnie portrays the resistance of a woman in a male dominated society. She is strong enough to make her own decisions and cherish ambitions. The film focuses on female liberation from the societal norms and presents a distinctive theme among the Hollywood New Wave cinema.

In Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) portrays the character of the leader of the gang involved in bank robbery and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) plays the character of his lover and accomplice in the robbery.

Amidst the sexual revolution reaching its peak, the movie offered an entirely distinctive subject to the audiences who were used to seeing female characters representing traditional femininity. Dealing with the issues like sexual desire, objectification and impotence, the movie for the first time in the history of American cinema depicted uncensored sexual content. Bonnie Parker is a portrayal of women with sexual heat and freedom. In her effort to lead a liberated life, she eventually grows as a sex symbol and achieves fame through crime spree. The opening scene of the movie illustrates her hunger for something extra that she does not have.

The film depicts her character in a multi-dimensional way by making her become stronger with her sexuality. In a desire to change her life as a waitress, she transforms into a confident woman holding the gun and become accomplice in crime and with her love Clyde. Her sexual desire remains unfulfilled due to Clyde’s impotency and drives her frustrated. Showing the unconventional feministic traits, she channelizes her unreturned sexual oomph into the criminal spree and uses her creative energy into the poem “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.” The feminism portrayed in Bonnie and Clyde does raise some feminist issues.

The queries related to women’s sexuality and changing gender roles are depicted in the film.

Lunstad, in her article “But You Wouldn’t have the Gumption to Use It”: Bonnie and Clyde and the Sexual Revolution, examines the underlying theme of feminism represented in the film. She asserts that Bonnie’s dissatisfaction with her emphasized by the director in the very beginning. “Penn himself describes this opening sequence as — a close-up of her hungry lips….that’s what it is—-a hunger for more than her present existence”(Lunstad, n.d., p.15).

The camera focus shifting to her face and then the naked body emphasizes her frustration with the conventional feminine role. Further, depicting her face between the bars proposes that she considers herself as imprisoned in her existing situation. Thereafter, “her complete enclosure in the window frame not only suggests that her captivity springs from her leashed desire, but that she also is framed metatextually as an inconographic representation of the sixties liberated woman” (Lunstad, n.d., p.15). Lunstad feels that Bonnie’s character, through her sexuality, exemplifies the innate urge of a woman to satisfy herself in a societal context that does not approve of it. She contends that the “the image of her on the screen does not play into male fantasies regarding the female body, but rather her presence as fully sexual woman, within the context of the women’s movement, affirms women’s rights to exert sexual desire”(Lunstad, n.d.,p.17). Bonnie’s character, truly represents and influences the societal norms, prevailing during the feminist movement, with passion and essence as well as a sexually gratifying figure.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore(1974)

This film portrays female struggle in quest of liberation from the restrictions of the social norms. Alice (Ellen Burstyn) is portrayed as a dutiful housewife belonging to a working class and whose focus in life is to gratify her husband and nurture her disobedient son. She wishes to achieve liberation from the domesticity and become independent. The story reflects the feminist themes of equality in all aspects of private and public life prevailing during that period (1960s and 1970s). Alice is portrayed as a 35 year old housewife of a truck driver. After her husband’s death, she wants to pursue a career in singing (her career before marriage) in her hometown.

The film portrays Alice’s journey as a single mother, also as a woman who has some dreams to fulfil and ambitions to succeed. Her attitude towards independence represents the aspirations of the American women struggling for equality and liberation in gender roles. Alice Hyatt was screened in the 1970s when showing single motherhood was considered a taboo. During her journey, she becomes conscious of the fact that she cannot spend her life with someone who would treat her as subservient and inferior and eventually, grows an equal romantic partnership with David. The middle and working class American females at that point of time were struggling for the similar issues. They identified with the character of Alice struggling for a livelihood with no formal training and education. They looked at feminism as the way out from the societal restrictions of the patriarchal system.

The Stepford Wives (2004)

This film was the remake of the film, Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975). Through this film there was an attempt made to look at the feminist issues such as feminine sexual identity in relation to the prevailing patriarchal system in the American society. It depicted the dissatisfaction of suburban female within the dejection of domesticity (Peruccio,n.d.).

This film is about Joanna’s shift with her family into the town of Stepford, who, gradually comes across the town’s secret of its female residents being robots. The underlying themes of the film are suggestive of masculinity, femininity, and gender power relations that represent masculine hegemony and oppression of women’s freedom and repressing their ambitions. The film portrays the stereotypical female roles representing traditional femininity as observed in the society in general. The wives are portrayed performing daily chores such as cooking, cleaning and of course fulfilling their husbands’ needs in every single way.

They do not possess much wisdom, at least not surpassing their husbands’ intelligence, and are away from any job that requires intellect and can contribute to the economy. The film projects women in as ideal housewives in patriarchal societies who are not ambitious and do not have their own opinions. Their absolute obedience to their husbands is the manifestation of the ideal traits of traditional femininity. The symbolic significance of having micro-chips in their brains is also noteworthy. They are hence, shown under absolute control of their husbands, destined to stay in the domestic sphere, serving their husbands devotedly and subserviently.

In terms of masculinity, the film projects men in complete traditional masculinity. They are represented as stereotypes characterizing real men in terms of their achievements in comparison to that of women’s. The film is a good example of the patriarchal societies that bring about the disadvantages of both males and females.

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

However, the film does not represent the more traditional period that did not approve of any social prospects for women, and primarily centred on domesticity and a certain degree of subservience. It depicts chiefly a sharp conflict between the two opposite attitudes represented by the liberal feminist Katherine Watson, and conventional Betty Warren. The feminist perspective is presented as a rather basic, singular unit, as seen in Watson’s reductive and excessively one-dimensional view of women confined to domestic roles. The complexity of the gender struggle is minimized as the film proceeds towards the end by the character of John’s (Julia Stiles) choice to stay home with kids and family rather than working in the Yale Law School. This instance presents an example for the viewers that feminism may have different interpretation for different people. Women’s choice to be close to their family and children and take care of them should be misinterpreted as clinging to the stereotype gender role.

These characters are real women who have their faults, struggles and weaknesses. They struggle to change their lives and be liberated from the limitations posed by the patriarchal social system. They struggle physically and emotionally in pursuit of their own independence.

Conclusion

Media plays a crucial role in influencing people’s perception regarding their identity in the society they are living in. Hence, media works as a determinant in signifying our social realities. Males have been dominating occupational roles on television and women were frequently shown in stereotyped traditional feminine roles like good wives, nurturing mothers, brides and servers. Female representation on the small screen advertisements is still the same as it persisted about 10 years ago. Advertisements play a significant role in communicating the idealized, racist and sexist images of men and women. The advertisers do not have any explanation for portraying the distorted image of femininity through media. It is true that misrepresentation of class, gender, and racial discrimination in the films and on television affects the audience’s perception of the world. Media has been engaged in projecting the weary image of females and minorities and depicting them as the insignificant part of our society.

The media endorsed exclusions and stereotypes led to the exploitative and oppressive treatment of gender and racial minorities having less power in the society. The unrealistic portrayal of females and minorities by media is responsible for making the consumers take up hypocrisy related to race and gender. Women’s portrayal in movies reflects their secondary position in the society. Despite them being half of humanity, the media only recognizes them as half the “market” for its products. There are not many good role models for women in the movies. A review of some of the movies with feminist theme reveals that in spite of their focus on female liberation from the societal norms, the underlying theme is that of dissatisfaction of women with their passive and subservient role in the patriarchal social system.

Annotated Bibliography

Books

Andersen, M. & Taylor, H. (2007). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society, Updated (2nd edn.), California: Cengage Learning

The authors of this book primarily focus on the topics related to class, gender, race-ethnicity, age, geographic dwelling etc. with a sociological point of view. The use of illustrative research and data with respect to the above-mentioned sociological aspects and many more provide a comprehensive and theoretically balanced overview of the basic principles of Sociology. The authors discuss the role of media in portraying the unrealistic image of femininity through various mediums and especially through advertisements. The book also presents the attempt of the sociologist, Melissa Milkie, in examining the role of the cultural gatekeepers in determining and sustaining the unrealistic portrayal of femininity in the media.

Dow, B.J. & Wood, J.T. (2006) The Sage handbook of gender and communication, London: Sage Publication

The authors in this article attempt to reveal how mediated communication in the U.S. affects the social construction of race and gender. They also discuss how these mediated communications influence our perception of race and gender in the society.

Kurylo, A. (2013) Inter/Cultural Communication, London: Sage Publication

This chapter tells basic concepts associated with media and culture, which replicates social scientific and social construction point of views. After discussing different types of media sources, this chapter further discusses about media effects.

Stocchetti M. & Kukkonen, K. (2011). Critical Media Analysis: An Introduction for Media Professionals, Frankfurt: Peter Lang

The book reveals that how media affects the social construction of reality. It provides the basics of the media work, its theory and history and discusses how media people deal with postmodern changes. It also discusses the role of cultural gatekeepers in presenting women with distorted image in the media.Further, the authors, with reference to Melissa Milkie’s work “Contested Image of Femininity: An Analysis of Cultural Gatekeepers’ Struggles with the ‘Real Girl’ Critique”, reveal the perception of media persons responsible for creating these images.

The Evolution of Public Relations (n.d.)

This chapter provides an insight into the significance attached to public relation practices from the ancient times. It throws light on the continuing evolution of public relation methods used since ancient times until modern era. Further, it looks into the contributions of the prominent protagonists in the field of public relations.

Articles

Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162

The article deals with the concept of gender in psychological terms. The author, Sandra Bem, illustrates the traits of traditional masculinity and traditional femininity found in the behaviours of different people. She explains that a balance between the strongly masculine and strongly feminine behaviours can be maintained in order to perform appropriately in different circumstances. She discovers another classification of gender in this regard called androgynous (andro refers to male and gyn refers to female).

Eschoholz, S., Bufkin, J. & Long J. (2002). Symbolic reality bites: women and racial ethnic minorities in modern film. Sociological Spectrum, 22, 299–334

The author in this article is examining how the Hollywood movies project women and minorities, by categorizing people into many different categories. There is a table in the article shows a study has been done by the author that shows the different kinds of categorizations in the Hollywood society, which divides the actors into different roles depending on their category. For example In accordance to the author, there are different kinds of femininity in the movies, traditional femininity which usually includes the old fashion women, who are always associated with the idea of family and children. Obviously this article is useful and it has a great relevance to answer the question of the research. In addition the studies that have been done in this article is helpful, because it is focusing on the Hollywood society, and the last part of the research is focusing on the Hollywood movies.

Feasey, R. (2009) Spray more, get more: masculinity, television advertising and the Lynx Effect, Journal of Gender Studies, 18 (4), 357–368

The article is about the recent development in portraying masculinity in the advertisements of male grooming products in Britain. Through the reference of the advertisements of Lynx series on television in Britain in the mid of 2000s,the author tries to examine these texts in view of their conformity or challenge to hegemonic masculinity.

Lunstad, J.K. (n.d.) But You Wouldn’t Have the Gumption to Use It: Bonnie and Clyde and the Sexual Revolution

The article provides an analysis of the gangster and feminism genre films and especially that of Bonnie and Clyde (1967).The author presents a feminist perception related to the character of Bonnie, who is not hesitant of revealing her sexuality. The author feels that her character confirms women’s rights to put forth their sexual desire.

Peruccio, K. (n.d.), Big Screen, little boxes: Hollywood representation of the suburban housewife, 1960-1975.

The article presents a history of the portrayal of suburban life during the period when feminist movement was at its peak. The author discusses the division of gender roles and people’s perception about the subject through the representation of masculinity and femininity in the films of this period. He discusses the depiction of the frustration and unhappiness of the suburban housewives with their position in the society. The article also exposes the mind-set of the males who were concerned with money and not willing to come out of their traditionally prescribed masculine role.

Schippers, M. (2007) Recovering the feminine other: masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony, Theor Soc, 36, 85–102

The article interprets the concept of hegemonic femininity in relation to path breaking notion of multiple masculinity and hegemonic masculinity developed by Connell (1995,1987, 1995). The author offers interpretation of hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity and different shades within each and also their implication and intersection in view of class, race and ethnic differences.

Wardak, T. (2013) Girls on film: New Hollywood’s reaction to second-wave feminism.

The article presents an analytical view on the depiction of female characters in the Hollywood movies during the second wave feminism. It examines how the mainstream cinema engaged with feminism through the examples of some mid-seventies’ Hollywood movies with the feminist theme.

Movies

Newell, M. (Director). (2003). Mona Lisa Smile [online video]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

The movie examines the social developments taking place in America in the 1950s. It depicts the struggle between women of traditional and liberal attitudes with respect to gender discrimination in the society. The film also offers diverse interpretation of femininity through different perspectives.

Oz, F. (Director). (2004).The Stepford Wives [Online video]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

The remake of 1975 original movie The Stepford Wives is a clear depiction of the typical patriarchal society where females are confined to the daily chores of life, besides taking care of all demands of their husbands. They are portrayed as gentle, kind, soft-spoken and beautiful objects who have no ambition and personal opinion. The men are shown as typical traditional masculine characters who are powerful and do not let their wives surpass them in any matter. They go to the extent of changing them to robots to satisfy their male ego. Joanna’s character rebels against the traditional femininity being imposed on women. This film is a perfect example of the representation of femininity in Hollywood movies.

Penn, A. (Director). (1967). Bonnie and Clyde [online video] United States: Warner Brothers.

Bonnie and Clyde released amidst the sexual revolution reaching its peak. The movie offered an entirely distinctive subject to the audiences who were used to seeing female characters representing traditional femininity. Dealing with the issues like sexual desire, objectification and impotence, the movie for the first time in the history of American cinema depicted uncensored sexual content. Bonnie Parker is a portrayal of a woma n with sexual heat and freedom. In her effort to lead a liberated life, she eventually grows as a sex symbol and achieves fame through crime spree.

Scorsese, M. (1974). Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore [online video]. United States: Warner Brothers.

The story reflects the feminist themes of equality in all aspects of private and public life prevailing during that period (1960s and 1970s). The film portrays Alice’s journey as a single mother who is left alone to raise her son without any professional training and adequate education. The movie also portrays a woman’s dreams to be independent and ambitions to succeed. Her attitude towards independence represents the aspirations of the American women struggling for equality and liberation in gender roles.

Appendices

Questionnaire

Type A- Open ended

  1. What types of male bodies do the media show?
  2. Do you think that these images directly affect the males’ perception about themselves and how males take care of themselves? Please explain briefly.
  3. What types of female bodies do the media show?
  4. Do you think that these images directly affect the females’ perception about themselves and how females take care of themselves? Please explain briefly.
  5. Are these images considered to be the ideals in our society?
  6. Are these images realistic? How many people have you seen who have body types like those presented in the media?
  7. What false impressions are prevalent in media about men and women look?
  8. How many of your favorite movies feature men as the principal character? What messages do they suggest about the importance of men in our society relative to women and children?
  9. List some of the roles female has played in movies? How do they compare to their roles in the “real” world? How do they influence your expectations of how females actually behave?
  10. How are the characteristics displayed by female in the movies comparable to those of the females in your own life? How do they differ?
  11. In thinking about these Movie female, how do they make you (if you are a female) feel about other females? How well females in movies function as role models, as viewing spectacles, or as people to relate to?

Type B- Close ended

Choose any one option:

  1. Whose influence is there on your body image … your parents? Your friends? Your Teachers? The media?
  2. Where do you observe these “ideal” “stereotypical” male/female bodies the most in the media? Magazines? Movies? TV shows? What types of TV shows?
  3. Do you sometimes act as your favourite actor/actress at your home?
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