Gender Roles in Society
Gender and the Media
In this essay I will discuss the types of images presented by the mass media of men and women. I will use examples and insights from the text, video clips and lecture, and my own media experience to support my observations.
Mass media presents something called gender images. A gender image is the way a certain gender is portrayed. From this portrayal we as the viewers receive ideas of how that particular gender is "expected" to behave. We then perceive ourselves as either gender appropriate or abnormal. These gender images are shown in all forms of media. Sometimes gender images will be presented subtly or often blatantly. For example, in "Pretty Woman." When I saw this movie I thought it was a love story about a prostitute who changed her ways. In fact, there is an underlying suddilty that she is "saved from her evil ways by a rigidly stereotypical man." This leads way to the idea that women need men. When I initially saw this movie that’s not what I was thinking. I was unknowingly learning about gender images.
The media, only reinforced, does not create these gender images. The media simply mirrors what is currently of importance to the general population. Looking at particular attitudes and beliefs of different times in history can prove this idea. Media always reflects the important ideas, beliefs and concerns of its time (video lecture).
During the 1930’s (the depression) everyone was struggling. There was a large amount of desperation among men because they couldn’t adequately take care of their families. In general things were falling apart. Despite the growing poverty there was still a spark (a very small spark) of hope for the future. This basic attitude of the public was reflected in the media. One example is, "The Grapes of Wrath." This movie showed a destitute and struggling family embracing hope. They packed up and moved to California.
Another example of the media’s reflection of the ideas, concerns, and beliefs of the general public is in the 1940’s. Because many of the men in our country were away at war, women started taking on new roles. They began to work in jobs that were typically for men. For example, many women had to work in factories or on farms. When the men began to come home from the war they often felt out of place. This is shown in "The Best Years of Our Lives." In this movie the father must find his place all over again. This role reflects the role of men during that time frame.
In the 1950’s westerns were very popular. These books, television shows and movies showed traits the typical man was expected to have. Men were supposed to be strong courageous and not emotional. Young boys would find these examples of masculinity in their fathers as well as the roles they received from media. For example, Mac Dillon was a very popular western figure. Many boys (even men) admired his Manly qualities.
Girls wanted to pattern their lives after their mothers. They were taught that fulfillment comes from the role of housewife and mother. They also were taught that they needed men. Their overall goal was to find a man and then have a family. These women had four basic job options: secretary, teacher, nurse or stewardess. Many of the women who actually went to college took classes in "domestic sciences." These messages came at women from every direction. In one song the phrase, "You can’t get a man with your brain (video #6)," shows how women of the time were programmed to believe.
There were many reflections of the ideas of the 1950’s in the media. One Example is a line from a commercial of the 50’s. In this commercial men were told that all they needed to be happy was "A warm woman and a cold beer, (video #6).
The "Ozzie and Harriet Show." is another example of the media’s reflection of public ideas in the 50’s. In this show the ideal family was shown. In this sort of a family men and women embraced their expected roles. Ozzie and Harriet set an example that all families of the time were expected to follow. The clear message stated everyone should live this life. If you’re not living this sort of life there’s something wrong with you, (video #6). Living this lifestyle of "Ozzie and Harriet" was hard if not impossible. This led to the surprising of emotion. People were forced to pretend to be someone they were not. Much like Ozzie and Harriet families of the 50’s were forced to play a role.
Over the years gender images have changed but not ceased to exist. The media of today still reflects gender images in an extremely influential way. One example if this is children’s commercials. There are subtle messages within these commercials that give young children an idea of how to act, and what types of activities are appropriate for their gender.
In commercials made for boys there is typically a male announcer. Music is sung by a male vocalist and is typically loud and demonstrative. The boys are always shown playing with other boys. Their play is typically rough, even violent. There are many examples (shown in video lecture #6) of commercials that support these statements.
A commercial for Street fighter action figures has a male announcer. The music is load fast and sang by a man. There are only boys in this commercial, no girls allowed. These boys are extremely rough. They make the action figures punch and kick each other. Every voice or figure in the commercial is male, even the action figures.
The presence of only male figures teaches young boys that they should make their primary bonds with other males. They also learn to mimic the violent play. Boys learn at a very young age that they are expected to be tough. The very name, "Street Fighter," shows this to be true. They are also shown that men are expected to be strong and attractive. The action figures are all very muscular. None of them are unattractive or overweight. Unfortunately these young boys do not know that they are receiving a lesson in gender stereotyping. They perceive the messages and role definitions they’re getting in the commercial as reality.
The same is true of commercials made for girls (video lecture #6). These commercials often focus on domestic activities like cooking and taking care of children.
The dolls or activities follow typical female roles and occupations like gymnastics, styling hair, choosing wardrobes, and making art. If anything masculine is presented there is a female bias attached. For example, in the commercial for Camping Barbie, the little girl playing with her says, "Lets cook dinner for everyone." It is no coincidence that the patient Doctor Barbie comes with is a baby. Little girls are taught to like taking care of babies. They soon learn to enjoy playing mother. An example of this is the commercial for Newborn Nancy. The song for the commercial sings "I love my Newborn Nancy...She needs some help from me...Cause that’s what mommies do." Girls also learn from these commercials to be emotional the word love is frequently used. Girls are often shown hugging and kissing their dolls.
The songs, toys, activities, colors, and attitudes in boys and girls commercials are extremely different, even opposite. The boy’s loud and fast music contrasts the girl’s music, which can often be similar to that of a lullaby. The girl’s activities are typically indoor and domestically based. The boys are encouraged to play outside. Pink is contrasted by blue.
The attitudes of the boys are rough and tough. The girls are loving and emotional. These commercials are just one of the many media sources children today is using to create gender images and stereotypes that they will use to pattern their own behavior.
In conclusion, in this essay I have discussed the types of gender images presented by the media. These images have changed slightly over the years, but remain a very strong force in society today. We began to learn at a very young age that men are supposed to be strong and dominant while women are emotional and submissive.
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