Media Depictions of Gender Role Stereotypes Essay

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Gender stereotyping is a pernicious and pervasive practice. The media reinforces already existing gender norms, thereby perpetuating structural inequalities and gender inequity. However, the media can also be instrumental in transforming gender norms by combatting stereotypes and depicting gender in unconventional ways. Gender stereotypes can confirm unconscious biases and beliefs about the role and status of men and women. Likewise, the portrayals of gender in the media reinforce behavioral norms. Research shows that “constant exposure to the same dated concepts in the media” can lead to adverse effects that can “last a lifetime,” (Knorr, 2017, p. 1). Therefore, it is critical to become active, engaged consumers of media and to increase media literacy throughout the society.

Gender portrayals in the media will differ according to media type, such as news media versus advertisements, or children’s programming versus programming for adults. Similarly, gender stereotypes vary from culture to culture. Although gender stereotypes are always culturally embedded, the universality of patriarchal norms and institutions leads to some surprising similarities across cultures in terms of media depictions of gender.

For instance, one of the methods used in the media to portray gender is through stereotypical physical appearances of characters. For example, female characters in children’s media will have features like long hair, whereas male characters will have large muscles (Knorr, 2017). Whereas big muscles immediately connote strength and power, long hair invokes the time and attention spent on personal grooming and appearances. As Wood (1994) points out, stereotypical females in the media “devote their primary energies to improving their appearances and taking care of homes and people,” (Wood, 1994, p. 32).

Different types of media capitalize on different gender roles, to promote consumer behaviors that reflect gendered patterns of spending. Advertising on television is another media form that portrays women as being homeward bound, focused on house cleaning, beauty, and child care as opposed to being interested in driving large trucks, drinking beer, or playing sports.

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It is not that any of these behaviors are inherently bad or problematic, but that they are not necessarily gendered behaviors.

The media can often make such behaviors, appearances, and roles seem inevitable. Only when consumers start to change their own concepts of gender and identity will advertisers follow suit, although socially conscious companies take a more active role and assume responsibility for using their advertisements to actually change the way men see themselves (Exon & Arrow, 2015). Deviations from normative gender stereotypes with regards to appearance, lifestyle, or occupation can lead to uncomfortable consequences for characters on television shows, which in turn discourages deviations from gender norms in real life. Thus, stereotypical portrayals of masculinity and femininity in the media are ultimately harmful and perpetuate patriarchal values and institutions.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the portrayal of women in the media that can become problematic. Depictions of masculinity and male stereotypes is in many ways more harmful, given that the media may imply that men need to display aggression and violence in order to maintain power, privilege, and respect: in order to be known as “real men.” In some media, men are depicted stereotypically as being incompetent, childish buffoons who only like fart jokes, large boobs, and getting drunk with their friends (Waling, 2016). While certainly there are men—and women for that matter—who appreciate and engage in these types of behavior, they are not necessarily markers of “real men.” Yet the media inculcates these types of values and norms, leading to real life mirroring. Advertising, film, television, and even new media are all guilty of adverse portrayals of masculinity. Male stereotypes also focus on men’s….....

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Exon, M. & Arrow, M. (2015). Eight ads that shatter tired gender stereotypes. The Guardian. 26 May, 2015.

Knorr, C. (2017). What media teach kids about gender can have lasting effects, report says. CNN. 29 June, 2017.

“Representation of Gender,” (n.d.). BBC.

Waling, A. (2016). We are so pumped full of shit by the media. Men and Masculinities 20(4): 427-452.

Wood, J.T. (1994). Gendered media.

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