Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gender Politics Essay

In our modern society, where technology and popular culture are major influences, the media sets our social norms on how we view and react to both gender roles. It does not matter where a person looks, they can see some form media – such as an advertisement, television show, or just the music we listen too. The inability to escape from the media makes it easy for a person to become saturated with homogenous messages of gender stereotypes, which eventually become the common beliefs throughout the entire society. When it comes to gender roles, the media sends out a message that a male or female should look and act a specific way if you are anything less of that then you do not fit in the social category of normal. These messages create many gender stereotypes, such as an individual’s opinion on their personal appearance, their role in society, or even specific characteristics that they think they should have to be their gender. If the media was not just controlled by a few large corporations, but by many smaller companies it would give society the freedom of choice to choose media with a message they believe instead of just saturating them with dominant, homogenous messages.

The media plays a major role in establishing a certain physical appearance which is ideal for a gender type, and in both cases it is a perfectly fit, well groomed appearance that is made to be what everyone should have and if not, working to get. By doing this they set standards of perfection that few can obtain, and it is because of this they are able to ensure a profitable market forever, the main goal for all types of media. By looking at one source of media such as magazine advertisements it is very easy to see similarities between different ads, such as the type of people that are in the ads, or even the way the photographer emphasizes certain body parts depending on the sex of the person in the advertisement. Males that appear in advertisements are generally tall, dark, and handsome, with a muscular body, which creates an image that every male should look like this or they are not masculine. This can give other males who may not have these physical characteristics a sense that they are less a of a man, because they don’t have huge muscles for example, they are left to think that they are not as masculine as the males they see all the time in advertisements. The same can be seen with an even greater emphasis on body perfection for females in all forms of media. When looking at an advertisement that features a female it can seen that the photographer made sure that the entire body is shown, where as in an advertisement for males there would more emphasis on the face. On average the male face is emphasized 43% more in advertisements than female faces (Cartarphen and Zavoina, 1999, p.114). The female body is generally portrayed as being thin, having good body curvature, good complexion, and having a thick luscious head of hair. This message can be seen throughout the entire spectrum of media, from blockbuster movies to children’s television programs. For example 70% of girls and 40% of boys ( said that they want to look like the characters that they see on television, which shows that the media is affecting both genders and that females are subjected to even greater pressure to fall into these social norms. A lot of the time the message being sent out is so subtle that it goes unnoticed at the time, but when you look at the big picture it adds to the perfection message and gives femininity a set of guild lines made by the media. For all the females they do not fall between the guild lines boundaries are considered to less feminine then another female who possesses the qualities that are said to be ideal.

Another aspect of appearance that the media has a major gender influence on is our clothing. They set a certain dress code for society. Media shows that for a male to be considered masculine they must wear things like jeans and a t-shirt, and for a female to me considered feminine they must wear things like dresses and hairs bows. In all forms of media these stereotypical gender role wardrobes are evident, where the little girl on television will be wearing a dress with her hair all done up in bows, and the little boys will be in their ripped blues jeans and a t-shirt. If a male or female decides to break away from the so call norm the media would show them getting singled out, or even getting made fun of for not dressing the way their gender says they should dress. For example if a boy was to wear pink or a girl were to wear jeans and a t-shirt to school, they are considered to be different and are not socially accepted by there peers. This message is shown by the media in one form or another all the time, and it takes away a person’s freedom to express themselves in anyway they want because they will not be accepted by society. Since the media is such a major part of our daily lives, change in our beliefs on clothing we should wear or what physical appearance one should have won’t happen until the media changes its message of perfection they deliver to society.

In our Society both gender types have a role that they are suppose to follow, and the media has a great effect in creating which role each gender should occupy. When you take a look at different forms of media it is evident that the media is portraying males as being in positions of power, and females in secondary positions where they are not given much. Power is usually associated with the amount of control, influence, and authority a person has over others, and very important in our society. Power is not equally shared between gender roles, and this is evident when looking at different media sources. In the majority of television families the father (the masculine figure) is seen to be the breadwinner and the mother takes care of the chores around the household, even if she has a job. This gives the male of the family control of the household because he is the one that is making the money that supports the families day to day living. When females are shown to have an occupation it is usually in a position that is similar to what they are thought to be doing at home such as a waitress, a maid, or a nurse, which are all positions were someone else, a male, controls them. Even if they are shown with a job in media, they are still responsible for the same things a housewife would do, which creates this new image of the “superwoman”. By saturating our society with gender stereotyping the media creates a belief that this is how society should be, and it should just be accepted to be that way. This creates problems for both genders because it makes it hard for female to obtain positions of power, or if a male were to work at a position such as a nurse they would be considered to be feminine. The same goes for female because if they do occupy a position of power such as a CEO of a company, then she is considered to be more masculine. These stereotypes are seen all the time in different media types – when they do show the extreme cases just mentioned they are delivered in a context that is meant for humor and not to be taken seriously i.e. the movies “Mr. Mom, and “Miss Doubtfire”.

Another example were power is shown to a masculine trait is comics books, where the male always plays the role of the powerful hero that has to save the poor defenseless female from danger. This shows that even media forms that are focused more towards children share this idea of a masculine dominant society. This makes children believe from a young age that males are the ones of power, and females are weak and dependent on males. The media also creates an image that females are sexual objects and are there for male pleasure or just to look pretty. This is apparent in the pornography industry where it is shown that females are just used by males for what they want, giving males an even more of a sense of power which Marilyn French calls “patriarchal power”. The media images that our society is saturated with create this sense of male power over everything that is important, and gives an image of weakness and dependence for females. It is from this division of power between genders in media, that each gender is given stereotypical characteristics.

When observing the stereotypical messages that the media sends out it is evident that when it comes to characterization, masculinity and femininity are opposites of each other. The typical media type male would be person who had the traits of strong, aggressive, ruthlessness, and individualism, etc, and the typical female would have traits such as weak, passive, sensitive, and dependent, etc. They also create images of what it is to be good or bad at your gender, which would give certain characteristics to what it meant to be bad male or a good female. These stereotypes can be seen in all media types, where if they show one gender acting like the other it is not delivered in a serious manner, and is often used to just add humor to the situation. This creates an image in the minds of everyone in society that they must act according to their gender type. Even at a young age children are subjected to different media types that teach them things like boys are aggressive, and that girls should be sensitive and caring. The fact it that they are saturated with these same messages over and over, and because children are so easy influenced they believe whatever they see. It is these media set norms that also create the image that it is not right for a male to cry or show emotions, in which case they are forced to bottle up their feelings. If a male shown in media expresses himself like a so-called female, he would then are considered to be less masculine and not accepted by his peers as being one of them. The same goes for females because if they show any sort of aggression they looked at to be masculine, are portrayed by the media as being less desirable by males, and is therefore socially unacceptable. This is particularly evident in the movies industry where the male role is portrayed as some who is hard, and is unafraid during any situation, where the female is always in danger and screaming for help because they are not in control of their emotions.

If a movie were to get a way from their normal characterization, it would be used as the main focus of interest for the movie because it is a rare situation in media and therefore create public interest. A good example of this is the movie “G.I. Jane” where a female is shown being a war hero, but to do this they had to portray her a being hard and more masculine, which was not accepted by most of the other characters in the movie. By creating this image the media has put a type of barrier for females, because it shows the hardship that one would have to go through in order to do something that is not labeled to be for their gender. This makes it less desirable for the people of society to make it their goal in life to no something (i.e. an occupation) that does not fit the social norms set by the media. By saturating the public with these stereotypical message the media has laid out guild lines of what is acceptable characteristics for each gender type, and if you do have one of these traits than you are looked down upon, and often segregated from the rest of society.

The main idea here is that our world is filled with different types of media, therefore it is impossible to escape the message they are sending out and making them your own feels and beliefs. But there are also people who argue on behalf of the media by saying that the media is simply entertainment and fantasy, and anything that is viewed should looked from that point of view. Another objective point of view is that the media is simply a window to the real world, and just present things in a way that they are seen in our society. If media were simply a source of entertainment or a window to the real world, way is there so many example that show the negative effects of the media on our people. For example the media and the media alone is responsible for many cases of anorexia, or bulimia because the message people are receiving from the media is that there own bodies are not good enough, and they should look a certain way in order to be part of society. With our changing society that is heading in the direction of gender equality, it is evident that the media plays a major role in slowing the process down, because the message they send out is homogenous and puts stereotypes on each gender role. This is caused by the fact that media is run by only a few large corporations which are primarily run by males, therefore the message they send out are the ones that these big corporation want us to see in order to benefit them, not society.

In order to correct this problem of homogeneous saturation of the same stereotypical message, the large media corporations would have to be split into a large number of smaller companies. By doing this it would create a more diverse message being sent out to the public, and subject people to more than just a small amount of people’s opinions on society should be like. This diverse message would give people more freedom of choice to what they want to wear, how they act, or what type of job they want to occupy. They could do this without having to worry about people not accepting them for who they are, because the media says that is not the way they are suppose to be. This would allow our society to grow in a more positive direction, one that is for gender equality instead of against it.

In our modern society the values and beliefs that people have for themselves and each other, come from the homogeneous message that the media gives to society. In all forms of media such as television, movies, magazines, music etc, it is evident that they create and maintain gender stereotypes such as looking certain way, what role in society a gender should occupy, and even which characteristics a gender should have to be considered normal. It is these stereotypes maintained by media that cause society to be saturated with the same idea of how treat people that do not fall into the social norms and it takes away peoples freedom of choice to be whatever they want to be. The media has the power to shape society the way they see fit for them, it is because of these concentrated male operated corporations that has our society is based on male power. If the large corporations were to break into large number small companies, it would create diversity on the type of media that society is subjected too.

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