The role of media in creating gender identities Unit

Therole of media in creating gender identities


Today,the various forms of media have redefined gender identity. Differentcultures and societies around the world have developed a set ofbehaviors and expectations along gender lines creating unique genderidentities popularized by media. In a world where the gender divideis increasingly becoming blurred as a result sex changes, awarenessof transgenders and active challenge to the contemporary genderidentities, there is need to relook at the media influence in genderidentities. Gender as a social constructs is changing with changinguse and composition of content generators especially in regards tothe gender identity of women.


Genderis a social construct that assigns and associates a set of behavioralexpectations and qualities to being female and male. Society thusstates what femininity or masculinity should entail throughprescribing a set of behavior expectations. This has become a commonpart of individual’s identity eager to align themselves with thecommon publicized ideas of what a man or a woman is. Given the highlevel availability and consumption of media content, the depictionand representation of these gender identities, their impact insociety has continued to grow (Djerf-Pierre, 2011). Nonetheless, itis not wise to assume that people just copy and paste whatever theysee or consume about the gender representation in the media. Asrational individuals, they consume the media, digest and interactwith it in combination with influence from other factors such as theenvironment to create a unique identity. For this reason, genderidentity varies from one society to the other and also varies overtime.

Genderrepresentation in the media today differs very much with genderrepresentation in the media in the past. To start with prior to the1980s, popular media largely comprised of newspapers, radio, books,television and magazines. Gaunlett (2008) writes that although atthis time there was almost equal representation between males andfemales in the TV, the roles assigned and depicted in the mediumvaried widely. He reports that while sitcoms showed over 43% females, 83% of female interactions were concerned with love romanceand relationship while only 17% of male interactions involved suchtopics. This clearly depicts what to expect in female interactionscompared to male interactions. Additionally, men were depicted to beaggressive while females were depicted as passive.

Furtherbehind prior to the Second World War the place of women in the mediawas also very different. In one of the most debated print adverts forKellog’s Pep cereals published in the 1930’s, it depicted acouple with a man in formal suit and a woman in an apron and afeather duster with the man is captioned saying that “so the hardera wife works, the cuter she looks!” While this advert is explicitlyoutrageous by today’s standards, the same was acceptable in thatera. It was a time where the role of a woman was seen to be take careof the family and thus remain at home. By depicting the man in aformal suit shows that he is the bread winner is a professional whilethe woman is dressed and armed with her work tools which can onlyserve best at home as home while the man’s suit hints at a career.Another commonly cited advert that contains gender bias by today’sstandards is one by Palmolive. It depicted a woman at a dressingtable with the caption “most men ask, ‘is she pretty?’ not isshe clever?” (Ross, 2011 128) This directly implies that womenshould assess their value on their ability to attract men and nottheir competencies and thus their role in society is to please men bybeing beautiful and having certain body proportions.

Massmedia in the late 20thcentury into the 21stcentury has taken a different perspective on gender roles. Mass mediais awash with depictions of various gender roles. Men are depicted asmasculine and tough individuals usually with ribbed bodies and hugebiceps. Females on the hand are depicted as sexual objects to pleasemen. The sexualization of female image has led to huge outcry fromfeminist movement which seeks to promote the values of women biasedbeing sex symbols. For mass media adverts, images of scantily dressedwomen are very common. This differs largely with the depiction of menwho are in most cases portrayed fully dressed or showing lesser skinthan females (Gill 2012).

Genderbias has also been reported in academic content. Ullah, Ali and Naz(2014) analyzed a number of studies that have investigated genderbias in literature meant for school children. The authors claim thatauthors of these books have used characters and even topics to drivea gendered message to their audiences. In one of the studies thatlooked at children’s textbooks in Malaysia, it was revealed thatmale characters in books spoke more and more frequently and alsoexcluded females in their conversations. Similar cases were alsoreported in books in Spain which showed that male characters playedsuperior characters compared to women.

Videogames as a form of media have also been very critical in constructinggender roles. In Dill and Thill (2007), the message that the malegender is depicted as more assertive and aggressive than malecharacters is repeated. In these video games, players get to assumethe place of characters in first player games. This has a lot ofinfluence in the players who tend to assume and conform to thedepicted roles in real life. Mou and Peng’s (2009) sample analysisof 33 of the earlier games conducted in 1998 revealed that 41% ofvideo games were devoid of female characters entirely while only 15%had female heroes. Where women were included the video games, theywere treated as sex objects or trophies. The same depiction can beobserved in contemporary super hero films and comics which aredominated by male characters such as Flash, Superman, Spiderman, IronMan and Captain America while the female superheroes it is only Catwoman that has received almost similar media attention. Female“super heroes” have largely remained in day time soap operas anddram TV series such as Desperate Housewives.

Mainstreamnews stream media such as CNN and Aljazeera and BBC has shown agender bias in coverage on war and its effects on society. In mostcases, these media houses portray women as the weaker sex. Inreporting for, studies have shown that such media coverage tends tofocus on the effects on war on women and children. By categorizedwomen and children as one group sends a message that women are aweaker sex similar to children. The perception also tends to show menas the aggressors. Their absence from reports as victims of war tendsto create the impression that men are the perpetrators of the war(Gill, 2012). Such gender biased depictions of males and females canhave an impact on career choices of young children consuming suchmedia. Developments in information technology and communication haveincreased media content developers. Today, women have a higher chanceto create their narrative through social media platforms such asFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube and assign themselves anyroles not necessarily those tied to traditional gender roles. Otherfeminists have taken the chance to create non gendered identities to.


Itis clear that the battle to eliminate the gender bias in the mediaand society will take a long while. This is because new media such asthe internet are to some extent replicating the traditional genderroles. However, it cannot be denied that the effect of women tellingtheir own stories has not had any impact. Men on the other hand havejoined the push to empower women and give them the spece andresources to create their own identities. Therefore, throughincreased female involvement in creating media content, society willdeconstruct the traditional gender roles to give all a fair chance tobe biologically of any sex but chose their gender.


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