Media Portrayals of Women

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Abstract

Female stereotyping in the media is not new. It has always been present in and it still is being portrayed in through both print and TV. The stereotyping starts right from the children’s story books, in fairy tales, and in teen magazines. This stereotyping continues to be portrayed in the woman’s magazines in TV shows and in adult movies. The media portrays a good woman as thin, light skinned, impeccably dressed to attract the opposite sex. If not sexy, she is portrayed as a super mom, a matronly soft heartened woman who is there to listen and solve everyone’s problems.

Media Portrayals of Women

This paper will discuss how the media has portrayed the stereotype role for the woman by analyzing a popular teen TV show, ‘Gossip Girl’, an old popular children’s story ‘Peter Pan’, a woman’s magazine, ‘Elle magazine’ and an adult TV show, ‘Cougar Town. The media will show the female character stereotyping roles through the depiction of the female body, the woman as the super-mom, female aggression, women envying and disliking other women, a nasty corporate climber, a gender related  power structure or by male domination of women through violence. This has a serious effect on women and especially on girls who may grow up believing that they have to act according to these roles. In certain cases, the woman will be given a role to reverse the power structure. In such cases, the woman will be considered as masculine since she has gone against what a female character is expected to do.

The stereotyping effect by the media is impacted through the power of visual images, (Lester & Ross, 2003). The media influences people in stereotyping (Crothers & Lockhart, 2000) and in so doing they make these people believe there are limitations to who and what they should be. The impact is more serious with the young girls. The role of the woman is portrayed in a traditional woman’s role as a homemaker, caregiver. If working outside the home, the woman will be in a junior position such as in a clerical position (Crothers & Lockhart, 2000). The influence on the effect of media on developing children was evidenced in a study whereby the children who watched television programs formed gender roles as compared to the children who did not watch any television, (Crothers & Lockhart, 2000).

The media portrays a sexy woman as abnormally thin, with a flat belly. This sexy woman should expose as much body as possible and especially an exposure of the cleavage, (Lester & Ross, 2003).  A ‘perfect sexy body’ should have a smooth skin. To achieve this waxing has become a daily activity in a woman’s daily routine.

The media’s portrayal of an independent woman is in exposing her body as a sign of taking control of whom she wants to attract. The independent woman is depicted as one who freely smokes and frequently drinks alcohol.

Gossip Girl is a teen drama TV show that has been showing since September 2007. The show is based in the rich East side of New York and starts as a narration by the gossip girl whose face is never shown.  The main female characters include Blair, Serena and Jenny. The main male characters are Nate, Dan who is Jenny’s brother and Chuck Bass. Serena is shown as a rebellious girl, with a not so straight a past.

She is in on and off relation ships with several guys. Blair is beautiful and holds the Queen Bee beauty title and she lives a perfect live, envied by her friends. Blair and Serena had been best friends; a rivalry exists through out the TV show. Jenny is younger than all the other characters. She had attempted to be the next Queen Bee and has a crush on Nate. Nate is every girl’s favorite boy as they all fight for his attention. He was Blair’s boyfriend though he had an affair with Serena.  Dan Humphrey is Jenny’s brother who is kind hearted and the character shown with high morals. Chuck is the shows bad boy, a womanizer who loves partying, but one who had a troubled past.

In this TV show there are stereotypes that begin with the name of the show. The woman’s character is portrayed as meddling in peoples affairs as it is a female character who narrates the gossip that goes on in this school. The female characters in the show are always bickering and in rivalry to each other as they compete on who is more popular than the other. The rivalry is also caused by a fight for attention from Nate. This is more so between Blair and Serena who go to an extent of physical fights. This is different from the male characters whereby rivalry jealous and envy is not highlighted so openly.

The female characters independence is portrayed in the openness of being sexually available as one-night stands, their love for partying and drinking alcohol. 

Cougar Towns main character is comprises of females Jules, Ellie and Laurie, and male characters, Bobby, Jules ex-husband, Travis, Jules son, Andy who is Ellie’s loving and devoted husband and Grayson, Jules neighbor who prefers dating younger women. Ellie is Jules neighbor but she is also her closest friend. Laurie is Jules fun loving assistant who is the one who encourages Jules to get out and have some fun.

Cougar Town is a TV show on Jules Cobb who recently divorced. Jules wants to start dating again. She however finds this difficult as she realizes that most of the single men in her age group are dating younger women. As a solution, she decided to date younger men.

Cougar towns TV show had almost succeeded in balancing between the male and female role. Jules gets tired of her unhelpful husband and agreed to a divorce. Jules plays the character of the modern successful uninhibited woman. There are few stereotypes in the main character.  However there is rivalry between Ellie and Laurie who are both competing for the position of being Jules best friend. There is more stereotyping in that though both Jules and Grayson are forty and recently divorced, Jules has hang ups while Grayson freely enjoys his freedom by openly dating younger women.

Peter Penn is an old children’s story book. Wendy and the Indian Princess are the only female character while the male characters are Peter, Captain Cook, and Tinker Bell who leads the pirates. The secondary characters are Michael and John and their parents and the lost boys. In the story Peter saves both Wendy and Tiger Lily. This is stereotyping whereby the female is the weaker of the two genders and has to be saved and protected by the male characters. When Wendy arrives at Peter’s house, the lost boys request her to be their mother, in spite of her young age. This is another sign of stereotyping. The leader of the pirates is a male character which casts the male as the gender that should take leadership positions. There is a gender-related power structure in this book. 

Elle Magazine is one of the most popular woman’s magazines in the world. The magazine writes on issues on latest fashion, beauty, health and entertainment. The magazine has columns on fashion and fashion trends, what is chic, entertainment, life and love, and celebrity style. The magazines idea of fashion is shown through thin models wearing the latest designed clothes. Even the women modeling for the accessories such as handbags are slim. Most of these women are light skinned and tall. Jessica Alba is the celebrity on the current online fashion celebrity page. She is in a short revealing dress. This shows the stereotype that women have to reveal their bodies to be taken as sexy and attractive. The Health and fitness online page writes on anti-aging, slim down programs, among other topics all based on what defines an attractive woman. The magazine fails to discuss health but instead discusses slimness reflecting the seriousness of how women should look like and at very expensive costs. In addition to this the magazine has an article on how to improve a woman’s bust. This supports Lester and Ross (2003) view that the media relates woman’s sexiness on the size of the breasts.

Womens body as portrayed in the media

The size and shape of a woman’s perfect body is displayed in all magazines, in the toys such as Barbie and in most of the magazines. The media portrays beauty and woman’s body as tall, light skinned and tall and one that remains forever young. The successful woman is the one who has succeeded in loosing weight after which and only then will she succeed in everything else, career, motherhood, wife. The size of the ‘perfect woman’s body size’ as portrayed by the media continues to decrease. This is shown in the smaller size of women who are preferred as models in the beauty industry. The average weight of the model is 23 percent less than it was 20 years ago (Media Awareness Network, 2010).

In the TV show Gossip Girl, this is clear since all the main female characters are slim.  In the TV show Cougar Town the movie begins with an anxious Jules examining the signs of aging. Jules is desperate to retain her youth to the extent that she dates men who are younger than her. In this TV show, Jules who is a mother of an eighteen year old son is portrayed with a youthful look and a slim body. Elle magazine features models right from the top cover.

These models are thin, slim and in most cases light skinned women. Most of the models that have been featured in this popular fashion magazine have been white, showing the how the media’s view on the skin type which is regarded as beautiful. In one of the episodes, Jules is shown waxing her bikini area. This is as an attempt to remain attractive as expected by the society, attaining a smooth skin in all areas is part of the ‘perfect body’.

There are roles that are associated with women. These roles are present in all types of media, right from children’s cartoons to adult movies. The female character is portrayed as the homemaker and the caregiver. She is to stay at home when her male counterparts go out to work. The female character is weak and helpless and will constantly need some kind of protection from the males. This has been the case for a very long time and though there are improvements, a lot still needs to be done in order to achieve a balance. It is a woman’s role to take care of others.

In the story Peter Pan these characters are shown in the character of Wendy. Wendy is portrayed as kind and caring. It is Wendy who was caring enough to ask the strange boy why he was crying. Wendy caringly sews Peter’s shadow back to the shoes. This caring role is shown in the TV show Cougar Town by Jule when after the divorce, Jules son is left under her mother’s care. This caring attitude is portrayed in most of the woman’s magazines. Elle has an advice column which mainly advices women on how they can be more caring to their spouses.

There is stereotyping in the TV Cougar Town. Jules has recently divorced. In spite of a successful career and a well adjusted son, she is lonely. She wants to date but she declares that all the men in her age are out dating younger girls. This shows how discriminative society is in judging women. In this TV show, it is nothing worth writing about when a man dates a younger woman but when a woman is engaged in the same behavior, this raises eye brows. 

The media always portrays the picture that a woman has to be in a romantic relationship with a man. The media depicts this in the rivalries between many female characters that have to fight and envy each other. The main causes of rivalry in movies are a fight over a man. This is the case in the rivalry between Blair and Serena in Gossip girl. Another way this is depicted is when women have to exercise in desperate measures to get a man’s attention as portrayed in the Jules attempts to date younger guys in the TV show Cougar Town. 

This portrayal of women is used in the advertising industry. This is a trick by advertisers to lure the potential buyers. The advertisers will use pictures of young, slender, tall women. An example of such a picture is the ralph-lauren-summer-romance perfume. In this picture is a tall young slender woman who is dressed in pink. Pink is a color that is associated with softness, and thus femininity. This picture portrays the picture of an ideal woman, as soft, tall slim and with a flawless skin.

This portrayal of successful woman being slim and tall has caused serious negative effects on young women, some of whom have died of malnutrition as they try to copy the media type of woman. A report in the Canadian Women’s Health Network stated that about 90 percent of the female population is unhappy with their looks (2005). There is peer pressure and guilty feelings which gnaw at the woman are subconscious to be as slim as the woman in the magazine she has been reading.

These women fail to understand that the models with these ‘perfect bodies’ use manipulation of photos to appear like that of the TV personalities or it could be that they may have a different body structure. The effects of a negative body image may lead to depression, anorexia, malnutrition and misuse of drugs. The body image issue has affected adults, teenagers and children alike. Studies have found out that more than half of girls who are in their preadolescent years would want to loose weight (Media Awareness Network, 2010).

The analysis of these materials from the different media sources has been very revealing in the way stereotype roles are depicted in the characters. It is surprising that this practice is inflicted in the innocent young minds who read the good old children’s story books. Another surprising revelation is the way the media has changed the way the stereotype roles are portrayed, from the traditional homely wife in the earlier days to the bickering young though sophisticated modern New York teenage girl. Again from the submissive docile wife who dutifully stays with her husband at all costs, to the current woman divorcee who hangs desperately looks for a man to be in a relationship with.

The media and the society at large has portrayed the female character as, softhearted, caring, youthful looking, tall, slim and one with a flawless skin. The female is expected to be docile, weak and who obviously needs protection from the male. This is seen in the Peter Penn story. There should be a change from this tradition and children should be taught that they can serve in different roles; that there are no female or male roles. Those writing children’s books should move away from this stereotyping. What children read from these stories can have a long term effect on them and it would not be fair to the child.

The society should also stereotype on women’s characters, and should judge men and women in the same way. What is considered immoral should be immoral for both men and women. The media should be more responsible and put more effort in removing this bias in the books, movies and TV shows. The media has been changing the woman’s role in the characters. However the effect is not felt as it has only been a shift from the traditional home maker to a confused character who though educated and one with a successful career, she still has to dependent on men for her emotional needs. These new roles are portrayed in the TV shows Gossip Girl and Cougar Town and in the Elle women’s fashion magazine. 

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