By Kelly Vasquez
Movies, Television shows, and music are a constant influence on our daily lives, but the gender stereotypes they perpetuate can be troubling. The gender stereotypes that are pushed by the media are then copied by society and it’s doing more harm than good.
The gender roles we see in the media shape our everyday lives whether it’s in our personal or interpersonal relationships or in the workplace environment. The idea of gender roles are given to us at an early age. For example, when shopping for a baby girl you may go into the toy aisle and see Barbie Dolls, pink colored toys, or kitchenware. When shopping for a baby boy you may see toy cars, action figures or blue colored toys. As a young girl, I loved both. I would play with dolls one day and toy cars the next. Video games have also become a huge part of my life and I was fortunate enough to never see that as a “boy” thing, I just played them because I had fun. It wasn’t until I interacted with other boys at school that I was then called a “tomboy” because of my unusual interests. Interests that society said girls weren’t supposed to have.
The word femininity evokes stereotypes such as effortlessly beautiful, fragile, emotional, dependent on males, or less intelligent. These stereotypes are then portrayed on the news where only younger looking females are cast as news anchors or as secondary characters on television shows, like Penny from the “Big Bang Theory.” The Penny character is a dumb blonde that is surrounded by intelligent men. When women don’t follow these stereotypes they are then negatively portrayed. For example, Sandra Bullock’s character in “The Proposal” is seen as a determined and self-driven career woman, but her employees fear her and call her a witch because of her so called cold attitude. Women are also heavily oversexualized and provide unrealistic expectations for how they are supposed to look and act. An example of that would be “Black Widow”, from Disney’s Marvel movies. When she is first introduced, the main focus is on her skin tight black suit and how objectified she is. These ideas hurt women, but unfortunately women aren’t the only ones being hurt.
Masculinity as per the media is associated with being strong, dominant, aggressive, confident, powerful and in control of their emotions. Examples of this in the media can be seen in characters like Detective Stabler in “Law and Order SVU”. He often gets reprimanded for being aggressive in the workplace, or Noah Calhoun in the Notebook where he threatened to kill himself if Allie wouldn’t go on a date with him. Even Jordan Belfort became powerful and toxic in “Wolf of Wall Street”. These stereotypes set a standard for the way men must act from an early age. If they do not behave “masculine,” they are seen as weak and they should feel shameful. This type of behavior hurts men because they are expected to keep their emotions in check and if not, they will lash out in violent ways and hurt those around them. Men are expected to be masculine so that they will be accepted by society.
“There are opportunities for growth. A negative example [of how gender stereotypes are negatively portrayed in media] is Carl’s Jr. advertisements. You see how they sell things while selling women’s bodies. You also saw this with the Brett Kavanaugh case in how they portrayed Christine Blasey Ford in the media as less intelligent for not being able to remember certain details” ,said Barbara Dunshealth, a history professor and coordinator for Gender Studies on campus. ,said Barbara Dunshealth, a history professor and coordinator for Gender Studies on campus.
As children we are introduced to several films and tv shows that teach us what it means to be a boy or a girl. There was recently a six year study about gender expectations in 10-14 year olds in 15 countries around the world varying in wealth development. Robert Blum, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Global Early Adolescent Study, said “We found children at a very early age—from the most conservative to the most liberal societies—quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” It’s no wonder these gender roles have had a hard time breaking as well. When talking about media, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. With that little of a number, it’s a struggle ensuring women’s stories are told truthfully in the media.
Although the media has shown negative stereotypes, it is getting better. “Commercials and film have always depicted women in traditional gender roles such as doing housework. A great example of that is ‘I love Lucy.’ TV is becoming more diverse now with shows like ‘Modern Family’ and commercials with men in housework roles. It has changed but has a ways to go”, said Dunshealth.
Some great examples of how the media is starting to break these gender stereotypes would be Mulan, a woman who saves all of China even when men are doubting her ability to do so. Even “Legally Blonde”, showing the titular Elle Woods admitted into Harvard Law School despite everyone around her doubted her abilities and she became the top of her class. The film even showcased the struggles women face in a male dominated workplace. More recently, “Captain Marvel” showcased Marvel’s first female lead who was exceptionally strong and intelligent. For men, the media has most recently given us Bob Parr from “Incredibles 2.” The film challenged parental roles and had Bob stay home with the kids while his wife Helen performed her superhero duties.
The media is barely breaking these stereotypes but we shouldn’t leave it entirely up to them. In fact, it’s our responsibility too. “I think constantly reminding people about the questions and that it goes beyond gender roles is important. We need to constantly be that voice saying that it’s not always that way”, said Dunsheath. It’s our responsibility to remember that we shouldn’t fall for the old fashioned gender roles. Society is changing and so should we. Especially as a parent, it’s important to teach children correctly so that they can grow up and become good examples. As students we need to help break these stereotypes in our daily lives whether it be on campus or in the workplace and remember that by doing so we are creating a more equal environment.