Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gender & The Media

Last week, students in my online course, Gender, Race & Class, discussed gender stereotypes and how the media construct the "ideal" man and woman. While we may be born "male" or "female", we learn to be a "man" or a "woman". Social institutions such as the family, the school and religion, shape our gender identity, roles and behavior. However, the mass media also play a significant role in constructing gender.
The Media Education Foundation examines the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of feminine and masculine identities in the U.S. (Media Education Foundation).
Many studies have shown the powerful effect of the media on the body image and gender identity of girls and boys. The National Insitute on Media & The Family has summarized some of this research:
"The popular media (television, movies, magazines, etc.) have, since World War II, increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body (and now ever more physically fit) image as the ideal for women. The ideal man is also presented as trim, but muscular.

  • Research studies have found that the schematic association of attractiveness and thinness with goodness was present in over 100 female characters appearing in 23 Walt Disney animated films produced over a 60-year period.

  • Studies show that thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters in ways deliberately tied to evocation of “canned” and supportive audience laughter.

  • One study found that the majority of nearly 550 working class adolescent girls were dissatisfied with their weight and shape. Almost 70% of the sample stated that pictures in magazines influence their conception of the “perfect” body shape, and over 45% indicated that those images motivated them to lose weight. Further, adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet.

  • Teen-age girls who viewed commercials depicting women who modeled the unrealistically thin-ideal type of beauty caused adolescent girls to feel less confident, more angry and more dissatisfied with their weight and appearance.

  • In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show "Friends".

Click HERE to view the sources of the above studies.

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