Media and gender

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Media and gender refers to the relationship between media and gender, and how gender is represented within media platforms.


  • Women in quantitative fields risk being personally reduced to negative stereotypes that allege a sex-based math inability. This situational predicament, termed stereotype threat, can undermine women’s performance and aspirations in all quantitative domains. Gender-stereotypic television commercials were employed in three studies to elicit the female stereotype among both men and women. Study 1 revealed that only women for whom the activated stereotype was self-relevant underperformed on a subsequent math test. Exposure to the stereotypic commercials led women taking an aptitude test in Study 2 to avoid math items in favor of verbal items. In Study 3, women who viewed the stereotypic commercials indicated less interest in educational/vocational options in which they were susceptible to stereotype threat (i.e., quantitative domains) and more interest in fields in which they were immune to stereotype threat (i.e., verbal domains).
  • Exposing participants to gender-stereotypic TV commercials designed to elicit the female stereotype, the present research explored whether vulnerability to stereotype threat could persuade women to avoid leadership roles in favor of nonthreatening subordinate roles. Study 1 confirmed that exposure to the stereotypic commercials undermined women's aspirations on a subsequent leadership task. Study 2 established that varying the identity safety of the leadership task moderated whether activation of the female stereotype mediated the effect of the commercials on women's aspirations. Creating an identity-safe environment eliminated vulnerability to stereotype threat despite exposure to threatening situational cues that primed stigmatized social identities and their corresponding stereotypes.
  • This study suggests that sex stereotypes implicitly enacted, but never explicitly articulated, in TV commercials may inhibit women's achievement aspirations. Men and women (N=180) viewed locally produced replicas of four current, sex-stereotyped commercials, or four replicas that were identical except that the sex roles were reversed, or (control) named their favorite TV programs. All subjects then wrote an essay imagining their lives “10 years from now.” The essays were coded for achievement and homemaking themes. Women who viewed traditional commercials deemphasized achievement in favor of homemaking, compared to men and compared to women who had seen reversed role commercials. The reversed role commercials eliminated the sex difference in net achievement focus. Control subjects were indistinguishable from their same-sex counterparts in the traditional condition. The results identified some social changes needed to make “equality of opportunity” a social reality for women as well as men.
  • This year, according to statistics published by the advocacy group Women and Hollywood, women comprised just 27 percent of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working in television. It’s a figure that’s actually fallen since last year. Women account for 40 percent of speaking characters on television, a figure that’s also dropped.
  • At the same time, though, studio heads and producers have been relatively quick to welcome back actors, directors, and writers who’ve been accused of harassment and assault, particularly when their status makes them seem irreplaceable. It’s a dual-edged message: Don’t abuse your power, but if you do, you’ll still have a career. Part of the confusion comes down to the fact that these men are seen as invaluable because the stories they tell are still understood to have disproportionate worth. When the slate of new fall TV shows is filled with father-and-son buddy-cop stories and prison-break narratives and not one but two gentle, empathetic examinations of male grief, it’s harder to imagine how women writers and directors might step up to occupy a sudden void. When television and film are fixated on helping audiences find sympathy for troubled, selfish, cruel, brilliant men, it’s easier to believe that the troubled, brilliant men in real life also deserve empathy, forgiveness, and second chances. And so the tangible achievements one year into the #MeToo movement need to be considered hand in hand with the fact that the stories being told haven’t changed much at all, and neither have the people telling them. A true reckoning with structural disparities in the entertainment industry will demand something else as well: acknowledging that women’s voices and women’s stories are not only worth believing, but also worth hearing. At every level.
  • In the average American household, the television is turned "on" for almost seven hours each day, and the typical adult or child watches two to three hours of television per day. It is estimated that the average child sees 360,000 advertisements by the age of eighteen (Harris, 1989). Due to this extensive exposure to mass media depictions, the media's influence on gender role attitudes has become an area of considerable interest and concern in the past quarter century. Analyses of gender portrayals have found predominantly stereotypic portrayals of dominant males nurturant females within the contexts of advertisements (print and television), magazines fiction, newspapers, child-oriented print media, textbooks, literature, film, and popular music (Busby, 1975; DurMn, 1985a; Leppard, Ogletree, & Wallen, 1993; Lovdal, 1989; Pearson, Turner, & Todd-Mancillas, 1991; Rudmann & Verdi, 1993; Signorielli & Lears, 1992). Most of the research to date on the effects of gender-role images in the media has focused primarily on the female gender role. A review of research on men in the media suggests that, except for film literature, the topic of masculinity has not been addressed adequately (Fejes, 1989). Indeed, as J. Kate (1995) recently noted, "there is a glaring absence of a thorough body of research into the power of cultural images of masculinity" (p. 133). Kate suggests that studying the impact of advertising represents a useful place to begin addressing this lacuna.
  • Research on women in print advertisements has shown that pictures of women's bodies and body parts ("body-isms") appear more often than pictures of men's bodies. Men's faces ("face-isms") are photographed more often than their bodies. This present study is the first to confirm this finding for television commercials. Results showed that men appear twice as often as women in beer commercials. The body-isms of women significantly outnumbered the body-isms of men. Women also appeared in swimwear more often than men, thus increasing the photo opportunities for body-isms. This study raises concerns about the dehuman&ing influence of these images in beer commercials, and their association with alcohol use and the violence in the televised sporting events during which beer commercials are frequently aired.
  • This study examined whether exposure to TV ads that portray women as sex objects causes increased body dissatisfaction among women and men. Participants were exposed to 15 sexist and 5 nonsexist ads, 20 nonsexist ads, or a no ad control condition. Results revealed that women exposed to sexist ads judged their current body size as larger and revealed a larger discrepancy between their actual and ideal body sizes (preferring a thinner body) than women exposed to the nonsexist or no ad condition. Men exposed to the sexist ads judged their current body size as thinner, revealed a larger discrepancy between their actual and ideal body size (preferring a larger body), and revealed a larger discrepancy between their own ideal body size and their perceptions of others’ male body size preferences (believing that others preferred a larger ideal) than men exposed to the nonsexist or no ad condition. Discussion focuses on the cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral consequences of exposure to gender stereotypic television advertising.
  • Evidence indicates that viewing or expressing a preference for relationship-themed television genres is associated with a greater acceptance of romantic myths, such as a belief in predestined soul mates (Holmes, 2007), more traditional dating attitudes (Rivadeneyra & Lebo, 2008; but see Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2011, for null results), higher expectations for intimacy and stronger intentions to marry (Segrin & Nabi, 2002), and one's general style toward love (Hetsroni, 2012; Segrin & Nabi, 2002). At the same time, however, attributing more realism to media content appears to have the opposite effects and is linked to more pessimism, including weaker expectations for intimacy and weaker marital intentions (Segrin & Nabi, 2002). Indeed, in their survey of 392 married individuals, Osborn (2012) found that attributing more realism to television's portrayals of romantic relationships predicted lower marital commitment, higher expected and perceived costs of marriage, and more favorable perceptions of alternatives to one's current relationship.
    • Lauren A. Reed, “Sexuality and entertainment media”, in ‘’ Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology’’, Volume 2: Contextual Approaches, Chapter: Sexuality and entertainment media, Publisher: American Psychological Association, Editors: D. Tolman, L. M. Diamond, J. Bauermeister, J, William, G, Pfaus, J, Ward, L.M., (January 2013), pp.381.
  • Sexism in media partly involves the portrayal of both men and women in ways that are consistent with prevailing stereotypes. Illustrating this sexism, men are more likely to appear in prime-time programming than women, and when women are shown, they are less likely to be shown working outside the home and more likely to be shown in a romantic relationship (Signorielli, 1989). Lauzen, Dozier, and Horan (2008) similarly found that women were underrepresented in prime-time shows and were more likely to be shown in interpersonal or social roles, while men were more likely to be portrayed in work roles. This underrepresentation of women even pervades television commercials, where women not only appear less, but are also more likely to be portrayed as secondary characters supporting a male character when they are present (Ganahl, Prinsen, & Netzley, 2003).
  • Gerbner and his colleagues further propose that compared to light television viewers, heavy television viewers are more likely to perceive the world in ways that more closely mirror reality as presented on television than more objective measures of social reality, regardless of the specific programs or genres viewed (Herbner & Gross, 1976).
    Although the complete range of cultivation indicators has not yet been specified (Potter, 1993), individual researchers have tested the cultivation hypothesis in a variety of contexts, including racism (e.g., Gerbner, Gross, MNorgan, & Signorielli, 1982; Morgan, 1986), alientation (e.g., Morgan, 1986) and gender stereotypes (Gross & Jeffries-Fox, 1978). However, the most studied issue in the extant cultivation literature is the prevalence of violence on television and its effects on perceptions of real-world incidence of crime and victimization (see review in Potter, 1993). Numerous content analyses of network television programs have demonstrated that the number of violent acts on U.S. television greatly exceeds the amount of real-world violence (Gerbner & Gross, 1976; Gerbner et al., 1977). In turn, research by Gerbner and his colleagues has shown that heavy television viewers: (A) overestimate the incidence of serious crime in our society, and (B) are more likely to believe that the world is a mean place where people cannot be trusted (i.e., the “mean world” syndrome; e.g., Gerbner et al., 1994).
  • Although there are no current content analyses of portrayals of marriage on American television, a review of content analyses of portrayals of marriage on American television, a review on content analyses of British television revealed that “family roles in general are portrayed as largely conflict-free relationships, with an emphasis on affection and altruism… and a minimum of negative or rejecting interactions” (Livingstone, 1987 p. 253). Ultimately, Livingstone (1987) concluded that “television provides a highly distorted representation of personal relationships” (p. 253).
  • This study sought to explore the association among television viewing and holding idealistic expectations about marriage, as well as holding marital intentions that were immediate (i.e., “I plan to get married soon”) and idealized (i.e., “my marriage will last forever”). The results of several different analyses converge to suggest that, whereas overall television viewing is not a good predictor of either idealistic expectations of marriage or marital intentions, particular television genre viewing is. That is, viewing television programming that focuses on marriage and close relationships (e.g., romantic comedies and soap operas) is associated with each of these constructs. Results of the path model highlight the seemingly powerful role of idealistic expectations about marriage in shaping intentions to marry.
  • Most research about the effects of television in sex role socialization focuses upon children, and examines perceptions of sex-typed behaviors or personality traits and tendencies to identify with specific characters. Miller and Reeves (1976) found that children nominated television characters as people they wanted to be like when they grew up. Reeves and Miller (1978) also found a strong tendency for children, especially boys, to identify with samesex television characters. The identification of boys with television characters was positively related to perceptions of masculine attitudes (physical strength and activity level); girls' identification was positively related to perceptions of physical attractiveness.
  • There are fewer studies examining the relationship between television viewing and conceptions of sex roles. Many of these studies, although not necessarily conducted as part of this ongoing research, reflect the theoretical perspective of cultivation analysis that television dominates the symbolic environment of modern life. The theory posits (1) that the more time spent watching television, the more likely conceptions of social reality will reflect what is seen on television and/or (2) that television viewing contributes to the cultivation of common perspectives among otherwise diverse respondents, i.e., mainstreaming (see, Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1986; Morgan & Signorielli, in press). For example, in a study of 3-6-year-old children, Beuf (1974) found that those children who watched more television were more likely to stereotype occupational roles. Gross and Jeffries-Fox (1978), in a panel study of 250 8th-, 9th-, and 10th-grade children, found that television viewing was related to giving sexist responses to questions about the nature of men and women and how they are treated by society. Atkins and Miller (1975), in an experimental setting, found that children who viewed commercials in which females were cast in typically male occupations were more likely to say that this occupation was appropriate for women.
  • Two matched series of TV commercials served as stimuli in a study with 52 female undergraduates. One series consisted of 4 replicas of current network commercials. The other series consisted of the same 4 commercials, identical in every respect except that each of the roles in the scenario was portrayed by a person of the opposite sex. Ss viewed either the traditional or reversed-role series. Those exposed to the nontraditional versions showed more independence of judgment in an Asch-type conformity test and displayed greater self-confidence when delivering a speech, thus supporting the hypothesis that commercials function as social cues to trigger and reinforce sex role stereotypes. Findings suggest that repeated exposure to nonstereotypic commercials might help produce positive and lasting behavioral changes in women.

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