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Gender Roles: Tactics Used by Mass Media to Influence a Society

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    Everywhere you go or look there is at least one advertisement you come across in a day’s time that uses a woman to promote advertisement or set the bar as to what is acceptable! In a day’s trip I took one day about an hour and half away from the town I lived in, I counted 3 posters and 1 billboard that showed a woman who had one of the following; airbrushed skin, a small “Hollywood” figure, designer and/or provocative clothing. That one bit of self-research is what interested me into if the media really does affect a woman’s or young girl’s thinking and acting of herself or others. In order for society to start experiencing less gender inequality, body dysmorphia and holding themselves or others to low standards is to put a halt to the way it portrays and talks about women. Media we see through tv, magazines, billboard advertisements, movies etc. often uses their platform as a way to influence how society defines gender roles leading to sexism and gender stratification. Not only does it affect women’s lives (young or old) and even men’s, but the images that Media exhibits of gender roles eventually make their way into a workplace or school that in turn pressures the attitudes and actions those in attendance (Lindsey 2013). In the documentary “Miss Representation”, it is explained that the media uses their version of what a gender role is and what a woman who is assumed to be appealing to others looks like to encourage consumers their product and/or set social norms for women and men throughout all different age groups and parts of the world; this then turns to men and even other women degrading others or themselves which in turn benefits only the creator. At times, it seems as if the Media does not intentionally encourage, but may make a side comment on the way a woman looks, talks or acts. Although media may deny or choose not to comment on using their platform as an advantage, it is setting the bar as to what one should expect out of a woman; brainwashing both men and women to uphold this expectation without seeing the consequences behind doors and giving women a sense of false sense of power when they have achieved the “goal” the media outputs.

    Depictions of relationships between men and women emphasize long-established roles and insinuate that violent acts against a woman are normal or ignored (Wood, n.d.). “Miss representation” shows Sarah Palin running for president against Hilary Clinton and being used in the media as an example of what a woman should act, talk and dress like if she wanted to be accepted by society as the All-American woman, proving the Medias version of a Gender role. Like most media outputs, women are great at caring for others, very family oriented, always well put together, just as society perceived Sarah Palin, which is shown to be part of the reason some were in favor of her. If you look at any past election rally interviews people were in favor of her over Clinton due to side comments about her looks or the way she dressed. This isn’t to say that this was the reasoning for everyone, but it stood out. Women in the media are shown to naturally have perfect measurements and much younger looking than women in the population as a whole and most are depicted as apathetic, dependent on men, an infatuated with a relationship or completing tasks in their homes (Davis,1990). The world would no longer have just a short list of these behaviors, attitudes and looks that are based on the biological sex or chosen gender if we looked a bit closer and realized women were, are and can be capable of many things including ones that only men are thought to do; some of which are well documented, just ignored and forgotten about.

    ​It’s unfortunate that gender roles are sometimes upheld by society as a whole due to not speaking out against the sexism and the continuance of the media influencing how many women are given the chance at a career or position that they are most often qualified to do, but turned away because of their gender. There are many instances that Media has the power to eliminate Gender roles all together, but don’t do to lack of simply not having any diversity throughout a company. When it comes to television writers, producers and executives, only about 5% of them are women (Lichter, Litcher and Rothman, 1986). It isn’t a coincidence that Media industries that are made up mostly of men portray women at such a low level, but if women were given higher positions and were able to hold the power to make decisions, there could be more positive images and statements released by major corporations. In 2018 only 110 women hold seats in the united states congress, but if you look at numbers for men, it shows 425;23 women serve in the U.S. Senate and 87 women serve in the U.S. House of representatives (CAWP, n.d.). The increase of women in congress has grown just by 5 since 2015! Although an increase is good, there are still about 4-in-10 women that say they have experienced unfairness due to their gender (Horowitz, Parker, Stepler). Women are often portrayed as not being capable of caring the same roles as men; companies favor a man over a women when looking at potential candidates depending on the job.

    Media has always done some type of advertising of women; throughout the 1800’s women were painted with what seemed to be impossible small waists, bulging breasts and fancy dresses. Back in the 1950’s Marilyn Monroe was popular for her curves and continues to be an influence on young girls and women today. In today’s era, there is still a thought that models are tall and very thin, but there has also been an up-rise of models shown embracing curves due to more people speaking out. More companies are starting to realize this; an example would be the popular American Eagle. They have released statements about body acceptance and even pictured models of different shapes and sizes. Girls learn at a very young age what the standards are for them to grow up looking and acting like. A study shows young females are preferring a smaller child to overweight ones (White, Mauro & Spindler, 1985) as friends or for themselves to appear as; An absurd thing that should not be looked over.

    A modern-day Victoria’s Secret fashion show airs each year and makes an emphasis on tall, thin women with beachy waves and continuous sex appeals due to their provocative advertising during and outside of the show. Such advertising leads women to act in accordance and raising the standards themselves instead of fighting against them. A study that was done in 1993 showed that amongst college and high school students 15.4% of them had some type of eating disorder; unfortunately, 4.2% of those women were shown to be anorexic (Nagel and Jones, 1993). Some physical appearances of models are obtained by strict diets, excessive exercising and/or eating disorders; They are then printed onto thousands of copies of magazines or billboards with quotes such as “How to lose 30lbs in 30 days” with a size 2 model in the background. What kind of example is that setting for young girls who see magazines line the front shelves in grocery stores? Boskind-White (1991) states that runway models that tend to inspire us are medically anorexic. Media use these types over and over again and the models continue to comply because of the constant pressure. It goes in a vicious cycle that leaves no benefit or positive examples to women in the same situation or for others on the outside seeing only the images Media shows.


    ​Media can very much change the way a gender role is taken by incorporating a more variety of women and focusing on the positive aspects and abilities that one can contribute to society in careers, politics. Leadership etc.; in reality, they can be stopped by taking a stance and objecting the fantasy standards. In “Miss Representation”, several women come together to voice their experiences and opinions. There are big name actresses such as Geena Davis, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Jane Fonda that have all been turned away at some point or scrutinized for their looks, weight and attitude even though you do not see this trend with actors as often. Catherine Hardwicke of who directed one of the most popular films Twilight, was replaced with men directors in future films. All of this shows a pattern of discrimination of women leading back to one thing, the Media and its perception and benefit of using women as objects.


    1. Boskind-White, M. (1991, February). Gender and eating disorders.
    2. CAWP. (n.d.). Retrieved from
    3. Horowitz, J., Parker, K., Stepler, R. (2017, November 18). Wide Partisan Gaps in U.S. Over How Far the Country Has Come on Gender Equality. Retrieved from
    4. Lindsey, L. L. (2013). Gender roles (6th ed). New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.
    5. Lrchter, S. R., Lichter, L. S., & Rothman, S. (1986, September/October)
    6. Nagel, K. L., & Jones, K. H. (1993) Eating disorders: Prevention through education. Journal of home economics, 53-56.
    7. Newsom, J. S., Scully, R. K., Dreyfous, G. W., Johnson, S. E., Congdon, J., Holland, E., Cvetko, S., … Ro*Co Films Educational (Firm). (2011). Miss representation. Sausalito, Calif.: Ro*co Films Educational.
    8. Wood, J. T. (n.d.). Gendered Media: The influence of media on views of gender.

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