Gender Stereotyping in Mass Media

Table of Content

Mass media, including press, television, radio, books, and the Internet, play a significant role in the modern world. They broadcast information quickly and provide entertainment to large audiences. Although the Internet is currently the most rapidly growing medium, TV also holds considerable influence. Through their messaging, media can manipulate people’s attitudes and opinions. In this investigation, I will examine the structure of commercials and identify the gender stereotypes that are employed as persuasive tactics in advertising.

People organize their understanding of the world by sorting and simplifying information. They use cognitive schemes, which are representations of reality that show its typical and fundamental elements and properties. These schemes shape our worldview and greatly impact our social cognition, including understanding, anticipation, situation assessment, and emotion control.

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One way in which individuals navigate the social environment is through stereotypes. These are opinions held by a specific group about other groups, learned during socialization. Stereotypes can arise from personal observations or be influenced by important figures like family, friends, teachers, and media. However, due to their reliance on simplifications and generalizations, stereotypes often present an incomplete, subjective, and occasionally incorrect perspective of reality. Additionally, stereotypes tend to be deeply rooted in tradition and resistant to change.

While both positive and negative connotations can be linked to stereotypes, the prevalence of negative ones is more frequent. Even if some arguments can challenge a stereotype, individuals often perceive it as an exception that confirms the generalization rather than altering their perspective. Furthermore, social categorizations can result in perceiving uniformity within an unfamiliar group. Elliot Aronson, an American psychologist, noted in 1972 that stereotypes are employed to attribute identical traits to every individual belonging to a specific group, disregarding the existing differences among its members.

Gender roles are a prime illustration of the adverse societal consequences that stem from applying stereotypes. Stereotypes have ingrained a division of gender roles into social archetypes. Historically, the dominant family model was patriarchal, viewing men as financial providers who were career-driven, assertive, and independent. In contrast, women were depicted as low-position workers, devoted wives and mothers responsible for child-rearing and household chores.

Currently, the family structure has shifted towards a partnership model, deviating from the previous patriarchal approach. This transformation has been facilitated by greater rights and opportunities for women in the workforce. The feminist movement has played a vital role in driving these advancements by advocating for women’s rights and challenging traditional gender norms. Their efforts have aimed to eliminate occupational gender stereotypes and break down permanent associations between certain personality traits and specific genders. Although there is still inequality between men and women, the disparities are not as pronounced as they used to be.

However, numerous social institutions, such as mass media, still depend on gender stereotypes. They believe that these stereotypes are widely recognized and help in understanding messages. Gender stereotypes are widespread in today’s influential mass media that reaches a large audience. In order to make sure the content can be universally comprehended and accepted by various recipients, senders often use stereotypes that are deeply embedded in society and create particular associations.

According to Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian communication theorist, mass media not only provides information and entertainment, but also plays a role in shaping people’s opinions, attitudes, and beliefs (1964). It has the power to control social life by covertly transmitting the dominant ideology. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxian thinker, introduced the idea of cultural hegemony, which refers to intellectual and moral leadership that is separate from armed force. This leadership can be established through cultural and political consensus within institutions like the church, schools, or media.

According to Durham and Kellner (2006), the last form of domination marginalizes subordinate groups and privileges elites and dominant ideologies (XV). In the context of gender, societies have enforced male hegemony through the institutionalization of male dominance over women. As previously stated, men were traditionally seen as the leaders of households while women fulfilled the role of housewives. Although gender roles have become less distinct nowadays, mass media continues to perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes.

Furthermore, media holds significant power in shaping people’s perspectives and often portrays certain social groups negatively and unrealistically. This manipulation of messages allows media to construct a version of reality that aligns with the interests of those in power. Consequently, the portrayal of the real world becomes distorted and incomplete. Despite being aware of the unequal representation of social groups in mass media, it is difficult for individuals to remain objective and unaffected by its influence. This includes the presence of stereotyping commercials.

Commercials perpetuate gender stereotypes by catering to specific male or female audiences and reflecting societal expectations. In addition to satisfying existing needs, the goal of modern advertising is to create new ones. Women are frequently featured in commercials as they are perceived as the primary decision-makers for everyday purchases. Men, on the other hand, are often depicted promoting cars, cigarettes, business-related products, or investments. In contrast, women are more commonly shown in commercials for cosmetics and household items. Furthermore, women are typically portrayed in domestic settings while men are shown outdoors.

Another important distinction in commercials is the face-ism phenomenon. This phenomenon is characterized by showing the entire figure of women and close-up shots of men (Matthews, J. L. 2007). The first method diminishes the perceived intelligence of the person in the photo, while the second method often generates positive associations. According to research conducted by Steve Craig (1997), women can be portrayed in commercials in various ways. The most popular portrayal is that of a housewife preoccupied with a steam on a new tablecloth or a woman facing the challenge of coming up with dinner ideas.

The other examples are less traditional, yet they remain highly stereotypical. There are commercials featuring female vamps – enticing seductresses who are the desire of every man. These commercials primarily advertise cosmetics but also target men. When a gorgeous woman endorses and compliments male cosmetics, men see it as a seal of quality. Another depiction is of a woman whose main focus is maintaining her beauty. As a result, she promotes a healthy lifestyle, stays physically active, and utilizes various body and facial cosmetics.

However, in these types of commercials, one often sees only very thin actresses, which can give the impression that only thin women can be considered beautiful and healthy. Consequently, many women who watch these advertisements become fixated on their weight, leading to potential negative repercussions. Meanwhile, male stereotypes in these commercials vary as well. The first archetype is the “ideal man” – athletic, successful, professional, a charmer with an attractive woman by his side. He also owns a luxury car and a high-end smartphone. The second type, though less common, portrays men who are dedicated to their families and are able to make time for them.

The portrayal of men in housecleaning is scarce and often presented in a satirical manner, such as in the Mr. Muscle commercial. Men are either depicted as experts advising women on proper laundry techniques or are shown bonding through activities like attending football matches or going to the pub. This portrayal plays into the stereotype of male friendship, where men share common interests and opinions and find enjoyment in engaging in exciting and adventurous activities together (Pawlica, Widawska 2001).

According to the text, the number of commercials targeting children is increasing. These commercials portray gender roles, with girls being depicted as caregivers or housekeepers, while boys engage in sports or play computer games. If men and women appear together in the commercials, they are typically shown as a couple or married. It is common for these commercials to contain a sexual subtext, even when the product being advertised has no relation to sexuality. Additionally, in competitive situations, women are portrayed as weaker compared to men.

Despite the prevailing stereotypes in commercials, advertising professionals are increasingly utilizing unconventional approaches to promote products and services. Women are depicted as empowered, capable, and unaffected by societal norms, while men are portrayed engaged in activities traditionally associated with women, such as washing or cleaning. One particularly popular and non-stereotypical commercial is the Dove campaign, which targets women of all ages and diverse body types. This campaign highlights the beauty of natural appearances rather than seeking perfection in body shape. Female viewers prefer to see relatable women, leading to the campaign’s resounding success.

Male roles in advertising are also being redefined. For instance, in a British commercial for Ajax cleanser, attractive men are shown using the product to clean the kitchen. In another example, a man strips for his girlfriend and then puts his clothes into a washing machine called Ariston. These situations challenge the traditional gender roles where women are often portrayed as seductive and men as passive viewers. In conclusion, commercials are a powerful tool that shape and influence people’s opinions. They are intentionally simplified in structure to appeal to a wide audience.

Advertisement text frequently relies on familiar stereotypes to convey its message. These stereotypes are commonly used as a persuasive technique. However, stereotypes tend to generalize specific groups without acknowledging individual differences. The ultimate objective of mass media is to have broad appeal and cater to a diverse audience. Consequently, television serves as a reflection of society and is responsible for shaping public discourse.

However, some groups are underrepresented or ignored in society due to stereotypical explanations of reality, resulting in an incomplete societal image. Commercials, for example, often portray traditional gender roles where men dominate women, reflecting traditional gender notions (Pawlica, Widawska 2001). Despite being aware of the dangers of generalizations, people tend to conform and submit to dominant patterns rather than risk negative reception by opposing them.

According to Debra Pryor and Nancy Nelson Knupfer (1997), there is hope for changing the current situation by becoming aware of stereotypes and teaching critical viewing skills to children. This can help us become informed viewers instead of manipulated consumers. Commercials also adapt to societal changes, like the emancipation of women, the growing role of individualism, globalization, and the revaluation of patterns and social roles. As a result, more advertising specialists are creating non-stereotypical commercials.

However, the attempts to dismantle stereotypes pose a threat to rejecting the message, impacting security and well-established knowledge about the world. Consequently, society must attain an appropriate level of social preparedness to ensure the effectiveness of messages challenging gender stereotypes. Marla McConnell examines the influence of media on gender stereotyping, highlighting the escalating challenge individuals face in maintaining an authentic identity and self-understanding amidst media’s dominant shaping power.

The self is negatively affected by stereotypes related to race, gender, and social class. These stereotypes are artificial and often unattainable in physical, financial, and emotional aspects. They are widely spread and rarely challenged due to their persistence. This paper examines the influence of gender stereotypes, specifically those concerning females, in media. It is essential for the public to become more conscious of these stereotypes’ existence and the damage they can inflict in order to eliminate them.

The presentation and identification of physical perfection can be difficult to address and identify. There is a significant investment of time and effort in promoting a select few individuals as representations of ideal physique, including TV stars, movie stars, models, and athletes. The portrayal of these professions by the media is closely linked to their physical attractiveness, resulting in an enticing depiction.

The media places great emphasis on the appearance of celebrities, including their outfits and physical appearance. This focus is so strong that there are television shows dedicated solely to showcasing celebrity clothing and their latest trendy fitness routines. Regardless of their occupation, celebrities’ bodies are consistently presented in a particular way through the media.

The media plays a significant role in shaping the public’s perception and desire for celebrity bodies. Celebrities are often portrayed as attractive, desirable, and “good,” making them national symbols of these traits. Conversely, bodies that do not meet these standards are often seen as “bad” or ugly. A prime example of this is Subway’s recent advertising campaign featuring Jared, who allegedly lost a significant amount of weight by eating their food. In the “before” pictures, Jared appears larger and alone, while in the “after” pictures, he is thinner and constantly accompanied by a beautiful woman, implying that being thin leads to happiness and having an attractive partner.

Jared has gained fame through these advertisements as his physique now conforms more closely to society’s prevailing beauty standards. Nevertheless, there exists a notable disparity between the body types idolized by the media and those embraced by the majority. Only a minority of individuals possess the genetic makeup required to meet the media’s definition of attractiveness. Media representations often depict women as appealing when they possess qualities such as thinness, long legs, slim hips, and large breasts.

According to the media, men who are muscular and have a full head of hair are considered attractive. Certain characteristics, like being tall, fit, athletic, young, and light-skinned, are desirable for both men and women. The media’s portrayal of beauty differs from the physical reality of most people, thus creating a market for various self-improvement products and services including hair dye, makeup, tanning salons, dieting, and plastic surgery.

There is a pervasive desire among many individuals to change their physical appearance to fit society’s standards of attractiveness and desirability. Various forms of media, such as television, magazines, and newspapers, are inundated with advertisements that promote self-hatred while promising transformative solutions to alter one’s body. Those who do not conform to a narrow, defined image of sexiness and slimness are often subjected to feelings of hatred, compelled to improve themselves, and subjected to painful methods of modification.

Quantifiable damage resulting from this mentality can be seen in the substantial profits generated by diet programs and plastic surgeons annually. The detrimental effects of this portrayal of the human body are also evident in the prevalent societal issue of disordered eating, encompassing anorexia, bulimia, excessive exercise, extreme dieting, and heightened food-related anxiety. Although women still make up the majority of individuals living with and recovering from disordered eating, there has been an increase in the number of men exhibiting these dangerous eating habits.

Body image problems lead to both physical and psychological harm, which is worsened by the media’s constant contribution. When individuals are constantly bombarded with the message that their bodies are unattractive, unhealthy, and unlovable if they don’t meet society’s unrealistic standards, their self-confidence diminishes. This perception that only a limited range of body types is acceptable and healthy for both men and women is not only incorrect, but also fuels widespread social dissatisfaction.

Instead of embracing the variety and attractiveness of different body types, the media suppresses our self-acceptance in order to manipulate us into supporting a lucrative self-improvement industry, from which the media greatly profits. The negative impact of this media-driven fixation on attaining an arbitrary physical “perfection” is not only harmful to our physical and emotional well-being, but also endangers our society’s social values.

Currently, the media reduces the body to a limited set of labels: good/bad and attractive/unattractive. This overlooks the numerous other aspects that shape a person’s identity, such as kindness, generosity, honesty, friendliness, work ethics, personal motivation, intelligence, and spirituality. By placing excessive emphasis on physical appearance, our society runs the risk of losing sight of the complete essence of individuals and the true definition of beauty. This phenomenon is known as media and gender stereotyping.

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Gender Stereotyping in Mass Media. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from

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