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Women in Media

In the comic strip “Cathy” by Cathy Guisewite, readers follow the antics of a “normal” American woman of the 90’s. Cathy is single, works as a secretary, and is portrayed as unhappy. Her dating experience can be characterized by endless searching for the ideal man, settling for someone because she believes him to be the best she can do, and going through a breakup process that is initiated by the male. This is followed by Cathy rationalizing the situation, and more likely than not, an eating binge. This is just one of the various media that send a negative message to women. Women are told by the media to be submissive, passive, beautiful, happy, and weak. Television, magazines, and movies either portrays women as the beautiful damsel in distress who needs rescuing or the gorgeous sexual object of which males take advantage. The message is clear and it is going out to women of all ages, “If you do not fit into the stereotype; you simply do not fit in.”

This goal of “goddess” is unreachable by the majority of women. When constantly told they are not good enough, sexy enough, or perfect enough; women’s levels of self-esteem decline rapidly. This lack of self-esteem usually includes low confidence levels, dissatisfaction with physical and emotional self, and transitively, the idea that they could not possibly be desirable sexually. The media, through advertising, movies, news coverage, music television, and magazines, perpetuates the stereotypes and define how men and women view the sexuality of women.

In order to understand the effects of the media on women’s sexuality, it must be established that self esteem and identity development is implicit factors. According to a study, identity development has a critical component in sexuality states that society has a very influential effect on sexuality, in that there are acceptable standards of feelings and expression for women. She thinks that society encourages stereotypes. In her experiment, she used a group interview format with ten women. Her questions were about knowledge and feelings these women had about sex and their own personal sexuality as well as how they got these ideals. She called the media “a subtle but pervasive source of influence on the women’s experience of their sexuality. The images portrayed by all kinds of media yet unrealistic standards of beauty and behavior, from how on! He should look and dress to telling women they should hide their normal bodily functions, such as menstruation. Women see these images as a reflection of what society expects. When they can not meet these standards, they suffer emotionally with feelings of shame and not normal. These responses should be expected when society is constantly exploiting unattainable goals as the ideal. There are some difficulties with this study. The women were recruited by word of mouth, meaning that everyone in the group knew at least one other person. Additionally, the tapes of the experiment were transcribed by two female researchers, one of which was a participant in the discussion. The fact that both of the transcribers were female could have resulted in gender bias, and because one of the transcribers was involved with the original discussion, personal participation could have influenced the results. Regardless of the possible problems with interpretations, the feelings on the media’s effects expressed by these women remain valid. The media tells women how society wants them to look, act, and feel. If they cannot reach these high standards, feelings of inadequacy and low self worth are inevitable.

One example of a medium that has great influence is advertisements. It is well established in our society that sex sells. Women, in the majority of cases, are utilized as a device to market merchandise. It is not this method of sales that is the problem, but rather how these women are portrayed. Print ads, commercials, and billboards use unrealistic and stereotypical representations to sell their products. Advertisers exploit the “female” stereotypes to make their products seem more appealing.

Research has explored the portrayal of women in health and fitness advertisements. Researchers analyzed fitness magazines targeted at both males and females who are fitness professionals as well as people not involved in the fitness trade. They used eight categories in their analysis of the advertisements; posture, placement, behavior, body type, dismemberment of body parts, cosmetics and attire, emotional display, and product recognition. Posture was the neutrality or natural stature of the spine. Placement represented the passive or dominant placement of men and women photographed together. Behavior was classified as either passive or active. Body type was defined by shape and physical fitness. Dismemberment was the focusing on certain body parts. Cosmetics and attire were rated on the appropriateness in the use of cosmetics and functionality of the clothing for the pictured activity. Emotional display applied to the individual’s visage having a sexual connotation. Finally, product recognition referred to the recognizably of the product being sold in the representation. The results were no surprise, advertisements had large proportions of sexually exploitative contents. Women were shown as being passive or submissive, in unnatural positions, emphasized in certain body parts, facial expressions with sexual connotations, with inappropriate use of cosmetics.

These magazines, that are supposed to be selling products of physical improvement, are selling the sexual image of women. The effects of these kinds of advertisements could be two-fold. They could inspire men to think that by purchasing the product, they will attract women similar to those portrayed, or they could also influence women by representing unrealistic and many times frustrating goals. Advertisers engage social standards of what people want to be attractive, sexy, and desirable. By using these stereotypes, advertisers perpetuate unrealistic images of women’s sexuality.

There is one factor that was not taken into consideration that would have a bearing on the results of this study. In order to truly comprehend the results, a comparison of men in advertisements should have been done. It is possible that fitness magazines depict both men and women in the same manner. This could lead to the conclusion that fitness magazines use all people in a sexual manner to sell products. A further study should be done on different types of magazines, analyzing the representations of both men and women.

Advertisements are only one of the many printed influences in the media. A study was done on the content of contemporary teen magazines. Their objective was to identify the messages, in both advertisements and feature articles in the magazines read by the teenagers. Results indicated that over 35% of the articles were focused on fashion. The next frequent articles were feature articles, articles about beauty care and entertainment, and then continuing articles. The feature articles were then analyzed for theme, and consistently interpersonal relationships were the most frequent topic. Within this topic, there were conflicting articles of advice on sex, such as “Virgins are Cool” verses “Losing Your Virginity,” found in the same magazine. There was very little if any information on politics or voting, social issues, or international affairs. These topics are going to affect the lives of young women in the future, but there are doubts that these topics will sell magazines better than “How to Talk Him Out of Talking You into Sex,” found in Sassy magazine. Another aspect that should be taken into consideration is that the majority of women pictured are attractive, thin, and white. There are very few multicultural advertisements or articles. The idea that these representational stereotypes are what is “cool” or “in” forms an impossible goal for multicultural women (#3 Advertisers Target Women but Market Remains Elusive).

The messages these magazines are sending to young females, who are the overwhelming majority of readers, are unclear. One interesting observation research found on female sexuality as addressed in these magazines is that there was only one article about homosexuality. Whether we are encouraging young women towards exploration of their sexuality or asking them to conform to expectations needs further research. Additionally, research should be done on just how much these articles affect young women, and how much of what is printed is believed and applied to their lives.

Another type of print media that might have an impact on women’s sexuality is pornography. An article by Sari Thomas (1986) explores the idea that pornography sets up levels of desired attainment for men and therefore aspirations for women. Thomas examined nine major erotica magazines and found that each magazine “allows the power-core of our society (white males) to exploit the idealized standard in order to keep (women) in line,” (Thomas, 1986, p. 111). Men read these magazines and acquire a stereotypical extreme of beauty as an ideal of how women in their lives should aspire to be. These unreachable goals are the epitome of the sexual stereotypes established and maintained by society and the media.

Magazines and advertisements are not the only methods through which women are socialized to adhere to stereotypes. Television and film both take advantage of the standard stereotypes with the knowledge that “sex sells”. These forms of media are especially powerful in that they reach large numbers of people, and in some cases, are the strongest socialization tools available.

Female characters are often portrayed as victims of sexual violence. Sexual abuse is depicted as the problem of an individual. In the film Sleeping With the Enemy, a woman who is the victim of abuse escapes from her husband and falls in love with another man. At the end of the tale, the husband locates her and she is driven to the point where killing him is the only option. By representing women as being isolated in their efforts to combat abuse, Hollywood preserves that belief in society.

When women are fighting every day to be able to express their sexuality, this kind of degradation is a brick wall in our path. Another example of the difficulties is the basis for the movie, The Burning Bed. The original news story was about how a woman chose to defend herself from constant physical and sexual abuse, by burning the bed in which her husband slept. Making this information the focus of all of the news coverage, neglected to show how and why she was pushed to this point and how.

Very little research has been done on the direct effects of this kind of media coverage. It is apparent, however, that the media directs attention to women as either the victim who is unable to help herself or the heroine who fights alone against men who abuse. Through these stories, women are socialized to believe that sexual abuse is a personal problem that they must face alone. Additionally, women are taught that their sexuality is secondary in importance to that of their male counterparts.

There is one other kind of television that has been quickly becoming a major socialization tool, especially in the lives of adolescents in our society. Music television is becoming increasingly popular. These graphic music videos and songs are blasted into the minds of our youth. Historically, these videos have perpetuated the stereotypes of male dominance and female powerlessness. A study investigated how these images of gender and sexuality were interpreted by audiences. The procedure involved showing a Michael Jackson video to young men and women and asking them about the images in the video. The video portrayed a “cat and mouse” game between a man and a woman on a dark street. In the end she runs to him for protection from a gang. Research subjects were asked questions were about how individuals were seen, how a viewer would describe these characters, and if the video reminded them of something in their personal lives. The results are fascinating, in that there is a large gender difference in how men and women perceive female characters, but no difference in perception of male characters.

The female image, as seen in the video, is interpreted differently by the different genders. Women are more inclined to see the woman as vulnerable or in a negative situation. Men are more prone to define the woman’s actions by saying that she is “a tease or playing hard-to-get”. Men find it easier to apply the image of the female character to their personal life; they saw wives, past relationships, and present girlfriends in the same situation as the character. Women compared the situation to stalking or uncomfortable attention they had received in the past. Where women were more likely to see danger in a situation, men viewed the circumstances as a game. These results do lead to one interesting conclusion. Men and women construct very different meanings of the female image; men see teasing or submissive and women see powerful or vulnerable. We already know that men and women see the female image in distinct ways, but these! results show a “cultural expectation that women can and should use their sexuality to gain control over men and relationships”.

The results can be interpreted, but no causal effect can be established. There is no way of knowing if the ideals of the group interviewed were influenced by the video, or their interpretation of the video was swayed by previously held beliefs.

Like any other experiment, this one too has it’s problems. One example is the fact that experimenters can never truly know exactly how a young adult interprets a visual image. Another difficulty was the entire video focuses on heterosexuality, dismissing the possibility for other lifestyle choices having dissimilar reactions to situations. There is also a lack of social class and racial variation in the sample group of this study. Finally, the video itself was very popular at the time, so there was no control as to how often the sample had viewed it prior to the experiment. Despite the uncertainty of these variables, the results are still valid. Whether these videos define or maintain views, they do perpetuate the stereotype of women’s sexuality and how it is seen by others.

Another study, analyzed forty MTV (Music TeleVision) Videos for gender role content (#4 In Surveying the Battle of the Sexes). They focused on dominance/subservience, implicit aggression, explicit aggression, aggression with sexuality, objectification, implicit sexuality, and explicit sexuality. The most frequent behaviors were implicit sexuality (themes of sexual attraction), objectification (camera focus on specific body part), dominance (one person clearly dominant over the other), and implicit aggression (themes of aggressiveness). Again the results were similar to the other study, females were more likely to engage in sexual or submissive behavior. In most cases, males were the actors and females were the recipients of their actions. Simply in terms of numbers, males appeared twice as much as females, and were more aggressive than the females. In fact that all four raters were in the same socio-economic level, age, and college major. Regardless of biases and other factors, this study came to one very interesting conclusion, “The most salient MTV (music television) message is, whether you are male or female, act sexual This study shows that although men and women are both sexual beings, women are represented as the objects of men’s desires. Women are socialized to be submissive, sexy, and weak. This, once again, perpetuates the stereotypes of women’s sexuality in the media.

The question that is raised how much of this information is getting to women in our society, and how is it really affecting them. Research has been done on adolescents and television viewing. It has been said that adolescents spend an average of twenty two hours a week watching television. Adolescents spend more time with some form of media than time spent in school. Obviously any medium so devoutly frequented is going to have an effect. During this time of change, children are socialized by the media. People will carry these images with them as ideas through adulthood. The more a child watches television, lacking other socialization tools, the more stereotypical his or her standards of gender and sexuality.

Whether you are male or female, adolescent or adult, you are surrounded by images of sexuality. These images may be telling you what to buy, how to look, how to act, or giving you advice. Through these pictures, television shows, movies, and advertisements, women are taught what is “appropriate” for the expression of their sexuality. On the whole, women are socialized to disguise their bodies and to attempt to live up to unattainable goals. Women are told that unless they are tall, thin, and good-looking, they are not worthwhile. Media has the ability to adjust stereotypes and change the way women view themselves. If the media took responsibility for the images utilized to represent the ideal women, society as a whole could improve women’s self esteem and confidence. If advertisements used models similar to natural women of today, women would feel better about purchasing products, thereby improving the market society. If movies told society that a not-so-perfect girl! I can still get the guy, maybe our adolescents wouldn’t feel so pressured to conformity. If music television showed men and women as equals in all kinds of situations, people would not have such a subjugated standard for women. It is agreed that the media has a strong influence on society. It is time for women to put an end to the media’s abuse of the female form. People need to understand that the differences and individualities are what makes women beautiful, and that the media has the capability to adjust the beliefs of society to incorporate all women.

Kristen Buovolo

Mass Media

Period-4

Women in Media

In the comic strip “Cathy” by Cathy Guisewite, readers follow the antics of a “normal” American woman of the 90’s. Cathy is single, works as a secretary, and is portrayed as unhappy. Her dating experience can be characterized by endless searching for the ideal man, settling for someone because she believes him to be the best she can do, and going through a breakup process that is initiated by the male. This is followed by Cathy rationalizing the situation, and more likely than not, an eating binge. This is just one of the various media that send a negative message to women. Women are told by the media to be submissive, passive, beautiful, happy, and weak. Television, magazines, and movies either portrays women as the beautiful damsel in distress who needs rescuing or the gorgeous sexual object of which males take advantage. The message is clear and it is going out to women of all ages, “If you do not fit into the stereotype; you simply do not fit in.”

This goal of “goddess” is unreachable by the majority of women. When constantly told they are not good enough, sexy enough, or perfect enough; women’s levels of self-esteem decline rapidly. This lack of self-esteem usually includes low confidence levels, dissatisfaction with physical and emotional self, and transitively, the idea that they could not possibly be desirable sexually. The media, through advertising, movies, news coverage, music television, and magazines, perpetuates the stereotypes and define how men and women view the sexuality of women.

In order to understand the effects of the media on women’s sexuality, it must be established that self esteem and identity development is implicit factors. According to a study, identity development has a critical component in sexuality states that society has a very influential effect on sexuality, in that there are acceptable standards of feelings and expression for women. She thinks that society encourages stereotypes. In her experiment, she used a group interview format with ten women. Her questions were about knowledge and feelings these women had about sex and their own personal sexuality as well as how they got these ideals. She called the media “a subtle but pervasive source of influence on the women’s experience of their sexuality. The images portrayed by all kinds of media yet unrealistic standards of beauty and behavior, from how on! He should look and dress to telling women they should hide their normal bodily functions, such as menstruation. Women see these images as a reflection of what society expects. When they can not meet these standards, they suffer emotionally with feelings of shame and not normal. These responses should be expected when society is constantly exploiting unattainable goals as the ideal. There are some difficulties with this study. The women were recruited by word of mouth, meaning that everyone in the group knew at least one other person. Additionally, the tapes of the experiment were transcribed by two female researchers, one of which was a participant in the discussion. The fact that both of the transcribers were female could have resulted in gender bias, and because one of the transcribers was involved with the original discussion, personal participation could have influenced the results. Regardless of the possible problems with interpretations, the feelings on the media’s effects expressed by these women remain valid. The media tells women how society wants them to look, act, and feel. If they cannot reach these high standards, feelings of inadequacy and low self worth are inevitable.

One example of a medium that has great influence is advertisements. It is well established in our society that sex sells. Women, in the majority of cases, are utilized as a device to market merchandise. It is not this method of sales that is the problem, but rather how these women are portrayed. Print ads, commercials, and billboards use unrealistic and stereotypical representations to sell their products. Advertisers exploit the “female” stereotypes to make their products seem more appealing.

Research has explored the portrayal of women in health and fitness advertisements. Researchers analyzed fitness magazines targeted at both males and females who are fitness professionals as well as people not involved in the fitness trade. They used eight categories in their analysis of the advertisements; posture, placement, behavior, body type, dismemberment of body parts, cosmetics and attire, emotional display, and product recognition. Posture was the neutrality or natural stature of the spine. Placement represented the passive or dominant placement of men and women photographed together. Behavior was classified as either passive or active. Body type was defined by shape and physical fitness. Dismemberment was the focusing on certain body parts. Cosmetics and attire were rated on the appropriateness in the use of cosmetics and functionality of the clothing for the pictured activity. Emotional display applied to the individual’s visage having a sexual connotation. Finally, product recognition referred to the recognizably of the product being sold in the representation. The results were no surprise, advertisements had large proportions of sexually exploitative contents. Women were shown as being passive or submissive, in unnatural positions, emphasized in certain body parts, facial expressions with sexual connotations, with inappropriate use of cosmetics.

These magazines, that are supposed to be selling products of physical improvement, are selling the sexual image of women. The effects of these kinds of advertisements could be two-fold. They could inspire men to think that by purchasing the product, they will attract women similar to those portrayed, or they could also influence women by representing unrealistic and many times frustrating goals. Advertisers engage social standards of what people want to be attractive, sexy, and desirable. By using these stereotypes, advertisers perpetuate unrealistic images of women’s sexuality.

There is one factor that was not taken into consideration that would have a bearing on the results of this study. In order to truly comprehend the results, a comparison of men in advertisements should have been done. It is possible that fitness magazines depict both men and women in the same manner. This could lead to the conclusion that fitness magazines use all people in a sexual manner to sell products. A further study should be done on different types of magazines, analyzing the representations of both men and women.

Advertisements are only one of the many printed influences in the media. A study was done on the content of contemporary teen magazines. Their objective was to identify the messages, in both advertisements and feature articles in the magazines read by the teenagers. Results indicated that over 35% of the articles were focused on fashion. The next frequent articles were feature articles, articles about beauty care and entertainment, and then continuing articles. The feature articles were then analyzed for theme, and consistently interpersonal relationships were the most frequent topic. Within this topic, there were conflicting articles of advice on sex, such as “Virgins are Cool” verses “Losing Your Virginity,” found in the same magazine. There was very little if any information on politics or voting, social issues, or international affairs. These topics are going to affect the lives of young women in the future, but there are doubts that these topics will sell magazines better than “How to Talk Him Out of Talking You into Sex,” found in Sassy magazine. Another aspect that should be taken into consideration is that the majority of women pictured are attractive, thin, and white. There are very few multicultural advertisements or articles. The idea that these representational stereotypes are what is “cool” or “in” forms an impossible goal for multicultural women (#3 Advertisers Target Women but Market Remains Elusive).

The messages these magazines are sending to young females, who are the overwhelming majority of readers, are unclear. One interesting observation research found on female sexuality as addressed in these magazines is that there was only one article about homosexuality. Whether we are encouraging young women towards exploration of their sexuality or asking them to conform to expectations needs further research. Additionally, research should be done on just how much these articles affect young women, and how much of what is printed is believed and applied to their lives.

Another type of print media that might have an impact on women’s sexuality is pornography. An article by Sari Thomas (1986) explores the idea that pornography sets up levels of desired attainment for men and therefore aspirations for women. Thomas examined nine major erotica magazines and found that each magazine “allows the power-core of our society (white males) to exploit the idealized standard in order to keep (women) in line,” (Thomas, 1986, p. 111). Men read these magazines and acquire a stereotypical extreme of beauty as an ideal of how women in their lives should aspire to be. These unreachable goals are the epitome of the sexual stereotypes established and maintained by society and the media.

Magazines and advertisements are not the only methods through which women are socialized to adhere to stereotypes. Television and film both take advantage of the standard stereotypes with the knowledge that “sex sells”. These forms of media are especially powerful in that they reach large numbers of people, and in some cases, are the strongest socialization tools available.

Female characters are often portrayed as victims of sexual violence. Sexual abuse is depicted as the problem of an individual. In the film Sleeping With the Enemy, a woman who is the victim of abuse escapes from her husband and falls in love with another man. At the end of the tale, the husband locates her and she is driven to the point where killing him is the only option. By representing women as being isolated in their efforts to combat abuse, Hollywood preserves that belief in society.

When women are fighting every day to be able to express their sexuality, this kind of degradation is a brick wall in our path. Another example of the difficulties is the basis for the movie, The Burning Bed. The original news story was about how a woman chose to defend herself from constant physical and sexual abuse, by burning the bed in which her husband slept. Making this information the focus of all of the news coverage, neglected to show how and why she was pushed to this point and how.

Very little research has been done on the direct effects of this kind of media coverage. It is apparent, however, that the media directs attention to women as either the victim who is unable to help herself or the heroine who fights alone against men who abuse. Through these stories, women are socialized to believe that sexual abuse is a personal problem that they must face alone. Additionally, women ar

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