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How the Media Inaccurately Represents the Reality of Genders

How the Media Inaccurately Represents the Reality of Genders

For decades, the media has been giving us false views on what the world is like. A continuous trend can be seen in how various forms of media portray women, men, and the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer, with the plus incorporating all other sexualities and gender identities. It is important to note that sex and gender are not the same terms. Sex often refers to the biological difference between males and females dictated by genitalia and someone’s sex chromosome. Gender, on the other hand, is a less structured definition. Gender is a personal identification of being a man, a woman, or even gender-fluid, meaning someone may identify as two or more genders, or possibly non-gendered, meaning someone may identify as neither.

One major difficulty women face in the media is being represented, especially in comparison to their male counterparts. In the 1950s to the 1970s, female roles in television programs only made up about 30% of the programs. When women did have roles, they were often small and they were not features as much as the men. By 2005 the number of featured women as characters on television increased to 43%. Since 2005 that percentage has stayed relatively consistent through the last calculated data from 2018.

Gender Balance of Series REgular Characters Between 2005-2018 from GLADD data collection

While strides have been made to have women represented in the media, another challenge is faced. Stereotypes are often seen when a female character is being depicted. This can be seen when the female is motivated by love and romance, is represented as weak and dependent, and may even be categorized by their hair color, such as the “dumb blond”, “brainy brunette” or “fiery redhead”. A drastic stereotype of women was seen on television from the 1950s to the 1960s where a majority of the time women were depicted as a stay at home wives that tended to the children, had a perfect home, and a perfect family. The media glorified the housewife position when the reality of that time was that 40% of women went to work, and that after World War II the divorce rate spiked twice.

One of the most problematic stereotypes is when it comes to the objectification and over-sexualization of women. The term “male gaze” is used to define the depiction of women as something that is there for a male’s viewing pleasure. In 2013 the Parent Television Council released a report stating that that 43% of female teens and 33% of adult women on television were the targets of sexually exploitative jokes. The report also found that a scene was increasingly more likely to be exploitative when a teenage girl was involved. Sexualization can drastically be seen with data when it comes to video games. An analysis of video games found that 41% of the female characters within the game had revealing clothing, and an equal number of the females were partially or even totally nude in the game, while the male characters were not portrayed this way. The fashion industry is one of the worst for continuously portraying women as sexual objects. In 2011 French Vogue magazine sexualized a 10-year-old girl, Thylane Blondeau, depicting her in a way that was described as having “averted eyes, wounded facial expressions, and vulnerable poses that mimic the visual images common in pornographic media”. Blondeau was dressed heavily in make-up, heals, and is sprawled provocatively on leopard-print bed covers. Further examples of women objectification can be seen in magazines. If you look closely at women’s magazine covers you can notice trends of message pairings that correlate beauty with men’s satisfaction. Some examples are “Get the Body You Really Want” alongside “How to Get Your Husband to Really Listen,” or “Stay Skinny” beside “What Men Really Want.”

Thylane Blondeau, 10-years-old, posing for French Vogue

The idea that women need to be beautiful to be respected is a consequence of the high sexualization being portrayed in media. Greta Van Susteren, an intelligent and well-respected news show host, moved from  CNN to Fox in 2002 to host a new show, On the Record, however, before she did she gave herself a make-over. Greta Van Susteren got facial surgery in an effort to make herself look younger in an effort to seem more appealing.  During her show On the Record, she wore more revealing clothing such as short skirts and sat behind a table that allowed the viewer to see her skirt and legs. After this event, Robin Gerber, a journalist, commented that “You would have believed that [Greta] had made it in television because she was so darn smart, clearly the best legal analyst on the air… [now Van Susteren] has become a painful reminder of women’s inequality… Being smart, smarter, smartest isn’t enough. By trying to become just another pretty face, Van Susteren instead became another cultural casualty.” The fact that a well-educated adult felt the need to alter her look before appearing on television, shows the impact the media is having on female viewers. Younger-girls are also taking in this media and are even more likely to be influenced by it. A girl may see a female superhero, and while the superhero may be strong and independent she is over-sexualized and dressed in an exposing costume, causing girls to have lower self-esteem and feel the need to alter their bodies in efforts to look more like the female actress in the media. The young girls end up correlating the looks with the strength and intelligence of the superhero they look up to.

Greta Van Susteren before (left) and after facial surgery (right)

While men are represented more than females are in media, they still struggle with being represented by stereotypes. The media shows men with hegemonic masculinity, meaning that men are extremely masculine, being shown as powerful, brave, dominant, and unemotional. This can be seen in advertisements and even men’s magazines where common themes such as cars, sex, money, and alcohol are all associated with “being a man”. The portrayal of hegemonic masculinity in media has lead to the social reinforcement of a male’s social dominance. This sense of masculine dominance circles back to the objectification of women as well. When males see the increase of females in the media being objectified, they see nothing wrong with doing it themselves and it becomes a new normal, that females now have to fear. Females are no longer just being objectified in the media but, by males in society every day.

The LGBTQ+ community is the least represented in media. Historically, the community has been portrayed in a negative light with society having a low tolerance. However, around the 1990s the North American media began to change and started to include the LGBTQ+ community and culture, although there were still popular shows even further the idea that being LGBTQ+ is wrong. In 2012 the show House, M.D. released an episode in season 8 called “Better Half” where a patient that comes in due to a bladder issue and explains that she and her husband are asexual. The main character, Dr. Gregory House, does not accept the idea of someone being asexual and treats it as a medical symptom. House even bets another doctor, James Wilson, that he can “figure out what is really going on”. After tests House diagnose that husband with a brain tumor near his pituitary that has been suppressing his sexual desires and explains that removing it will return him to “normal”. House is further spreading the ideas of heteronormativity, the idea that an opposite-sex couple and being cisgender is the only “normal” and acceptable form of sexuality.

While media now has become more accepting to the LGBTQ+ community, they are often not portrayed in an accurate way, and also are built off of stereotypes. Very rarely do shows address real issues the LGBTQ+ community faces. Many of the television shows use the LGTBQ+ community as a form of entertainment for the viewers. For example, a gay character is often portrayed as overly flamboyant and promiscuous. Shows like QueerEye exist and incorporate members of the LGBTQ+, however, the show enhances stereotypes such as the idea that gay men have good taste in fashion, know what a woman wants for a man, and excel in home decor.

The LGBTQ+ community still has a long way to go when it comes to being represented in media. Every year GLADD releases Where We Are on TV, a report on the percentage of regular and recurring LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast, cable, streaming, and television. According to the 2018 report, there were a total of 208 regular and recurring characters counted on scripted primetime cable programs. Of the 208 characters, gay males made up the majority at 43%, and lesbian women made up 25% of all LGBTQ+ characters on cable. Bisexual+ women made up 19% and bisexual+ men account for 8% of the total.  The lowest representation of the 208 characters were transgender characters making up 3.9%; 3.4% were transwomen and .5% were non-binary, none were transmen. GLADD predicts that 31 of the 208 regular and recurring characters counted on scripted primetime cable programs are not being expected to return in 2019 due to series cancellations, announced finales, anthology series format, or characters being written off.

Regardless of age, gender, or sex, present-day society is consuming media in greater quantities than before. With this, efforts need to be made to ensure that there is proper representation. If mainstream media continues to reinforce ideas based on stereotypes, progress and acceptance will develop slower. It is up to us as a community, including friends, family members, and educators, to be accepting and realize media sets unrealistic expectations of what life entails and make a difference.

About The Author

Cori Dawson

Cori Dawson is a junior studying Communications in school. She hopes to used her communications skills to spread awareness about social issues she cares about.

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