Media and gender Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_and_gender

Gender plays a role in mass media and is represented within media platforms. These platforms include but are not limited to film, radio, television, advertisement, social media, and video games. Initiatives and resources exist to promote gender equality and reinforce women's empowerment in the media industry and representations. For example, UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Federation of Journalists, elaborated the Gender-sensitive Indicators for Media contributing to gender equality and women's empowerment in all forms of media.[1]


Feminist writers, largely gaining prominence in the 1967s during second wave feminism, began examining the relationship between media and the perpetuation of misogyny and sexism,[2] criticizing the Western canon for providing and promoting an exclusively white male world view.[3] Notable feminists include Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin, bell hooks, and Stuart Hall.

These feminists typically perceived gender as a social construct, which is not only reflected in artistic work but also perpetuated by it.[4] Until fairly recently, feminists have mainly directed their studies to gender representations in literature. Recently, a new wave of academic studies focused on gender representations in modern society and culture (such as in the film, advertisement, and cultural industries).[5]

Gender disparity in media careers[edit]

Numbers of women in media professions such as journalism are growing: as of 2018 in the United States, 41.7% of the newsroom employees were women;[6] the proportion of women journalists in online-only news organizations even reached 47.8%. However, the media is and has been statistically dominated by men, who hold the vast majority of power positions.[7] Few women have been in leading positions; they made up only 28.3% of the television news directors and 30.5% of the managing editors.[8] Today, many news organizations are striving for gender parity on their employees.[9] A large number of international institutions and NGOs are advocating for gender equality in the media workplace. For instance, in 2018, UNESCO supported 42 media institutions and 16 universities to implement policies and strategies on gender equality. In addition, coherent with the strategy to empower women and girls through policy implementation, 31 institutions, community radio stations, and national broadcasters adopted policies on gender equality in media.

The Bechdel test, coined by cartoonist Alice Bechdel and originally created to evaluate popular fiction's representation of women and subsequently adapted to employment in the media professions, shows that a number of women are employed but do not benefit from an equal voice. For example, women in radio are typically hired to cover topics such as weather and culture.

In the video game industry, about half of the gamers are women; their presence, though, is still limited in the production of games. Those who tried to publicly challenge this situation, such as A. Sarkeesian, have been subjected to harassment.[10] There is concern in cinema about the low number of female directors and the difficulties of older actresses to find roles.[11][12] Women in film also earn 2.5 times less in annual income when compared to men in the same jobs.[13]

A survey conducted by Stacy Smith of the University of Southern California shows that only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers in film and television are women.[14] According to The Writers Guild, an estimated 17% of screenplays over the last decade were written by women.[15] However, increasing numbers of women work in the media as journalists or directors. Therefore, they deal with topics tightly related to women's needs and tend to provide a positive role for women.[16] The rise in female labor force participation can be due to a number of factors: Anti-discrimination laws, growing international emphasis on women's rights, greater accessibility to education and job opportunities, a breakdown of conventional gender roles, reduced economic reliance on men, and affordable housing.[17] No longer only consumers of media but also contributors to media, they get more involved in decision-making and agenda of activities. This empowerment of women gives them abilities to promote balance in gender representations and avoid stereotypes. Media becomes a suitable ground for expressions and claims.[18] For instance, the project "Enhancing a gender responsive film sector in the Maghreb-Mashreq region"—funded by the European Union under the Med Film Program—has demonstrated that women empowerment in their career enhances the image of women in the audiovisual landscape.[19]

Representations of women[edit]

Under-representation and misrepresentation[edit]

In spite of their monumental achievements, women's representation in media remains drastically low to that of their male counterparts. Women are the focus of only 10% of news stories, comprise just 20% of experts or spokespeople interviewed, and a mere 4% of news stories are deemed to challenge gender stereotypes.[20] Studies show that men are more likely to be quoted than women in the media, and more likely to cover "serious" topics.[21] Women have been seriously marginalized in certain news categories such as politics, law, and business; only about 30% of the news reports about government refer to women, while less than 20% of the financial news includes female sources.[9] Furthermore, the news media always cites more ordinary opinions from female witnesses or citizens but leaves the majority of insightful statements to men.[22] A central trend in black feminist thinking is challenging media portrayals of black women as mammies, matriarchs, jezebels, welfare mothers, and tragic mulattoes. "These assumptions represent and misrepresent both the ways in which black women perceive themselves (individually and collectively) and the ways in which they are perceived by others," Hudson claims.[23]

According to the report investigation of female characters in popular films across 11 countries, 1 woman for 2.24 men appeared on the screen between 1 January 2010 and 1 May 2013. In 2009, the Screen Actors Guild (US) also found that men continue to make up the majority of roles, especially Supporting Roles, where they contribute around two roles for every female role. In contrast, females hold a slightly larger proportion of lead roles compared to their proportion of supporting roles, but still occupy fewer lead roles than their male counterparts.

The same is true for television programs. In general, from the 1950s to the 1970s, female accounted for 30-35% of the roles in American television programs.[24] This increased in the 1980s, but there were still twice as many roles for men in television.[24] However, these disparities change depending on the type of program: in mid-1970s sitcoms, there were "nearly equal proportions," whereas in action-adventure shows, "only 15 per cent of the leading characters were women."[24] In the 1980s, female characters represented 43% of roles in comedy shows and only 29% in action-adventure programs; however, they had outnumbered male characters two to one in dramas.[24] Since the 1990s, "gender roles on television seemed to become increasingly equal and non-stereotyped ... although the majority of lead characters were still male."[24]

More recently, studies based on computational approaches showed that women speaking time in French TV and radio used to be 25% in 2001 (75% for men) and evolved to 35% in 2018. Women vocal presence was also lower during high audience time-slots.[25]

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is an organisation that has been lobbying the industry for years to expand the roles of women in film.[26]

In the 1960s and 1970s, feminists such as Clare Short, Gaye Tuchman, and Angela McRobbie denounced unfair representations of gender in media and especially in magazines.


Noticing the fact that women are more likely to be presented by photos rather than words in digital news, Sen Jia and his colleagues argued that women's appearance probably serves for visual pleasure.[27] Besides, mass media has become a driving force to discrimination based on gender. Images and expectations of gender roles are highlighted through a variety of platforms and sources like the structure of language, activities, media, school settings, historical passages or art pieces, and the workplace.[28] Sexualization of women, in particular, is heavily centralized in mass media. When these platforms hyper sexualize women, portray them in a lack of clothing, or depict women as subordinate to men, a women's self esteem, body image, and emotional well being may be negatively affected.[28] One of the earliest studies of role portrayal in advertisement was done in 1971 by Courtney and Lockeretz. These researchers discovered four central themes of female stereotypes: first, a woman's place was in the home; second, women didn't make important decisions; third, women were dependent on their male counterparts; and fourth, women were perceived as sexual objects. Two other follow up studies done by Wagner and Banos, and Belkaoui and Belkaoui reached similar outcomes.[29] The final two points highlight the angle that women are viewed in regards to their sexuality and bodies. For centuries, dating back to when women would pose for paintings or sculptures, the concept that a woman's nature lied within the ground of subordination and submission has been reinforced by media.[30][unreliable source]

The Western ideal of female beauty is that of the fit, young, and thin woman, and the media spreads this ideal through movies, TV shows, fashion shows, advertisements, magazines and newspapers, music videos, and children's cartoons. For women to be considered attractive, they have to conform to images in advertisements, television, and music portraying the ideal woman as tall, white, thin, with a 'tubular' body and blonde hair.[31]

Studies show that typical female roles fall into cultural stereotypes of women and are often sexualized with minimal clothing and sexualized roles.[32] For example, a content analysis of video games found that "41% of female characters wore revealing clothing and an equal number were partially or totally nude," whereas the male characters were not.[33] In media platforms such as television and video games, women tend to be underrepresented. In video games, women are often depicted as characters in need of assistance or in positions that are either submissive or helpful. More than 80% of female characters in video game magazines are objectified, under dressed, or observed with charm; more than a fifth fall into all three categories. However, sexualization is not the only stereotypical way in which women are represented in the media.[34]

In advertisement, celebrity endorsement of products are thought to be especially effective if the celebrity is a physically attractive woman, as the attractiveness is thought to transfer to the brand's image and studies have shown that audiences respond better to female endorsements.[35]

Objectification of women in the media is transmitted verbally and nonverbally, as well as directly and indirectly. Objectification is not only visual, but can also be expressed subtly by commenting on women's appearance in a humorous way, making jokes and gags, and using double meanings.[36] As a result of the normalization of objectification, women are often victims of online and offline violence. To advocate against the objectification of women in the media, some programs are implementing projects on this issue. For instance, some trainings and handbooks are being developed by International organizations and NGOS for media professionals to improve the gender-sensitivity of media representations.[37]

Some shows focused entirely on successful professional women and their "quests for sex, pleasure and romantic love," such as Ally McBeal (1997–2002) and Sex and the City (1998–2004).[24] Even if the main character in Ally McBeal was portrayed as desperate to find a husband, the show had other non-stereotypical female characters and "sided with the women."[24] Sex and the City had assertive female protagonists, especially in matters of sex, and did not punish them for wanting pleasure, knowing how to get it, and being determined to do so, which can be seen especially in the case of Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall.[24] Another female icon from the 1990s is the title character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a teenage girl who starred and became hugely popular in the "typically male-dominated world of sci-fi fans."[24] Buffy Summers, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, was powerful, heroic, confident, and assertive, characteristics that were generally ascribed to male characters.

In her 1973 article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," feminist film critic Laura Mulvey coined the term male-gaze to describe the way that women in film serve as projections of male fantasies.[38]


On TV, marriage, parenthood, and domesticity have been shown as more important to women than men.[24] From the mid-1940s to the 1960s, women (predominantly white, middle-class women) were portrayed mostly as housewives who had seemingly "perfect" lives: their houses were always impeccably clean, their children were always healthy, and they were always beautiful and organized.[39] TV didn't portray the reality that by 1960, "40 per cent of women worked outside the home ... [and that] divorce rates spiked twice after World War II".[39] According to a study from 1975 conducted by Jean McNeil,[40] in 74 per cent of the cases studied, women's interactions were "concerned with romance or family problems", whereas men's interactions were concerned with these matters in only 18 per cent of the cases.[24] Furthermore, female characters often didn't have jobs, especially if they were wives and mothers, and were not the dominant characters or decision-makers.[24] The boss is usually a man.[41] Men are portrayed as more assertive or aggressive, adventurous, active, and victorious, while women are shown as passive, weak, ineffectual, victimized, supportive, and laughable.[24]

As one study about gender role portrayals in advertisements from seven countries' shows, women are more likely to play the role of the housekeeper and men are more likely to play the roles of professionals.[42] As a reflection of the real world, same stories have happened in the news media. Women are overrepresented as students and homemakers while underrepresented in most other occupations.[22] Even for professional women, their feminine attributes are emphasized in news coverage relating them to topics including age, appearance, and family-career balance. Sports news tended to focus on female athletes' look and personal lives instead of their capabilities and career development.[43] Hanne Vandenberghe, a researcher at KU Leuven, found very similar patterns in news reporting outstanding women in government agencies and the technology industry.[44]

In another study, Souha R. Ezzedeen found that career-driven female characters in film were negatively represented as having conniving personalities, being isolated, and being unable to balance work and family.[45] While 40+ male roles are on the rise in both theatrical and television productions, female 40+ roles represent only 28% of female roles.[46] Actors such as Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood continue to undertake major roles as ageless heroes, whereas the normative structure for older women is that their aging is part of the plot (for example in Mamma Mia! (2008) and Sex and the City (2010)).[47] This is typically seen in relation to female roles relying on sexualization, and the superficial (apparent) effects of aging on their body are presented as something to be hidden.[48] They continue to be defined mainly by their appearance.[49] In gossip culture, the older female body is represented in largely negative terms unless it has been modified "correctly" by cosmetic surgery.[47] Aging female celebrities have become one of the mainstays of gossip magazines and blogs, which endorse a culture of consumption in which cosmetic technologies and procedures are not questioned but in which female celebrities who have used them are either figured as glamorous for getting it right or as monstrous for going too far.[50] Another consequence of portraying aging women in the media, is that in most TV shows, actresses who are playing characters in their 40s and 50s tend to have younger appearing body types. This has led to critiques that these representations are first and foremost framed in terms of how well older actresses are managing their aging bodies.[47] Midlife women have grown accustomed to seeing their age group portrayed in a seemingly unrealistic way, and this had led to an increase of eating disorders and negative body image among this group.[51]

In one court case in 2011, English television actress Miriam O'Reilly successfully sued the BBC for age discrimination after being dropped from a show. It was claimed that she had been told to be careful about her wrinkles and to consider Botox and dyeing her hair.[50]

The commercial potential of older consumers is becoming more significant (an increased 'active lifespan', the baby boom generation entering retirement, retirement ages that are raising). A multiplication of images of successful aging are explicitly tied to consumerism by the anti-ageing industry and older female celebrities advertising their products.[50] Examples abound: Sharon Stone for Christian Dior, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Elizabeth Arden, Diane Keaton and Julianna Margulies for L'Oreal, Christy Turlington for Maybelline, Ellen DeGeneres for CoverGirl, etc. These advertisements are paradoxical in that they allow older celebrities to remain visible while encouraging an ageist and sexist culture in which women are valued for their appearance. Baby boomers are an increasingly important audience group for the cinema industry, resulting in more and new kinds of stories with older protagonists. Romantic comedies in which women protagonists take on the romantic heroine role provide one of the few spaces in popular culture showing appealing representations of older women, such as I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), Last Chance Harvey (2008), and It's Complicated (2009). They are part of a phenomenon called the "girling" of older women, where the protagonists and celebrities are portrayed as being just as excited and entitled to be going out on dates as younger women.[52]


Heterosexual romantic relationships in media, particularly in film, often romanticize intimate partner violence wherein the woman is the victim. Film like Once Were Warriors (1994) is an example of film in which abusive behavior, such as manipulation, coercion, threats, control and domination, isolation, excessive jealousy, and physical violence, are all exhibited by the male romantic lead.[53] A 2016 study on women's interpretations of abusive behavior found that many women see the sort of abusive behaviors shown in popular films as romantic or desirable. In Netflix's popular hit show, "You," the male main character justifies and romanticizes stalking, emotional manipulation, and even murder as his way of protecting his one true love. This conflation of abuse and romance is widely attributed to the prevalence of abusive tropes in popular media.[54]

Female characters as plot devices for male characters[edit]

Referred Pain[edit]

In media featuring a male protagonist, women's pain, suffering, or even death are often used as plot devices to further the male protagonist's narrative arc. This is known as the “referred pain” plot device. It involves a situation wherein a woman undergoes a traumatic event, often (but not always) of a sexual nature, but her pain is referred to a male character. This male character's grief and anger due to the trauma experienced by the female character are explored in depth. The female character's emotional or physical response is only addressed briefly or cursorily. This trope is featured in such films as Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), Moulin Rouge (2001), as well as in the Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus and books like Oroonoko.[55]

Disposable Woman[edit]

The Disposable Woman trope refers to a trope in which a woman is included in a story for the sole purpose of dying, thus putting the male protagonist through emotional development or inspiring him to embark on a revenge quest. The woman who dies in these situations is referred to as "disposable" because she does not serve a purpose beyond her death. The disposable woman trope in present in many films, including Braveheart (1995), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Dark Knight (2008), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), Deadpool 2 (2018), and Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl[edit]

The term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" was coined in 2007 by film critic Nathan Rabin to describe a female character who exists solely "to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."[56] The Manic Pixie Dream Girl improves the life of the male protagonist and makes him a happier and better person, but she has no apparent character arc or complex story; she is simply a plot device.[57] A list of notable instances of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope can be found on the article for Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Representations of men[edit]

Men are proportionally represented by media more often compared to women, but the representations that do exist are often criticized for their portrayal of sexist stereotypes. Most critics discuss the ways male characters in film and television are typically more tough, aggressive, domineering, etc. than the average man they are meant to represent.[58]

Media has the power to shed the light on what is frequently stereotyping images, actions and values that are no more acceptable on all humanitarian levels because they represent all kind of violence and gender discrimination. The importance of mainstream media when it affects the way that people think, understand and talk about violence within our communities; also when it plays a role in shaking the mentalities and promoting positive images for women who are strong leaders and powerful survivors, yet what media should start highlight is positive masculinity. Many examples show that masculinity is usually represented by negative values such as violence, dominance, cruelty, illegal or unhuman actions. Media are way too often diffusing and showcasing this negative representation. Thus, they are playing a role in the acceptance of the society, by men and women, to these negative values as the norm to depict men and masculinity.

'Masculine' means the male who fits in with American society's stereotypical 'manly man', or a handsome (according to current American culture) man with definite muscles, and a conservative style of dress and hairdo. The inadequate male lacks many characteristics of the masculine male. He is weak and fearful, lacking both physical stamina and any significant amount of courage. This was demonstrated in the cartoons analyzed not only through actions but also by body type and bone structure, as well as dress and hairstyle. The delicate female was patterned in the cartoons studied as a woman of delicate physical structure, who is thin and dressed in such a manner as would not allow her to complete tasks traditionally meant for males. The modern female is one who is dressed in a more neutral fashion, such as jeans or pants, and does not have a noticeably tiny waistline.

— Kelly Eick, "Gender Stereotypes in Children's Television Cartoons"[59][unreliable source?]

Masculinity’ is the ideas of how men and boys should behave. In fact, most societies socialize men and boys to assume that they are superior, leader, aggressive and entitled. According to the hegemonic masculinity model, men who demonstrate power, strength, bravery, fearlessness, virility, competitiveness etc.. can assert their (supposed) superiority over women and consolidate their general position of dominance over them (physically, intellectually, and sexually).[60]

Media representations of sports and athletes contribute to the construction of a dominant model of masculinity centered on strength and an ambivalent relationship to violence, encouraging boys and men to take risks and to be aggressive.[60]

The UNESCO's section for Media Development and Society advocates for gender equality in sports media. "Sports coverage is hugely powerful in shaping norms and stereotypes about gender. Media has the ability to challenge these norms, promoting a balanced coverage of men's and women's sports and a fair portrayal of sportspeople – irrespective of gender".[61] The campaign "Her Moments Matter" highlighted the fact that biased media representations of sports athletes have repercussions on women's self-confidence and the perception they have of themselves.[62]

In advertising, men usually promote alcoholic beverages, banking services, credit cards, or cars. Although women also promote cars, advertisements involving women are usually highly dependent on their sexuality, which is not the case for those with men, who are shown in these ads in an elegant and powerful way. Also, when men are acting on a television commercial, they are usually performing activities such as playing sports, driving around girls, repairing cars, drinking, relaxing, and having fun.[63]

Also, when a man is promoting on an advertisement, they usually speak about the product and do not use it. They seem to be the beneficiary of the product or service, typically performed by women.[64]

Film historian Miriam Hansen argues the way female gaze came to film during the flapper films of the 1920s, specifically citing the famous Italian-American actor Rudolph Valentino as having been used on the screen to draw in a female audience as an embodiment of male beauty.[65]

Representations of transgender and non-binary characters[edit]

Virginie Julliard and Nelly Quemener remark that even though the dominant conception of sexuality in media is heterosexuality with construction of traditional models of femininity and masculinity, sexually diverse versions are being used in media which can also be a source of identification by the audience.[66]

In 1985, a U.S. non-governmental media monitoring organization called GLAAD was founded by Vito Russo, Jewelle Gomez, and Lauren Hinds with the support of other LGBT people in the media to combat media discrimination. The name "GLAAD" had been an acronym for "Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation," but is also known for its inclusivity of bisexual and transgender people.[67]

While mainstream media representation of transgender and non-binary people has been growing steadily in recent years, many fictionalized media representations of trans and non-binary characters are created or produced by cisgender writers. Many of these portrayals attempt to adhere to a narrative that requires a trans character to desire to present as “passable” in order to legitimize or validate their experience as “authentic”.[68] Emphasizing the notion of passing perpetuates internalized gender expectations, resulting in a growing pressure to conform to the male gaze and what is acceptable and "passable" media representations, especially in the transfeminine community.[69] This reinforcement of sex and gender norms is also apparent in many representations of transgender men in various media sources from magazine covers to movies and television series to social media.[70] Each of these binarized views of gender implies that to be transgender means to transition from one end of the gender binary to the other, leaving little room for ambiguity when it comes to gender non-conformity and non-binary representations.[71]

There is also an essentialist aspect of the narrative of desired binary-passing as a form of authenticity in that it provides an exceedingly narrow example of the many varied lived experiences of transgender individuals.[72] In concentrating on this singular type of narrative, there is potential for media representations of gender non-conforming people who do not fit neatly into either binary category of male or female to be inadequate. In light of this, there are increasingly more depictions of non-binary, genderfluid, and genderless characters in mainstream television shows like Syd (played by Sheridan Pierce) in One Day at a Time, Crowley (played by David Tennant) in Good Omens, and Janet (played by D’Arcy Carden) in The Good Place, among a growing number of others.

Many mainstream representations of transgender and non-binary people or characters have been portrayed by cisgender actors, such as Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl (2015),  leading to some controversy surrounding the ethics of who should be acting the parts of trans and non-binary characters. There has also been some concern raised regarding the sensationalization or “trendiness” of transgender roles as having the potential to be exploited.[71][73] Despite this, however, there are efforts being made to ensure that trans and non-binary actors are the ones being chosen to play trans and non-binary characters. Some notable examples of this are Laverne Cox’s portrayal of Sophia Burset who is a trans woman in Orange is the New Black, Asia Kate Dillon playing Taylor Mason who is non-binary in Billions, and Sara Ramírez who identifies as bisexual and non-binary and portrays the bisexual, non-binary character of Kat Sandoval in Madam Secretary.

While still marginal in numbers, there is also progress being made toward some more mainstream development of television shows created by trans and non-binary writers, such as Transparent by Joey Soloway. There are many more grassroots level efforts to produce positive transgender and non-binary representation, such as crowdfunded projects like Jen Richards’ and Laura Zak's online web series Her Story.

Gender expectations[edit]

Gender expectations are stereotypes about how men and women should behave in a society.[74] Social expectations develop the minds of youth as it guides them to society's ideals of socialization, social morals and values, and gender roles.[75]


The media is a main source of gender expectations as it stereotypes individuals and groups based on specific genders and sexual preferences.[76] Men are often portrayed as adventurous, dominant, and sexually aggressive, while women tend to be portrayed as young, beautiful, emotionally passive, dependent, and sometimes unintelligent.[77]

In Western media, women are expected to value youth, sexuality, and beauty, while men are taught to value dominance and power.[76] A 2020 study of children's television found that television programs aimed at younger boys tend to promote stereotypically masculine behavior, and that male characters in such programs are more likely to reflect such norms and lack onscreen parents.[78]


In the documentary film Gaga: Five Foot Two, American singer Lady Gaga discusses the power struggle between the artist and the producer. She explains the manipulation producers act upon women as they exclaim the artist can and will be nothing in the business without them. Gaga states the categorization process the industry forces on women creates expectations every female artist is forced to illustrate to the world. As she explains, "the methodology that I used to get out of that category was when they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop; I always put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I was still in control."[79] Taylor Swift has shared similar comments in her documentary Miss Americana, in which many women musicians in this industry battle with the media scrutiny and toxic media culture in their daily lives, as they must be perceived as perfect and beautiful at all times.[80]

Video games[edit]

Gender expectations are highly incorporated into the character's gender in video games, where the male gaze is dominant.[81] The most popular video games reflect a territorial, aggressive state, which men tend to gravitate towards more than women.[82]

Female characters are frequently portrayed as a damsel in distress, which objectifies them and relegates the narrative role to a male protagonist. For example, Princess Peach appears in fourteen of the main Super Mario series and is kidnapped in all but one of them, to be rescued by Mario, though she plays a more central role in spinoff media.[83] Where female characters have a major role in the narrative, they tend to be highly sexualized.[84]

Effects on youth[edit]


The Hollywood actress Geena Davis in a speech at the Millennium Development Goals Countdown event in the Ford Foundation Building in New York, addressing gender roles and issues in film (24 September 2013)

The media is generally regarded as playing an important role in defining prevailing social norms concerning sexual harassment, especially television, which is "widely accessible and intentionally appealing and engaging, [making] massive use of stereotypical messages that the majority of the people can easily understand".[36] Media affects behaviors and is "of prime importance for adolescents' general ideas of romance, sex, and relationships".[85] Thus, objectifying media has important social consequences, among which is greater acceptance of stereotypical attitudes. Studies have found that exposure to objectifying media can be linked to increased probability of male viewers engaging in sexual harassment, abuse, or acts of violence against women.[36]

In the U.S., for example, exposure to TV has been associated with "more stereotypical sexual attitudes [like the idea that men are sex-driven and the notion that women are sexual objects] and evaluation styles". Also popular is the idea that appearance or sexiness is essential for men and women.[85] Additionally, pop music and music videos have been shown to increase stereotypical gender schemas, and promote the ideas that gender relationships are adversarial and that appearance is fundamental.[85]

The stereotyped portrayals of men and women have been argued to be valued and internalized by younger viewers, especially during puberty and the construction of their sexual identity.[86]


Gender-related content has been portrayed in stereotypical ways in advertising, commercials on multiple platforms, and in Television shows. Most of the gender-related content in these different platforms of media are examples of the roles of females and males that are geared mostly towards children. A study was done on the content of children television shows.  Looking at the four main emotions (happiness, sadness, anger and fear), it was concluded that males portrayed more than females.[87]  The maturer the show got, the less females are seen, while males are shown to "manly" and aggressive.[88] Young people and adolescents are the main targets for different advertisements due to their buying power for a variety of products.[89][non-primary source needed] According to Aysen Bakir and Kay Palan, associate professors of marketing, researchers have conducted a study with eight-and nine-year-old children about the perception children have towards advertisements with gender-related content. The researchers express that the issue of stereotypical gender roles in these platforms of media leads to closed minded effects on youth.[90][non-primary source needed] The experimental design examined children and researched ways to combat the closed mindedness as well as the concept of gender flexibility.[90] The concept is the degree to which an individual is able to be open minded about stereotypes and understand Gender roles.[90][non-primary source needed] Both male and female roles in advertisements are viewed differently in clarity and value.[91] At a very young age, children are susceptible by environmental factors like media, strangers, parents, and much more. A study by Ruble, Balaban, and Cooper, researchers examining gender development, expressed gender stereotypes in media and observed that children younger than four years old are likely to choose gender-typed toys if they have seen them on television being used by the same-sex models.[90][non-primary source needed] This explains the factor of children becoming closed minded, researchers explain[example needed], at a very young age due to how certain genders are portrayed in media and television[citation needed].

Folklore and fairytales can also impact the perception of our youth on topics like gender roles. Jack Zipes, a retired professor of literature and culture from the University of Minnesota, once said, "Fairy tales set down norms for behavior and make clear the consequences of conforming to or rejecting the established codes of conduct. Such clarity naturally appeals to children and helps them think about what their place and function in the world will be when they grow up."[92] In Disney films like "Snow White, Maleficent, and Cinderella, often the villains are portrayed as women. For Snow White, it was the Evil Queen. In Maleficent, Maleficent was portrayed as the villain for placing a curse on the princess. For Cinderella, the villains were her stepsisters and her stepmother. Potentially having women as the center of being an evil person committing wrongdoings over things like image could misguide children. Writer Christina Bacchilega in her book "Postmodern Fairy Tales," stated “Snow White” is a patriarchal frame that takes "two women’s beauty as the measure of their (self)worth, and thus defines their relationship as a rivalry."[93] In response, Academic Abigail Gurvich, in her paper, "Gender Roles as taught by Fairy Tales," states that "Snow White" could teach children that "their only worth is their appearance, and that a less attractive woman is a rival who will want to hurt them; the story enforced the ideas in the girls of the time that the only things that mattered were appearance and innocence. These are two traits that led to Snow White getting her happy ending.[94]" Fairytales continue to teach children about norms that could be harmful concerning values and self-image.

Female Roles[edit]

The gender-related content in advertising in the past as well as today portray females with certain labels. The roles that women play in advertising, such as in television commercials or Magazines, shows them as delicate characters who tend to act very innocent.[according to whom?] The commercials prominent on television today show females struggling with some issue or problem. Not only is this example of female roles portrayed in advertising, but also media content online under-represent women very often; women are put in traditional roles in advertisements and television.[95] On platforms aside from television, like on radio or Podcasts, women have quiet and calm voices. They are seen as shy and gentle, which makes youth stereotype as well as categorize them in a negative way.[95] In a content analysis in 1970 by Courtney and Lockeretz, researchers who study women roles, it was suggested that there are four very common stereotypes that women are seen under:[96]

1) A woman's only place is in her home.

2) Women have no ability to make their own decisions or important ones.

3) A man must always protect women as they are dependent on them.

4) Men only see women as housewives and as sexual objects.[96]

Film Genres[edit]

Gender stereotyping is based on who is considered to be the target audience for a given film and is considered to be a prominent issue in the United States.[citation needed] It is believed[by whom?] that romantic movies and or shows are more directed towards and intrigue more females than they do males. Due to the reputation that is upheld in romantic films, males feel that they are unable to enjoy or watch films in this genre, forming this stereotype. It is also believed[by whom?] that these gender expectations in movie genres are developed at a young age as both girls and boys direct their interests towards different film categories.[97] Researchers Oliver and Green displayed a preview of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as Beauty and the Beast to a group of both girls and boys. The researchers asked the children whether the movies previewed would be more appealing to girls or boys and the majority response was that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was more directed towards boys due to the violence in the film. While boys are more intrigued by action movies, girls tend to enjoy a film that is more feminine and contains a female protagonist.[97] In addition, targeting a specific gender through different genres and displaying that particular sex's desires helps to intrigue that targeted audience even further. The protagonist also helps determine the viewers of the movie. Different genres attract different audiences. Therefore, the intended audience is more likely to watch the movie if the protagonist is relatable or easy to identify with.[98][better source needed] In addition, another study was conducted that looked at men and women's preferences in regard to 17 different movie genres. The participants within the study determined whether the genre presented was more directed towards male or females. The researchers were able to determine from their study that animation, comedy, drama, and romance were genres that interested females. While action, adventure, fantasy, history, horror, thriller etc. movies were considered to be more liked by males.[99][non-primary source needed]

Body image[edit]

There are many studies that aim to prove that sexual objectification is the root cause of body image issues. One 1995 study intended to prove that sexual advertising contributes to body dissatisfaction.[100] One hundred and thirty nine women were involved. They were split into two groups: The first group where the women watched an advert that showed attractive women. The second part where they showed adverts that were non-appearance related. The results showed the group of women that watched the appearance related advertisement experienced feelings of depression and body dissatisfaction.

Relationships between media exposure and personal concepts of body image have also been increasingly explored. Psychology Today conducted a survey and observed that "of 3,452 women who responded to this survey, 23% indicated that movie or television celebrities influenced their body image when they were young, and 22% endorsed the influence of fashion magazine models".[101]

Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors have increased in the UK, Australia, and the US due to a "perceived environmental pressure to conform to a culturally-defined body and beauty ideal" which is promoted mainly by the media.[102] This ideal of unrealistic and artificial female beauty is "impossible for the majority of females to achieve".[103]

A study conducted in 2015 by the Department of Communication at University of Missouri tested the potential impact of gendered depictions of women in the superhero movie genre on female undergraduates.[104]|first1=Hillary |last2=Behm-Morawitz |first2=Elizabeth |title=The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women |journal=Sex Roles |date=March 2015 |volume=72 |issue=5–6 |pages=211–220 |doi=10.1007/s11199-015-0455-3 |s2cid=143255897 }}</ref> The study concluded that the exposure to sexualized and objectified images of women in superhero movies resulted in lower body esteem, increased priority for body competence and altered views on gender roles.

In 2007, Alan D. DeSantis published a book called “Inside Greek U: Fraternities, Sororities, and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power, and Prestige.” While interviewing college students, specifically those involved in Greek Life, he presented interviewees with the Faustian trade, otherwise known as the Faustian Bargain. The Faustian trade is “a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches."[105] The offer presented by DeSantis was to either keep their existing lifespans or to sacrifice one year of life to be thin and beautiful until the age of sixty. On average, “approximately 85 percent say they would. Over 20 percent say they would sacrifice five years to vanity. Intriguingly, when asked how many would sacrifice one year to be highly intelligent, less than 1 percent responded that they would agree to the terms.[106] This study presents that our youth are so focused on self-image that they are willing to barter some of their life spans. There are many contributors as to why individuals would choose to give up specific attributes to improve their self-image.

Factors involved in the composition of self-image include the emotional, physical, and reasoning aspects of a person, and these aspects affect one another.[107]

One of the main contributors to negative body image is the fact that forms of media like commercials and magazines promotes the "thin ideal".[107] From seeing images of women with extremely thin bodies, some people have an increase of negative emotions, and these individuals tend to take actions like dieting to help relieve the undesirable feelings about their body image.[107] This act of dieting could lead to dangerous behaviors such as eating disorders if the negative perceptions about one's body image does not improve.[107] Considering that an average North American will watch about 35,000 commercials a year, it is to be expected that commercials presenting images of skinny and gorgeous women will have a bigger impact on increasing negative body image, than ads in magazines.[107] The author of "Influence of Appearance-Related TV Commercials on Body Image State", Tanja Legenbauer, conducted a study to demonstrate that images presented in commercials can lead to harmful effects in those that watch them.  Her study included participants who looked at different silhouettes of differently shaped women, and their response to these images was reviewed. These participants included those with and without eating disorders, and usually those participants with eating disorders reacted more negatively to the images presented to them in the study.[107]

One explanation for why TV shows could negatively affect body image is the idea of the "third" person. The "third" person idea explains that women can start to develop negative body image because they are constantly seeing images of thin and beautiful women on TV.[108] From seeing these images, they realize that men are seeing these same women and thinking that those images are the standards for a perfect or ideal woman.[108] Body image can be defined as the perception of how one sees themselves and whether or not they are happy with what they are seeing. This image of oneself can be positively or negatively affected by the opinions of those that matter to the person.[108] When a woman thinks about the "third person", the gender and relationship of the "third person" to the woman can change the amount of impact their opinion has on the woman.[108] So, an example would be if a woman knows that her boyfriend is seeing these images of lean and beautiful women, her boyfriend's opinion can more negatively affect how she sees herself and her body than if she thinks about a female stranger seeing the same images.

Eating disorders are presumed to mainly affect teenage girls, but they are starting to become more common in middle aged women. When women want to work on bettering their health or when they want to get into shape, they often look to fitness or health magazines.[109] One problem with women looking towards health magazines for help is that these magazines are often filled with images of women who are in their 40s and 50s, but are very lean and beautiful.[109] To establish that these health magazines are having a negative impact on body image in the readers of the magazines, Laura E. Willis, the author of "Weighing Women Down: Messages on Weight Loss and Body Shaping in Editorial Content in Popular Women's Health", conducted a study. She looked at issues of five different health and fitness magazines, and realized that these magazines tend to focus more on appearance rather than health, and focused on reducing caloric intake rather than exercise.[109] The messages presented in these magazines can cause a negative perception of oneself, and instead of motivating people to better themselves, they have the ability to make the reader feel bad about their body.[109]

Social media[edit]

With the rise in popularity of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, new standards of beauty have emerged in the relationship between media and gender. This can create a false image of how individuals, particularly young children, should look. Young people are more likely to purchase products endorsed by social media personalities such as Instagram models in hopes of getting that model's body type when in reality the figures are likely attained through plastic surgery.[110] This look has also lead to a 115% increase in the number of plastic surgeries since 2000.[111][112]

The dichotomy between media and gender is also apparent on social media when it comes to political issues. A study into Twitter has shown that women tweet more aggressively than men during electoral voting periods.[113] This difference in gender behaviour can be viewed as a positive in feminist movements for change, such as that in the referendum to appeal Ireland's eighth amendment. In this case, gender issues were brought to the forefront of social media as a way to transgress politics and push traditionally private female issues into the public.[114] With feminist grassroots organisations, such as TogetherForYes, using social media as their primary tool to communicate about abortion laws, the referendum result is viewed as victory for feminist tweeters and a positive outcome of utilising gender effectively on social media.[115]

Responses and movements for change[edit]

Feminist response[edit]

Germaine Greer, Australian-born author of The Female Eunuch[116] (1970), offered a systematic deconstruction of ideas such as womanhood and femininity, arguing that women are forced to assume submissive roles in society to fulfill male fantasies of what being a woman entails. Greer wrote that women were perceived as mere consumers benefiting from the purchasing power of their husband. Women become targets for marketing, she said, and their image is used in advertising to sell products. American socialist writer and feminist, Sharon Smith wrote on the first issue of Women and Film that women's roles in film "almost always [revolve] around her physical attraction and the mating games she plays with the male characters" in contrast to men's roles, which according to the author are more varied.[117] In 1973 Marjorie Rosen, an important contributor to feminist film theory, argued that "the Cinema Woman is a Popcorn Venus, a delectable but insubstantial hybrid of cultural distortions".[118] In 1978 Gaye Tuchman wrote of the concept of symbolic annihilation,[119] blaming the media for imposing a negative vision of active women and making an apologia for housewives.

From media representations, feminists paved the way for debates and discussions about gender within the social and political spheres. In 1986, the British MP Clare Short proposed a bill to ban newspapers from printing Page 3 photographs of topless models.[120][121]

In the early 2000s, feminist critics began analyzing film in terms of the Bechdel test. This feminist assessment of cinema was named after Alison Bechdel, feminist cartoonist and creator of the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. This test determines the level of gender equality present in a film by assessing whether a work of fiction features at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.[122]

In the 1970s, TV critics, academics, and women started to point out the way TV shows portrayed female characters.[39] TV Guide magazine called out the industry for "refusing to rise above characterizations of women as pretty, skinny, dopey, hapless housewives or housewife wannabes", and a poll conducted by Redbook magazine in 1972 showed that "75 per cent of 120,000 women ... agreed that 'the media degrades women by portraying them as mindless dolls'".[39] In that sense, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a television breakthrough because it introduced the first female character whose central relationships were not her husband or boyfriend or her family, but her friends and coworkers. The main character was a sort of stand-in for the "new American female" who put her job before romance and preferred to be alone than with the wrong men, but still had to do stereotypically female office work (like typing and getting coffee) and didn't speak up to her boss and other male coworkers.[39]

International Organization and NGO response[edit]

UN Women[edit]

UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.[123] To increase women's leadership, to end violence against women and to engage women in all aspects of peace and security processes, it's important to give women the right place in media landscape, and their representations must be fair and equal. UN Women supports media monitoring studies on how women are depicted in the media. For instance, the organisation "engage media professionals by raising awareness of gender equality and violence against women, including through special workshops and tool-kits, to encourage gender-sensitive reporting."[124]


In line with UNESCO's Global Priority Gender, "UNESCO is contributing to achieving full gender equality in the media by 2030".[125] To reach this goal, the Organization developed the Gender-sensitive Indicators for Media (GSIM) to measure gender awareness and portrayal within media organizations (e.g. working conditions), but particularly in editorial content. The Organization has been promoting their application by governments, media organizations, journalists unions and associations, journalism schools and the like. They set the basis for gender equality in media operations and editorial content. In addition, each year, UNESCO organizes a campaign named "Women Make the News"; in 2018 the theme was Gender Equality and Sports Media as "Sports coverage is hugely powerful in shaping norms and stereotypes about gender. Media has the ability to challenge these norms, promoting a balanced coverage of men's and women's sports and a fair portrayal of sportspeople irrespective of gender."[126]

Geena Davis Institute[edit]

The Geena Davis Institute advocates for gender equality in media. It is a NGO specialized in researches on gender representation in media. It advocates for equal representation of women. To increase women's leadership, to end violence against women and to engage women in all aspects of peace and security processes

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Further reading[edit]