In class, we discussed gender roles in the media, specifically in pop-culture. I noted that it didn’t really seem like there had been any change to the gender stereotypes being used in the media, even though society seems to be working harder and harder to achieve a mind frame of equality. The question arose “If the mentality towards gender in society is changing, then why is media/pop culture not reflecting these changes?”

The first thing that I wanted to find out was if society was actually changing to accept any gender in any way that they choose to present themselves, or if we’re just deluding ourselves into thinking that equality is legitimate. Here are some of the statistics that I found to support the idea that we are becoming an equal society:

  • Women make up 47% of the work force.

  • 59% of all tertiary graduates in 2009 were women.

  • The percentage of families with both men and women in work has risen from 52% in 1991 to 64% in 2006.

  • 92% of families believe a father should be as heavily involved in childcare as the mother.

  • 1 in 5 women between the ages of 35-39 do not have children today, compared to 1 in 20 in the 1970s.

  • 76% of women in 1995 were working outside the home, in comparison to 50% in 1970.

(EEO Trust, 2010)

However, as well as these statistics in support, I was interested to discover equally as much evidence to support the opposite conclusion – that we aren’t making as much progress as we think we are.

  • 65% of Americans believe that women are discriminated.

  • Women are paid less and are in lower positions than men in the work place. In a 1995 survey among 500 companies, only 90 had women as their chief executives.

  • Women, even when working outside the home, are still perceived as the primary caregivers for the children.

  • Women do 20 hours of housework in an average week in comparison to men’s 10.

  • 38% of American women have a problem with the idea that they have the right to a career but are still ruled by old gender roles.

(faqs.org, 2013)

Though I found that most of the statistics I found were in regards to the older population I also found some trends apparent in the gender roles that children under four are exposed to from their parents alone. It has been shown that baby boys are actually the more likely of the two genders to die in infancy and are more fragile than baby girls. However, according to studies, parents respond faster to the cries of their baby girl. The tendency is to fear for the safety of baby girls, whereas boys are encouraged to explore.

“According to Dr. Benjamin Spock, people are likely to appreciate girls’ cuteness and boys’ achievements. For example, a girl may receive the comment, “You look so pretty!” for the outfit she is wearing. While this compliment isn’t harmful in itself, repeated over and over the message the girl gets is that she is most appreciated for her looks, not for what she can do. Boys, on the other hand, are praised for what they can do–“Aren’t you a big boy, standing up by yourself!” Many parents encourage and expect boys to be more active, to be more rough-and-tumble in their play than girls. A boy who does not like rough play (and so goes against the gender role he has been assigned) may be labelled a “sissy.” A girl who prefers active play to more passive pursuits may be called a “tomboy.””  (faqs.org, 2013)

I think this information in itself almost answers the question. We are stuck in old ways of thinking, despite the fact that the law now says we’re all equal and the media reflects this. The structure of commercials for example, is simple in order to be understood quickly by a wide range of viewers and one of the most simple things that we are able to recognise is gender stereotyping. It makes sense to us and we recognise the intention quickly, so the gender roles become the perfect tool. The problem is, is that our perception of gender roles is developed before we reach kindergarten age and by the time we reach that age the estimate is that the average child has been exposed to 5000 hours of television including 80,000 commercials (YWCA, 2011).

So does this mean that the media are encouraging this perspective? Given the information that I’ve found I would say this is so but only to a degree. I think that we’re stuck in a cycle at this point where we can’t move forward or backward. The media won’t change because the recognition of stereotypes is what works for them. The people won’t change because we grow up with the media as one of our primary teachers. It takes a risk to change, and for the media there currently isn’t any large commercial value in making a change because gender stereotypes are what is easiest. Though the small changes are slowly encroaching (such as handsome men cleaning in an Ajax commercial instead of your average housewife), we still have a large leap and a long journey ahead of us before we note any drastic change.

That doesn’t mean to say however, that there is no hope and so I leave you with this from Debra Pryor and Nancy Nelson Knupfer…

“If we become aware of the stereotypes and teach critical viewing skills to our children, perhaps we will become informed viewers instead of manipulated consumers”.

References

EEO Trust. (2010). Family and Gender Roles will continue to evolve. Retrieved October 14, 2013, from EEO Trust: http://www.eeotrust.org.nz/content/docs/reports/business_benefits/Family%20and%20gender%20roles%20will%20continue%20to%20evolve.pdf

faqs.org. (2013). Gender Roles. Retrieved October 14, 2013, from faqs.org: http://www.faqs.org/health/topics/8/Gender-roles.html

Wolska, M. (2011). Gender Stereotypes in Mass Media. Retrieved October 14, 2013, from Krytyka.org: http://krytyka.org/gender-stereotypes-in-mass-media-case-study-analysis-of-the-gender-stereotyping-phenomenon-in-tv-commercials/

YWCA. (2011). The Media . Retrieved November 1, 2013, from YWCA Girl Space: http://ywcagirlspace.ca/articles.php?subject=46

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