Saturday, March 28, 2009

Women: The Weaker Sex

Women have changed a lot in society through the years. They have become more independent, seen as professionals, and stronger. Yet, why are women still subjected to misrepresentation in the media? Yes, there are depictions of women being strong and self-sufficient but do you think the other images of women are overpowering those of successful women? Muriel Cantor criticizes “that public broadcasting in America presents images of women that are not representative of women’s position in our highly differentiated and complex society” (McQuail 48). Instead of being shown as equal to men, women tend to get the emotional roles in movies or shows, play as the sex object, and are portrayed as if they only care about how they look rather than what they do.

With all of these messages being transmitted out to the public it affects how boys and girls view themselves in the world and their roles in society. It seems to make it the norm for females to be weak, dependent, concerned with their looks and solely devoted to their male counterpart and housework. Media also teaches girls that if they show any sign of being different or having masculine traits, that they are less attractive and are instead referred to as butch or a tomboy. What kind of messages is this doing to children these days? Is it allowing it to be okay for women to back down and be in the background? Is it telling boys that it is okay to overrule women and degrade them?

Janice Radway mentioned that “men are routinely presented as strong, aggressive, and heroic, whereas women are weak, passive, and dependent. Women must gain their identity through their association with a male character” (B&D 248). Examples of this are presented all through out the media, even when it comes to celebrity news. One such case is stated here with the infamous Rihanna and Chris Brown crisis:

After the alleged beating, people around the world were hoping Rihanna would press charges and leave him. Yet in the end she went back to him stating it was a mistake and that she loved him. Some people were outraged by this decision while others seemed to understand. In the article above, a survey was taken about violence in relationships and “nearly half of those teens said their pop star was responsible for the beating she took” (Boychuk & Mathis). Maybe these teens believe it was okay for her to return to Chris Brown because that’s what women were conditioned to do; to stay by their man no matter what he does. What do you think about this? Is Rihanna responsible? Or is the media responsible for allowing such a question to even be brought up? How much longer will this misrepresentation of women go on? Can you think of any movie or show that illustrates a strong, independent woman?


  1. In Chapter 3 of McQuail’s Reader in Mass Communication Theory, Zoonen states that “’Distortion’ is a key concept in many feminist approaches to the media” (47). This distortion may occur either in the way women are represented, or the way they are under, or misrepresented, in the media. Although the progress of how women are represented has come a long way throughout the years, I believe there is still a long road of progress ahead. I think we should try to look more positively at the opportunity to keep improving the representation of women, instead of asking why they’re still so misrepresented. There is a more realistic approach, patience if you will, that society does not possess today regarding how long it takes for change to occur, especially in matters dealing with the media. Think about history and the representation of minorities in the media. It is the same process, and it is still occurring. However, it has improved drastically and is still progressing today. The important thing is for people to keep pushing for change so that women can be fairly and justly represented in as many ways as they realistically exist. I believe other images of women are overpowering those of successful women because the weaker, dependent, “traditional” woman is the original depiction. It’s been present from the start, so I think that as long as these self-sufficient roles continue to exist, they have the potential to become just as commonly represented as well.
    Fortunately, today, children are being taught through different outlets about the opportunities, potential, and societal “norms” for both men and women. They are taught at home, in school, and through the media. Although the misrepresentation of women can potentially be detrimental and cause girls and/or boys to have what is now becoming an “old-fashioned” view of what their roles should be, they are also being surrounded by the constant progression of women as self-sufficient, independent people. I don’t think women are backing down or fading into the background. If anything, they’re coming forward and feeling free to use their voices. This, in turn, is teaching young girls to do the same, and is also teaching boys that they should not degrade or underestimate the power and potential of women. Zoonen states that “more recently, some feminist inquiries have turned the question around and asked ‘what do women do with the media,’ allowing for a variety of audience reactions” (53). By the time they reach the harsh, real world, women will be even more widely represented in the media, and they will have grown up with that, so I don’t think there is any change that needs to be made in the media. This will likely foster a higher respect in men towards women as well. We just need to have patience and keep the progression going.
    When thinking about songs that illustrate strength and independence in women, I think of Beyonce Knowles. She is strong and unafraid to reveal her power and potential as a woman. She is inspiring. She represents women in a classy, independent manner, and I think that is fabulous. Sadly, I have become desensitized to the situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna because it has been attacked and killed by the media. It doesn’t even seem real anymore. It’s their situation, and although I think it is completely unacceptable and disgusting to physically abuse someone, I do not think we can base the representation of women in the media on this one particular situation. I don’t have the right to claim her responsible or irresponsible, I just hope that she understands what happened to her, and that if it has happened once, it is capable of happening again. Perhaps the media should try to use this situation to focus on the issue of physical abuse towards women as a whole, instead of focusing on the story itself and glamorizing this very serious issue in tabloids and on the Internet. Zoonen states that “human beings are constituted by the different social practices and discourses in which they are engaged” (50). Therefore, I think that addressing the situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna as one example under the larger umbrella (no pun intended) issue of abusive relationships, it would create a bigger, more beneficial change and awareness of the importance of correctly representing women in our society.

  2. “Women are underrepresented in media content when compared to 50 percent of the population that they constitute” (Van Zoonen 48). When it comes to the popular media for the most part they’ve got it wrong about the images they portray about women in society. Even though they are depicted in roles that make them more passive and submissive that is just not the case as this quote mentions. Van Zoonen also goes on to mention that because most of the media is owned by rich males, women usually never get their fair share or catch a break.

    We keep on bringing up this Chris Brown and Rihanna ordeal and I’m just wondering when all the speculation is going to stop. The fact of the matter is the public only gets to know whatever the media or those two people wish to include us in on. If they want to tell lies and to make us run around spreading rumors than that’s exactly what they’re going to do. I believe the best thing all of us can do in those situations is not talk about it, that way the media doesn’t hold the power anymore. As soon as a story like this breaks out it seems like the whole world is lit ablaze with he said she said lies that never make sense until one or both of them do a sit down with Diane Walters. It is the public that gives all the power to these situations.

    With that being said I’m not one to point fingers and say what a celebrity should do because like I said, we probably don’t have all the facts. Everyone thinks that Brown just whaled on this girl and she was the helpless victim. Does anybody ever think that there was more going on behind the scenes? I’m not saying a man should ever beat a woman but I also don’t understand when everyone is jeering and saying that she should’ve kicked him to the curb immediately. I’m not defending their relationship nor do I really care what they do, I’m only saying that there’s probably a lot more going on than the average person will ever come to know in this matter.

    I do believe that the media is trying, however feebly so at the time, to establish a more dominant female character. Even though I don’t watch it, the show ‘Saving Grace’ comes to mind as a woman who is independent for the most part. However, it is really difficult for me to come up with that many examples proving how far we need to go in this matter. All other roles of a dominant female are usually depicted as her being broken down by the male or being too manly and not as sensitive as a female should normally be portrayed.

  3. When I thought about shows or movies that illustrate strong independent women, this was difficult because there definitely aren’t a lot out there. For a show, the only thing that I was able to come up with was Reba. For a movie, I thought that Enough, starring Jennifer Lopez, is a perfect example that illustrates a strong independent woman. The reason why I thought that this was a perfect example is because it is about a woman who is trying to escape from her abusive husband. After marrying him, she got to know the real him and realized he wasn’t who she thought he was. She decides that the only way to get rid of him for good is to kill him so that he will stay away from her and her daughter. However, this example is one of the few and proves the point that women are not often presented as strong and independent in films and in television.

    I thought that this movie was also a good example to tie into the Chris Brown and Rihanna scandal because of the physical abuse issue. Dave is right when he said that we do not know all of the facts. Most of the information that we get from the media, especially about celebrities, is based off of assumptions. This is how all of the rumors start about celebrities. However, if what is being said is actually true then Rihanna is certainly not helping the representation of women being strong and independent because she still went back to Chris Brown after he physically abused her.

    It is a difficult subject to think about, especially for women. Will women ever be looked at as the stronger sex? Is it because of other factors, such as, that women will never be making the same amount as men do?

    Women are often not represented as strong and independent women in music either. They are often presented as “sex objects”. Van Zoonen touches upon this in McQuail’s Reader by saying “Another argument deals with the definition of femininity presented to us in media content: submission, availability and compliance are characteristics held up as ideals and consumption is presented as the road to self-fulfillment” (McQuail’s Reader, 48). These are not the characteristics of how women want to be presented or how they want to define feminism. Women who believe in feminism believe in equality between sexes. Women are often presented in music videos as sex objects and being extremely provocative. Sure, women want to feel sexy but sometimes it seems as though these women are crossing the line. So where should the line be drawn when it comes to women wanting to feel sexy but also strong and independent at the same time?

    -Marlaina Luciano <3

  4. jennifer gigliottiMarch 30, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    Despite the struggle that women have gone through over the years to gain rights and equality to men, they are still being misrepresented in the media. An argument in the McQuail reader was that it’s okay to show women as housewives because a lot of them still are. So using this argument, why can’t they show women in professional jobs because a lot of women work? In the McQuail reader, Linda Lazier-Smith says “We seem to be suffering from a cultural lag – our culture’s beliefs and attitudes and opinions on women are lagging behind the reality about women,” and this is very true. If there was no lag, many television and movies would probably show more males as weak or compliant (Smith 48).
    Michaela mentioned how young children are seeing these gender roles and asked if it’s effecting them and the way they seem themselves and others. I think media definitely effects how children are growing up and how they view the world. Being that these gender stereotypes exist in almost every aspect of the media, it’s hard to not see them. There are very few music videos from any genre that show women in a strong, positive light. Prior to this class, I knew women were portrayed badly in rap music videos but I wasn’t aware of it taking place in other videos from pop to country. Even in most children’s television shows or movies, the women is always the stay at home mom while the dad is out working. Or the girl in the show while growing up is focused more on her looks while the boy is trying to play sports and be “manly”. They are getting these “views” at a young age, and ask they grow up, the way each gender is portrayed only gets worse and more abundant.
    After reading the article about the Chris Brown and Rihanna, I don’t think the media is to blame for their opinions being it is her fault. However, I do feel that the media can change these opinions. The real issue with the incident in dating violence and many of the teenagers say it exists around them. I think the real problem is not the media, but that people are not educated on the topic. To me, this incident has shown that celebrities are not “immune” to what “normal” people go through as well, the cycle of abuse. I think if the media educated the teenagers, their opinions would be different.
    I hope that in time, women start to be represented better in the media. Although there are only a few, I feel that women are trying to show their strong through music. In the past year it seems there are a lot more females on the music scene trying to create power music. Hopefully this will carry over to the movies and television.

  5. Gender roles are for the most part assigned to us immediately from birth. As soon as a baby is born everyone wants to know – boy or girl? We are immediately showered in either blue or pink and from there on out our gender roles both implicitly and explicitly communicated to us. Just last night while I was out to dinner my friend and I saw the most precious little girl. She could hardly walk and her hair was still short, but her ears were pierced and she was wearing a little girly outfit. If you took away the telltale signs of being a girl, there was nothing particularly feminine about the baby; babies faces don’t really look gender specific at that age and the fact that their hair is still so short doesn’t point you in one direction either. Instead, parents dress their children a certain way, give them certain toys to play with, etc.

    For example, a little girl wanting to play house and take care of her imaginary babies is praised as being adorable by the parents, thereby reinforcing “established norms and values by ways of symbolic rewards and punishment for different kinds of behavior”; McQuail’s definition of socialization also includes, “the learning process whereby we all learn how to behave in certain situations and learn the expectations which go with a given role or status in society” (Zoonen 51).

    If the weight given to media is accurate and its effects are as extensive as we believe them to be, then the habitual misrepresentation of women as the weaker sex really is a serious problem. Apart from the gender role girls and young women are socialized to fulfill, once they become consumers of media they receive these messages even more intensely. Messages of women being subservient to men, overly emotional, sexual objects, and only being valued for their physical appearance are only some of the messages sent by the media. Furthermore, the problem is not only in teaching girls and young women how to think about themselves, but also teaching young men how to treat women; they learn that maybe women really are just passive, sexual eye-candy.

    The issue here is that these sorts of messages are not slight by any means, instead they are persistent, hugely significant, and all-too-common in our media. As stereotyped and narrowly tailored as gender roles are, there are clear differences between men and women. Obviously biologically and otherwise, there are dissimilarities between the sexes. What the media does not always account for however, are the variations of “the norm” among each gender; a man can be emotional while a woman can be resilient; a man can be highly vain while a woman gets ready in ten minutes; etc. Despite certain palpable distinctions between the sexes, gender roles are consistently oversimplified by the media. All things considered, Chapter 3 of McQuail goes on to state that, “the relation between gender and communication is therefore primarily a cultural one, a negotiation over meanings and values that inform whole ways of life” (Zoonen 57).

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  7. It is true that women are unquestionably still subjected to misrepresentation in the media, and I do think that these misrepresented images of women are overpowering those of successful women. Instead of showing strong and powerful females, I feel like the media instead chooses to show females who are ditzy, wild, and only value their appearance. Take for example the first two seasons of “Rock of Love,” and the current first season of “Rock of Love Bus.” None of the women on these shows are very intelligent, and they are all attractive and thin. All the women on the show try to do is be sexy and use their looks to win Bret Michael’s heart. Sure, Bret makes it look like he factors in the girls’ personalities into his decisions, which maybe he does, but would he ever choose a woman whose looks he thought were any less than a perfect ten? I think not.

    Even women who are successful on television are not accurately representing other successful women in the world. For example, the shows “The Hills” and “The City” do show women who are successful, however, I think that these shows are still reinforcing the fact women are portrayed as, like Michaela said, caring more about how they look rather than what they do. The women on these shows work in the fashion industry, and are shown working at various fashion shows and events. While this portrays successful women in the workplace, I think the very fact that the women on these shows work in the fashion industry reinforces the fact that the media is telling women to care more about their appearance rather than being successful. The women on the “The Hills” and “The City” work for companies that want females to care about their appearance. The purpose of these companies is to tell women how to look good. Therefore, while the girls on the shows are successful, I think the shows are still sending the message that women should value their appearance over success because the women on the shows work for companies whose main goals are to make women value their looks over everything else.

    I think the media is constantly sending the message to female children that they need to be attractive to be successful. Something that kind of irritates me is that on American Idol, the judges often comment on the female contestants’ clothes and looks. Paula frequently tells them that they look good or beautiful. Simon sometimes even criticizes their outfits and appearances. I feel like this certainly shows that females are still being told to care about how they look because the judges rarely comment on the male contestants' appearances. This demonstrates that talent is not the only thing that matters for the female contestants, but that their appearance matters as well. This is sending the message that it is okay for females to back down and be in the background because while the male contestants only need talent to the win the competition, the female contests need both talent and good looks. I also think Simon’s comments on the female contestants’ appearances are sending the message to boys that it is okay to overrule women and degrade them because the women on the show are supposed to listen to his criticism and change their appearance for the next week if they intend to win the competition.

    As for the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident, there is no way that Rihanna is responsible for being beaten. However, I do think that the media sends the message that it is important for a woman to have a man in her life, and therefore, I think that is why many teens thought Rihanna was responsible. Van Zoonen writes, “People who watch television for hours on end will tend to replace their own social experience with that of television reality, resulting in a ‘television view’ of the world” (Van Zoonen 52). I think that many teens did what Van Zoonen describes in this quote. By watching a lot of reality television, teens replaced their own thoughts with the messages they received from these shows, and this ‘television view’ caused many teens to think that Rihanna was responsible for the beating. In many television shows, all the girls do is talk about boys. For example, on the television show “Laguna Beach,” the entire show revolves around the girls’ conversations about what boys they like and who is dating who. I think the media is sending the message to girls that dating boys and having a boyfriend should be the number one priority in their lives. Therefore, in regards to the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation, I think teens most likely thought that Rihanna was not being good to her man, who should be her number one priority, and for that reason, she was responsible for being beaten.

    Unfortunately, I feel like misrepresentation of women in the media will continue for a long time. In fact, I cannot think of a movie or show that illustrates a strong, independent woman. I know there most likely are some strong, independent women in the media, but the fact that I could not even think of one off the top of my head, and yet could think of a lot of women who are ditzy and unintelligent in the media, for example, demonstrates that how women are represented in the media is a problem.

  8. Females have come a long way in the past century; however with that said I think females seem to be portrayed more as sex symbols today than ever before. I think there are successful women in America, but as Michaela said the other images of women are overpowering the strong, self-sufficient type.
    I don’t think that young girls are being told to succumb to the male sex, but I do think they are getting positive messages of it being ok to be a sex symbol in today’s society, and that this may take priority over other things. The message that should be portrayed to young females is that they can achieve success without being a sex symbol; and I also think that they should know success isn’t restricted to being an actress or a singer or achieving that type of Hollywood fame.
    I thought it was interesting when the lead blogger referred to Radway’s quote and linked it to Rihanna and Chris Brown. When Radway states, “Women are weak, passive, and dependent. Women must gain their identity through their association with a male character,” (248 Baran & Davis), I was extremely disappointed when hearing that Rihanna was staying with him; granted what she does in her personal life is her choice, but the message that she is sending out with that action and no explanation is just reinforcing the message of the women giving into being the weaker sex. Not to mention some of her songs from albums in the past seem to support this argument as well like “Rehab” and “SOS”. In these songs she is basically asking for help from a guy or her feelings from a guy. Granted there are songs by female artists that support the opposing arguments, but once again they tend to be overshadowed by upbeat dance songs sung by females that send a message of sex or relates to a guy.
    We need to take advantage of opportunities where we can portray women in the same light as men and no longer the girl that needs “rehab” to get over a guy.