Media Gender Stereotypes and Interpretations by Female Generation Y

By Robertson, Euan | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Media Gender Stereotypes and Interpretations by Female Generation Y


Robertson, Euan, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

The topic for this discourse has simmered for a number of years and was triggered by a class discussion round gender stereotypes and media representations. A class of mainly female, year three university design students were asked to describe their perceptions round gender attributes and traits. The response from the female students described men as idiots, wastes of space, incompetent and fools; women were in control, savvy and could do anything. This discussion, coupled with observations over a ten-year period identified a shift in how many young female design students referenced women in their evaluations and resultant creative executions. Referencing female physicality in their executions seemed to hold no barriers for them be it a position of hegemony or sexualisation. In referencing masculinity they often take the popular media position of mockery, "Suddenly, masculinity is not made by men, but is determined by women. Women define it, women chastise it" (Salzman, Matathia and O'Reilly 2005, 120).

This paper will explore these perceptions and will examine the role the media plays in gender identification, representation and resultant performance. It will also investigate a New Zealand perspective. The paper uses societal constructs of masculinity and femininity and references young females from Generation Y, born 1980-1994. The term 'media' refers to magazines, newspapers, television sitcoms and soaps, reality and light drama shows, film and advertising.

The media and how it constructs and influences societal stereotypes and norms

The media contains a predominance of popular cultural images, often reinforcing gender stereotypes and defining societal constructs. These stereotypes influence constructs around education, identity, leadership and ultimately how we define ourselves and ultimately the establishment of cultural norms and biases around what is "normal and natural" (Kruse and Prettyman 2008, 452). The connection between media constructs round gender identities and emergent stereotypes are well documented. Gender stereotypes and media representations within popular culture have a significant influence on how young females identify themselves. Futurists and trend spotters, Salzman, Matathia & O'Reilly (2007), examined the changing roles of gender representation in the media. They argue that young females establish their attitudes, viewpoints and how they measure themselves from media representations, "We become what we consume, media-wise" (Salzman, Matathia and O'Reilly 2007, 124). They suggest that certain magazines and shows "appeal to the demographic that has the highest percentage of readers and viewers: in other words, women" (Salzman, Matathia and O'Reilly 2007, 128). Generation Y are high consumers of media, especially young females. The authors also suggest that women have taken the high ground and often determine gender portrayal within the media whether directly or indirectly. They are the main audience and so play a pivotal role around notions or constructs of gender. These constructs have become rather potent in establishing gender stereotypes, "Media representations tell us who we are, who we should be and who we should avoid" (MacKinnon 2003, 24).

Situation comedies (sitcoms), soap operas and reality shows are deemed "mainly light parody, and thus far less subversive" (Hanke 1992, 89), therefore any serious analysis or decoding by audiences is either minimal or absent. Comedy in sitcoms is not so much about consumption of parody and analysis as it is about entertainment. The humour, laughter or jokes in sitcoms dispels any sense that there might be any serious readings on offer. Sitcoms are dependent "upon a consumer culture for its very existence" (Hanke 1998, 75) but exclude any analysis of it. Laughter and how it is achieved is the aim, any resultant fall out is expendable. The nature of sitcoms is such that they are "an institutionalised form of joking, are not funny in themselves; they require a third person, the audience for their completion" (Hanke 1998, 89).

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