How Gender Stereotypes In The Me-dia are Harmful to Mental Health

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated November 05, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the article below might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence, which could be triggering.

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Gender stereotypes, in general, have a massive impact on shaping our society and especially the minds of the younger generations. The media's roles shape individuals' beliefs about themselves and others and the expectations they see portrayed. These beliefs and stereotypes ultimately shape how gender is treated in societal constructs such as the workplace, justice, and mental health systems. Young boys and girls from childhood to adolescence can be greatly impacted by gender stereotypes, often negatively. These stereotypes may create mental health issues among this younger generation, fueling issues with body image, eating disorders, depression, and violence towards females or other genders. 

The media plays a large role in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. Through advertising, television programs, news programs, music videos, commercials, video games, social media, and newspapers and magazines, media bombards us with gender stereotyping that has become deeply ingrained in our society throughout the day.

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Mental Health Stigmas Related to Gender

Mental health stigmas refer to negative beliefs or attitudes toward an individual or a group of individuals experiencing mental health concerns. The media and ingrained often perpetuate many stigmas associated with gender and mental illness within our society.

When gender stereotypes in the media portray mental health conditions or disorders typical to men or women, it can seem that this may be "normal" or typical behavior for that gender. This can lead certain symptoms of mental illness to be taken less seriously or dismissed as women being "too emotional" or "too sensitive." When the symptoms of the condition are found to be typical behavior for the gender, society at large tends to dismiss it as something that does not necessarily need to be addressed, preventing individuals from seeking treatment when they may need it.

Gender Stereotypes and How It Can Affect Mental Health

Both men and women are affected by mental health illnesses and concerns. However, these concerns are often untreated in men as they are less likely to seek treatment than their female counterparts due to the stigmas and stereotypes. Depression and suicide are leading causes of death among men, and suicide is four times higher in men than women.

Toxic masculinity has become a norm in our society and enforces certain behaviors among men due to expectations created by what is deemed as normal. This toxic masculinity reinforces the idea that men should be strong and dominant, making it more difficult to express their emotions and ultimately seek help. Men are more likely to turn to violence and substance or alcohol use to cope with challenges instead of seeking treatment from a professional. Because of this stigma, toxic masculinity may lead to many concerns with mental health, including:

  • Increase in symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Increase in substance use
  • Greater physical health risks
  • Relationship and interpersonal challenges
  • Violence
  • Homophobia
  • Discouragement of seeking help

The gender roles in the media may cause many mental health concerns among women, such as depression, anxiety, body-image issues, low self-confidence, and self-esteem issues. Women are often portrayed as being more dependent and submissive and are often sexualized within the media. Research shows that women are more likely to experience depression or anxiety due to harmful body image and sexualization stereotypes. Women are more likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to sexual violence. Women are also at a higher risk of physical and mental illness due to gender pay gaps and gender inequality in the workplace.

A recent study found that boys and girls at age six associated being smart with masculine traits. They told a gender-neutral story about a really smart person, and when asked to identify the person from the story, the majority chose male characters. The study also found that belief in this stereotype impacts girls' activities and choices from the time they first enter school. It has been well established that women have not tended to go into fields of science and technology relative to male peers. This study suggests that these beliefs are shaped beginning in early childhood.

The media reinforces these stereotypes. Gender stereotypes in the media almost always portray female characters either as homemakers or in a subordinate role in the workplace. This perpetuates the belief to young children and young adults that women are not as smart as men. Therefore they may choose not to engage in certain activities or educational opportunities, leading to fewer women in those career fields.

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How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes

To bridge these gaps and create gender equality, it's important to be self-aware and find ways to overcome these gender stereotypes within yourself and the people around you. Here are some ways to help reduce these gender biases in your life or with your children.

  • Be self-aware of your own biases - Gender stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in us from an early age by the media and upbringing. Whether you realize it or not, we all carry our own biases through the daily messages we receive through the media. It's important first to be self-aware of your own biases you may have revolved around gender. This will give you a stronger opportunity to see what you need to change and how to overcome them.
  • Emphasize accomplishments over physical appearance - Referring to an individual's accomplishments as an individual rather than their physical appearance can be a great start at combating gender stereotypes. We often refer to girls or women as pretty or beautiful without acknowledging their intelligence because gender stereotypes may have made us believe this is more important for this gender. When it comes to men, we may also focus on their physical strength, when not every man may not fit that gender stereotype.
  • Be aware of gender marketing - Clothing, products, gadgets, and children's toys often fall under gender-stereotyped marketing. Clothing may be a particular color, such as pink for girls or blue for boys. For toys for children, trucks and building blocks are marketed to boys, while dolls and play kitchens are geared towards girls. Children learn crucial social, emotional, and life skills through playing. It's important to give them a variety of toys to play with so they have an opportunity to build a multitude of skills and experiences that aren't based on gender stereotypes.
  • Combat gender stereotypes at home - Gender stereotypes are created from a very young age, and their caregivers are often a child's model for gender roles. It's important to have conversations with your kids about gender and create gender equality in your home. Share parent responsibilities and household chores equally with your partner to challenge typical gender roles. As your children get older, it may be helpful to not assign chores based on gender and give equal allowances regardless of their gender.
  • Make friends with people from all genders - Stereotypes often exist based on assumptions of how we think a particular group of people should behave, instead of seeing them as individuals. A great way to challenge these gender stereotypes is by making friends with individuals from all genders and encouraging children to do the same. Studies show that children who develop friendships with individuals of other genders have more positive attitudes toward's that gender.
  • Use gender-neutral language - Using pronouns and other gender-neutral words may reduce negative stereotypes and encourage inclusivity. Try using they/them instead of he/him or her/she to make the topic accomplishment-based instead of focusing on gender. Using job titles like fireman or policeman may insinuate that those jobs should only be for those of the male gender. Instead, it may be more inclusive to refer to these individuals as firefighters or police officers.

Getting Help

It is quite common for both men, women, and other genders to experience negative consequences against typical gender norms. Whether in the workplace, schools, relationships, or within the criminal justice system, fighting against gender stereotypes may be emotionally trying and stressful.

If you are facing challenges because of gender stereotypes or experiencing mental health concerns because of them, a licensed therapist may be able to help. They can assist you in identifying the gender stereotypes that are affecting you and help you overcome them. They may also help you make peace with things that have happened to you due to stereotyping and help you come up with solutions for coping and overcoming the stigmas related to these gender stereotypes. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can match you with a licensed therapist to best suit your needs so you can overcome these challenges and improve your mental health and overall well-being. Reach out today to begin your journey to a happier and healthier you.


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