How Gender Stereotypes In The Media Harm Society

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated February 13, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

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

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Gender stereotypes, in general, have a massive impact on shaping our society. The beliefs of both men and women, about themselves and others, are shaped by the roles they see portrayed in the media. These beliefs and stereotypes then go to shape the way that gender is treated in societal constructs such as the workplace, in the justice system, and in the mental health system. Young boys and girls from childhood to adolescents are also negatively impacted by gender stereotypes.

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

The Hegemonic Myth

Gender stereotypes portrayed in the media reinforce society's thoughts on what one study calls the hegemonic myth. This is the myth that all men are strong, and all women as weak. All men are the dominant sex, and women need to be protected.

This myth has been disproven with more and more frequency in recent decades as women's movements across the globe have brought to light the strength and power of women. However, it seems that regardless of how much women succeed and show power, the media does not portray them as such. Instead, the media continues to portray women as helpless and submissive.

The perpetuation of the hegemonic myth will continue to place women at a disadvantage because they are thought of as less than in areas of education, career, and relationships. This harms society because women who have great intelligence are underutilized in meaningful ways by governments and organizations.

Sexualization Of Women

The sexualization of women has led to many societal problems, including increased instances of rape and violence against women. It also leads to oppression of women from a very young age, often as soon as they hit puberty. Teaching a woman that her purpose is only to satisfy a man does not help to build self-esteem, confidence, or other ambitions. Becoming young mothers leaves many women living in poverty.

Once a female child starts menstruating, it seems that no matter where in the world she lives she will get new, many times negative, attention about her body. Parents, educators, and society start telling young women how to dress, act, or even prevent them from engaging in activities because they might have sex resulting in teen pregnancy.

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This oppression puts women at a distinct disadvantage. Young teens who want to pursue educational or extracurricular activities may be barred from doing so because of their perceived sexuality. Also, these stereotypes teach young men that women are sexual creatures, and it increases the risk of sexual violence.

Gender stereotypes in the media play a large role in this phenomenon. Whether you're watching regular programming, commercials or music videos, you are more likely to see women who are slender, scantily dressed, and flirtatious. This only adds to the social norms that are harming women throughout the world.

Rape Culture

The sexualization of women in the media has also perpetuated a rape culture in America. Too frequently women are blamed or victim-shamed for cases of rape. This occurs in society daily and is not helped by the media's sexualization of women, as well as media's propensity for giving women tips on how to avoid rape rather than giving tips to men to protect women and treat them with respect.

Also, while a case of an unjustified accusation of rape will get massive media coverage as the exonerated accused perpetrator goes free, cases of substantiated rape are rarely in the media.

Violence Against Women

Violence against women, including sexual violence, is also downplayed by the media. A recent study showed that men are much more frequently personalized in the media. They are called by name rather than by "the victim" or similar verbiage. More personal details are given about male perpetrators, personalizing them and generating empathy for their plight.

On the other hand, women were most often not referred to by name, with few personal details given. The study also found that the general public, when surveyed about news stories, felt more empathy when the victim was personalized in the story. Victim-shaming was also more common when the victim was not personalized in the media.

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This idea that women must be doing something wrong to be the victim of any violent crime is part of why such crime runs rampant in major cities. Gender stereotypes in the media are only perpetuating this culture.

Mental Health Awareness

There are stigmas associated with gender and mental illness that are perpetuated by the media. When gender stereotypes in the media portray mental health conditions or disorders typical to men or typical of women, it can seem that this is normal 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 "hysterical". 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 need to be addressed.

Untapped Talent

According to findings from one study, it may be entirely possible that we could have had the next great scientific mind and never known about it. The study found that boys and girls as young as age six already possess ingrained beliefs about the gender stereotype that men are smarter than women.

The 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.

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The study also found that belief in this stereotype has an impact on the activities and choices that girls make 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 an inferior role in the workplace. This perpetuates the belief to young children and young adults that women are not as smart as men, and therefore they may choose not to engage in certain activities or educational opportunities, leading to fewer women in those career fields.

Economic Development

The effects of these gender stereotypes have impacted the development of the economy. The economy of the United States is grown more through the efforts of entrepreneurs. Yet it is quite common that women are excluded from entrepreneurship, or their path is made more difficult than businesses started by men.

A recent study found that both men and women contributed characteristics of a successful entrepreneur to characteristics of masculinity. This study concluded that many women did not pursue entrepreneurship even when they were more than qualified and prepared to do so because they felt they did not possess the necessary characteristics.

Many local news media outlets do not give equal press time to female entrepreneurs. Men frequently get more positive coverage than women, especially when it comes to new start-ups. Also, the media often portrays men in entrepreneurship roles but rarely portrays women in this light.

Getting Help

It is quite common for both men and women to suffer negative consequences for going against gender norms. Whether it is in the workplace, in relationships, or in the criminal justice system, fighting against gender stereotypes can be emotionally trying and stressful.

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A therapist can help you identify the gender stereotypes that are affecting you and help you overcome them. They can 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 stigma related to going against those stereotypes. Find a licensed counselor now at Betterhelp.com.


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