In the media
Throughout the years, it is true that the media has deviated from the original stereotypes of men and women as men being powerful, domineering and aggressive while women being submissive, accommodating and the damsel in distress. Atypical types of men and women have been depicted in the mainstream media and are widely accepted as social roles change slowly, the media both being the catalyst of such change as well as where the effects are displayed. However, traditional qualities and stereotypes of men and women are still reinforced repeatedly in the media as these are already values grounded in our consciousness. From here, we will explore different media to see how they depict social roles of men and women and how this impacts the audience.
What cartoons depict is particularly crucial for society as they cater mainly to the impressionable young who are the most susceptible to influence and reinforcement of ideas. It has been proven that there are at least four times as many male cartoon characters as there are female characters. This is a massive imbalance that has seen little improvement over the years of female liberalisation. Examples of such cartoons would include Spongebob Squarepants, Finding Nemo and Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures.
When females are represented and given a voice in cartoons, they mainly take on supporting roles. While the damsel in distress may have faded from the scene, it is crucial to note that the dominance of males in this area extends to the fact that males could play both the typical masculine hero and the weak victim. Other than the fact that females are underrepresented, the occupational scope of the characters is limited as well. "Male characters were powerful, strong, smart, aggressive and so on. Occasionally there's a token female cartoon character but she's like lime jello -- she's bland," says Dr. Mary Hudak, Ph.D., a psychologist from Allegheny College.
Nonetheless, we have to acknowledge that there is a positive change from the era of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White passively waiting for their prince charming to the modern-day heroines such as Kim Possible and Powerpuff Girls who are capable of being both powerful and feminine at the same time. Programmes for children now exhibit an awareness of the female market and the changing social expectations.
Advertisements are media with the intent to influence and target certain groups of people, therefore using stereotypes to attract the attention of their target audience. This shows that advertisements are thus one of the most effective tools for the perpetuation of stereotypical gender roles.
As can be seen on television and print, advertisements for household products largely feature females promoting the products. This is because the target group of such advertisements involves housewives and females working in the domestic arena. As for advertisements for cars and other business products, males are usually featured. These advertisements attract the target audience by providing a role model or good example such as the powerful and masculine male who is capable enough to own the products. Advertisements such as these hence greatly reinforce our age-old notions of how males and females should behave respectively, not allowing both genders greater freedom.
Many advertisements also employ more male voice-overs than female ones. Voice-overs appear to be in authority and the subject will appear to have more knowledge than the characters in the advertisement itself. However, it has been reported that 94% of voice-overs are male. Whether or not it is conscious, this advertising tactic may also have a (conscious or subconscious) effect on the viewers and convey the message that males are more intelligent and powerful.
Lastly, advertisements use sexuality as a tool to persuade both male and female consumers to purchase the manufacturer's products. Though previously only a largely female market available, the desire to enhance one's manliness or womanliness to attract the opposite sex is now a norm, creating a weakness which advertisements can manipulate. This thus implies that with the shift in social roles, males are also encouraged to self-indulge and perm themselves, seeing their worth in relation to a woman's approval, a mindset that used to be largely exclusive to women alone.
Therefore, it might be true that consumers are aware of the fact that advertisements make use of stereotypes to persuade. In fact, that is exactly what the consumers are looking out for. Also, while masculinity is emphasised, males are also encouraged to step out of their previous stereotypes with our generation's obsession with outer appearances.