Media Portrayal of Gender Impacts Perception
LGBTQ+ Representation in Media Impacts how Youth View Gender
Norms and stereotypes of gender and sexuality are enforced and reinforced by society every day. People are constantly exposed to different forms of media that promote these ideals and society standards of what gender is whether they are aware of it or not. Television, magazines and advertisements are just some of the ways these messages reach out to people, and sometimes they do more harm than good.
Common Sense Media found that it is not just one movie or one television show that reinforces stereotypes of gender. It is the consistent exposure to the same dated concepts and themes, such as boys are smarter than girls, only men and women can work certain jobs and victim blaming.
“Representation is important because it gives people an avenue to explore themselves,” LGBTQ+ individual Cassi Segulin said. “My mother had an LGBT section of her DVDs and so I was able to, in my formative years, watch things like ‘Orange is Not the Only Fruit’ and ‘In and Out,’ you know comedies and dramas. And not only did it normalize the idea of queerness, not only in the community before I had discovered a grander community and see interactions between people, the idea of queerness had been normalized and it wasn’t just an abstract thing.”
According to Common Sense Media, the messages from television stick because children are exposed to them at a crucial time in their development. Their identities are just beginning to form. False assumptions and harmful conclusions can come from repetition of consuming these stereotypes. Boys can feel the pressure to be to strong and brave while girls could believe they must take care of children and be submissive.
“It also was helpful because I was able to take a look at the characters and their interactions and the way that they expressed themselves and say, ‘Okay this something that I align myself with,’ which is why it’s important not only for gay and lesbian and bi representation, but it’s also important for gender and gender expression representation because I know of several people that saw a movie or saw a television show or something like that where there was something outside of the man-woman, masculine- feminine mainstream, they were able to say okay that’s something that I align myself with or that’s something that I can think about and examine at a later time and really take apart the idea and look at it within, and compartmentalize the idea and examine it piece by piece,” Segulin said.
A lifetime of viewing stereotypical media becomes so ingrained it can impact a child’s career choice, self-worth and relationships. The images children and teenagers see in the media can also have a lasting impact on how they perceive themselves in terms of body image.
“The pressures on men, I would say, are equal to women in many ways, but we don’t talk about them as much, especially when it comes to body image,” Dr. Michelle Filling-Brown, gender and body studies professor at Cabrini University, said. ”
“I think a lot of people know that Barbie is a very unrealistic expectation for how women’s bodies are supposed to look and we know if we made Barbie life size she would fall over. So she couldn’t stand up on her own two feet. But the same thing goes for boys. Take the latest version of Ken and make him life size. His biceps are bigger than a professional athlete. And so there are pressures that are on men too in terms of what a perfect man is supposed to look like and behave like and I don’t think we talk about that as much.”
Social media is also on the rise of influencing how people view themselves physically and how they should behave based on their gender identity.
“The ways in which men are encouraged to posture online, to do a little bit of chest thumping online, the way that young men are off and encouraged to play the troll online particularly in response to women,” Dr. Paul Wright, professor of the course Difficult Men: Masculinity in the Media and Literature at Cabrini University, said.
Dating apps such as Tinder are another form of media that is influencing how young people behave when it comes to sexuality. Hookup culture is something that young people partake in when exploring their own sexuality.
“There are people who really enjoy it, brace it, but it is a small group. That stereotype seems to dictate expectations for everyone else and that is where the problem is for me. If you have those people who want to do that or that, alright, but you have 80 percent of people who want something else. Why do those 80 percent have to conform to the expectations of the 20 percent?”
Some companies are making strides in breaking gender stereotypes. Aerie has their #AerieReal campaign that goes against retouching their models as well as having a variety of different sized models as a part of the campaign. Tide is also incorporating men using their product in commercials and breaking the stereotype of laundry as a woman’s task.
“Things can change and to have that hope that that change happened because people advocated for change, and that all of us do have the power to make changes in this world, and if you look at how far we’ve come on so many issues, and obviously we still have a long way to go, but that we can do it,” Filling-Brown said. “Through education, through advocacy and through raising their voices up that we can make change here in the United States and throughout the world.”
By Ashley Sierzega