Sex Stereotyping & Gender Expectations in Media

For this assignment, compare and contrast the advertising content of three magazines. Choose one magazine that was published within the last year from each of these three categories: A, B and C. A free version of each of these magazines can be found on the internet. You can use the online free version or the actual magazine for this assignment.

A: Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News and World Report
B: Cosmopolitan, Elle, or Vogue
C: Maxim, Sports Illustrated, or GQ

Flip through the magazines and compare the types of ads for: 1) personal accessories, 2) food, 3) beverages, 4) clothing, and 5) physical bodies. Then, answer the following questions:

1. Identify the magazine that used the most stereotypes of race/ethnicity to sell a product. Explain the stereotype, and provide a specific example to support your analysis.

2. Identify the magazine that showed women older than 55 years selling a product. What was the product? Explain why an older woman would be a good icon for advertising that particular product.

3. Which magazine used gender stereotypes of bodies the most? Explain the body types in the advertisements of women compared to men and reference specific examples.

4. Identify the one ad that you found most appealing. Analyze why the ad was appealing to you using critical thinking. What did you like about the ad? How did what you like conform to the stereotypes, trends, and images discussed in the textbook?

5. Identify how many ads contradicted gender stereotypes. Explain one ad that contradicted gender stereotypes. What magazine was the ad in? What was the product advertised? How did the ad contradict the stereotype?


Introduction: Connecting Your Learning

Questions to consider:

  • What stereotypes about race and gender are used to sell products? Is there a specific stereotype that is used consistently across media types?
  • Why are older women rarely shown in media?
  • What ads do you find most appealing? Can you identify the techniques that are used to make the ads attractive?
  • How many ads use gender stereotypes to sell a product? Is there any way to counteract the stereotypes?

Mass media (radio, TV, movies, music, and Internet) transmit culture. News presentations are perceived to present information and analysis, while other media are expected to deliver entertainment-oriented materials. However, news often relies on gender stereotypes, but presents information as objective. Consider stories about women and child abuse – women are held to the standards of motherhood (nurturing, caring, and compassionate). Women who deviate from the stereotype of motherhood are demonized in the media and treated as if they have committed a crime against nature, as if all women embody feminine expectations. News is media, and media present a worldview that conforms to the status quo, including the system of patriarchy.


Resources, and Assignments

Required Reading Chapter 13
Multimedia Resources Video:Sexual Stereotypes in the Media

This video is provided to you through the Rio Salado Library.

Required Assignments Short Answer
Sociology Subject Guide: A one-stop shop for all of your sociology related

research needs.

Check Prior Knowledge

Check your prior knowledge of concepts and key terms by playing one of theLesson 10 games.
Term Definition Example
Gender Roles Characteristics that distinguish male/masculinity and female/femininity in relation to social roles of men and women People may treat others differently because of their gender. If a woman is strong, she may be criticized for being emotionally vacant.
Femininity The set of roles, behaviors, and attributes that is associated with females of a culture The Roman Goddess, Venus, embodied the type of femininity that was valued by the Romans.
Masculinity The set of roles, behaviors, and attributes that is associated with males of a culture King Arthur’s masculinity is romanticized for embodying medieval ideals of chivalry and equality.
Misogyny Disdain, hatred, or distrust of women Misogyny can be practiced by women. Self-loathing and body fixations (anorexia, plastic surgery) could be considered misogynistic.
Chick Flicks A slang term that is used to describe films that are created primarily for a female audience. The film Titanicis considered one of the largest-grossing chick flicks that was produced for an American audience.
Stereotype The collective societal belief that people who are members of a particular group or status share certain traits A negative stereotypeis the assumption that all women are emotional, because emotions are not valued in modern society.

Focusing Your Learning Lesson


By the end of this lesson, you

should be able to:

  1. Compare/contrast ideal masculinity and femininity in movies.
  2. Identify sex-stereotyping and gender expectations in media.
  3. Review the nature/nurture debate in relation to movies.

Instruction  Objective:

Compare Sex Stereotyping and Gender Expectations in Media.

Stereotypes vary, but idealized femininity and masculinity are flaunted in media. Gendered body types follow cultural norms. Within the United States, advertising tends to portray women as thin and men as buff. Women’s bodies are objectified and compartmentalized, using ideal body parts instead of the entire woman. Men’s bodies are portrayed as being physically strong, muscular, and powerful. Both genders are usually displayed as highly sexual – although for different objectives. Women are sexualized for the male gaze, but men are sexualized as role models for what men should do or be. Gender roles and the images that are associated with those roles are used to create assumptions about the type of person that the model portrays. (Items related to high SES are used to associate the viewer’s assumptions about high SES to the product, with the intention of making an association between the product and the positive assumptions that are held by the consumer.)

The textbook addresses multiple trends and norms in media. Body type, age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, clothing, physical attractiveness, and socioeconomic status are just a few of the items that are stereotyped. The meanings associated with images are used to support cultural ideologies and reify what is normal and acceptable. Individuals are influenced by the media and internalize images – sometimes unknowingly. By personalizing a random social construction and transforming the arbitrary nature of the construction into something meaningful, an individual propagates an ideology and solidifies the normalcy of the idea. Thus, culture continues to evolve, but it also stays relatively unchanged.

Objective: Identify Race and Age Stereotypes in Media.

Typically, African-American women are portrayed more like white women in ads that sell high-status products, and they are more racialized when they are background objects in highly-sexualized ads. Female models typically have fairer complexions then male models of the same race. Asians are often portrayed against backdrops that highlight global stereotypes of Asian activities, like karate or Asian interior designs. Latinas/Chicanas are also typically set against backdrops that highlight the stereotypes of the culture/region/ethnicity/homeland. Regardless of race, most models are portrayed as having high social class. Rarely is the working class displayed or are images that are associated with lower socio-economics exhibited in advertising.

Older female models are absent from most advertisements. Women are typically portrayed as young and vibrant in ads, demonstrating levels of physical strength for sexy images. Beauty and physical attractiveness are associated with youth. Aging women, as the antithesis to youth, are used for selling a very limited range of products. Older models will often be displayed in relation to household chores, death/health-related activities (e.g. life insurance, burials, vitamins), and grandmotherly activities (motherhood and caregiving revisited). The same stereotypes about aging are not applied to men. Older male models are often used in ads for sexual health (e.g. prescription medication for erectile dysfunction) or as images that are associated with economic/career success (e.g. the wealthy CEO or successful businessman).

Objective: Compare/Contrast Ideal Masculinity and Femininity in Movies.

Two films demonstrate how the typical stereotypes of ideal masculinity and ideal femininity are used in media. Million Dollar Baby, a drama directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Hilary Swank, is the story of a boxing trainer who helps an underdog amateur female boxer achieve her dream of becoming a professional boxer. Fight Club,starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, is a film about a man who is not content with his white-collar job and forms a fight club for men.

Violence and physical strength are typically associated with masculinity; femininity is not associated with violence. Million Dollar Baby portrays a woman within a masculine context – a female boxer contradicts feminine stereotypes. To accommodate an inconsistency between ideology and storyline, the media often rely upon other stereotypes to ensure that cultural values are confirmed. For instance, the idea of femininity remains a dominant feature in movies that include women who engage in violent or aggressive behavior. Even when female characters are strong and independent, physical attractiveness is fundamental. Hilary Swank’s character is presented as an attractive woman who just happens to be a boxer. The representation of her femininity is important for the audience; the audience must be able to identify the character as female in order to relate to her. In contrast, violence in Fight Club is used to heighten Edward Norton/Brad Pitt’s masculinity. The men enjoy the bare-knuckle fighting, reveling in the destructiveness of the activity. The movie doesn’t need to balance the violence with stereotypes of masculinity because violence is a part of masculinity.

In media, a discrepancy between feminine and masculine heroes exits. Traditional male movie heroes include James Bond, Rambo, and Indiana Jones. These types of characters portray idealized masculinity, and they are role models for men’s behavior. Female characters are presented either as wimpettes or brave dames. Wimpettes are presented as weak and rely upon a man for their source of identity; they typically need to be rescued from a situation. Brave dames are resilient and competent; they may stand up to injustice or are true friends, but they are usually highly sexualized. Lara Croft and Xena are two examples of highly-sexualized brave dames. If the brave dame isn’t sexualized, the movie is typically stigmatized as being a chick flick. The chick flick term is a cultural insult and demeans storylines about women. Media reflect the larger culture and can be analyzed to determine what the actual ideology of a society truly is.

As profit-making enterprises, media avoid potential conflict. To limit the potential of offending viewers, the media depict information that reifies the culture. Sitcoms are often set in one-parent households to reinforce marital relationships that conform to cultural norms of heterosexual monogamy. The media tend to underrepresent groups such as women, people of color, and older people. Stereotyped representations dominate media.

The legal system is geared toward laws that protect individuals who conform to gender expectations. The portrayal of masculinity/male identity and femininity/female identity is taken as a stable construct of gender. The instabilities of gender are ignored by the law, education, athletics, and military institutions. Hegemonic masculinity is a dominant force in the construction of laws, rules, and processes. However, the lives of actual men and women are often contrary to the standard characteristics of hegemonic masculinity. Aggressiveness, strength, drive, ambition, and self-reliance are all masculine characteristics used as the foundation for institutional constructions. The norm of masculinity is assumed to be the starting point against which everything else is compared. Being cognizant of gender stereotypes, roles, norms, and values is especially important when considering how gender is regulated in a society.

Your own perceptions of gender, age, race, and class are a result of intersecting experiences. You make sense of the world based upon what you know. Sometimes, people are not even aware of what they believe. Take an implicit association test and see if you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know!

Harvard Implicit Association

The results of the test are not right or wrong: the test merely highlights your own perception of the world. A person’s position in race, class, and gender affects people’s ideas about life and interests. Women with access to prestige and power will have some protection from the general disadvantages of a sexist society. Men without access to power lack the general perks of male privilege. Thus, to say that all women and men have similar experiences is untrue. Socialization does not produce hardwired people. Life is a process, not a product, and socialization is part of lifelong learning. Who you are today may change a lot or a little, depending upon where you are in the stratification of society, what opportunities are available, and what rewards and punishments you receive. Thus, in considering or judging life, one must understand how variables influence each other. Nothing exists in a vacuum – the very act of interacting with others in society affects you.

Summarizing Your Learning

The activity in this section is designed to help you evaluate your learning of the lesson objectives. However, you are not required to submit the answers to your instructor.

Prior beliefs about life affect the impact that media has on a person. When a viewer’s experiences contradict media content, the viewer is more likely to be critical of the content. When a viewer’s experiences are consistent with media, the media content reinforces the preexisting views.

Think about three movies that you like and three movies that you don’t like.

  1. What do you like specifically about the movies? Do you identify with a particular character? Do you like the storyline?
  2. What do you dislike specifically about the movies? Do you assign a label to the movie? Were you expecting something different about the movie?
  3. How does the movie that you like reflect your beliefs about the world? Can you identify with something particular?

Media influence people by what is not shown. The absence of alternative representations makes people think that the world operates in a specific pattern, with specific stereotypes affirmed as normal. Even when consumers communicate a desire for more realistic portrayals, media often ignores requests or justifies the refusal to change. Being aware of what is being presented and what is absent allows people to become more objective and understanding of differences. Instead of merely being entertained, one can engage in critical thinking and determine exactly what he/she wants to believe in.

Assessing Your Learning

Submit your assignment for grading.

For this assignment, compare and contrast the advertising content of three magazines. Choose one magazine that was published within the last year from each of the three categories: A, B, and C.

A: Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News and World Report

B: Cosmopolitan, Elle, or Vogue

C: Maxim, Sports Illustrated, or GQ

Flip through the magazines and compare the types of ads for 1) personal accessories, 2) food, 3) beverages, 4) clothing, and 5) physical bodies. Then, answer the questions detailed within the link below.


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