Compare and Constrast Essay on Women

This essay has a total of 4712 words and 20 pages.


Women in Media

In the comic strip "Cathy" by Cathy Guisewite, readers follow the antics of a "normal"
American woman of the 90's. Cathy is single, works as a secretary, and is portrayed as
unhappy. Her dating experience can be characterized by endless searching for the ideal
man, settling for someone because she believes him to be the best she can do, and going
through a breakup process that is initiated by the male. This is followed by Cathy
rationalizing the situation, and more likely than not, an eating binge. This is just one
of the various media that send a negative message to women. Women are told by the media to
be submissive, passive, beautiful, happy, and weak. Television, magazines, and movies
either portrays women as the beautiful damsel in distress who needs rescuing or the
gorgeous sexual object of which males take advantage. The message is clear and it is
going out to women of all ages, "If you do not fit into the stereotype; you simply do not
fit in."

This goal of "goddess" is unreachable by the majority of women. When constantly told they
are not good enough, sexy enough, or perfect enough; women's levels of self-esteem decline
rapidly. This lack of self-esteem usually includes low confidence levels, dissatisfaction
with physical and emotional self, and transitively, the idea that they could not possibly
be desirable sexually. The media, through advertising, movies, news coverage, music
television, and magazines, perpetuates the stereotypes and define how men and women view
the sexuality of women.

In order to understand the effects of the media on women's sexuality, it must be
established that self esteem and identity development is implicit factors. According to a
study, identity development has a critical component in sexuality states that society has
a very influential effect on sexuality, in that there are acceptable standards of feelings
and expression for women. She thinks that society encourages stereotypes. In her
experiment, she used a group interview format with ten women. Her questions were about
knowledge and feelings these women had about sex and their own personal sexuality as well
as how they got these ideals. She called the media "a subtle but pervasive source of
influence on the women's experience of their sexuality. The images portrayed by all kinds
of media yet unrealistic standards of beauty and behavior, from how on! He should look and
dress to telling women they should hide their normal bodily functions, such as
menstruation. Women see these images as a reflection of what society expects. When they
can not meet these standards, they suffer emotionally with feelings of shame and not
normal. These responses should be expected when society is constantly exploiting
unattainable goals as the ideal. There are some difficulties with this study. The women
were recruited by word of mouth, meaning that everyone in the group knew at least one
other person. Additionally, the tapes of the experiment were transcribed by two female
researchers, one of which was a participant in the discussion. The fact that both of the
transcribers were female could have resulted in gender bias, and because one of the
transcribers was involved with the original discussion, personal participation could have
influenced the results. Regardless of the possible problems with interpretations, the
feelings on the media's effects expressed by these women remain valid. The media tells
women how society wants them to look, act, and feel. If they cannot reach these high
standards, feelings of inadequacy and low self worth are inevitable.

One example of a medium that has great influence is advertisements. It is well
established in our society that sex sells. Women, in the majority of cases, are utilized
as a device to market merchandise. It is not this method of sales that is the problem, but
rather how these women are portrayed. Print ads, commercials, and billboards use
unrealistic and stereotypical representations to sell their products. Advertisers exploit
the "female" stereotypes to make their products seem more appealing.

Research has explored the portrayal of women in health and fitness advertisements.
Researchers analyzed fitness magazines targeted at both males and females who are fitness
professionals as well as people not involved in the fitness trade. They used eight
categories in their analysis of the advertisements; posture, placement, behavior, body
type, dismemberment of body parts, cosmetics and attire, emotional display, and product
recognition. Posture was the neutrality or natural stature of the spine. Placement
represented the passive or dominant placement of men and women photographed together.
Behavior was classified as either passive or active. Body type was defined by shape and
physical fitness. Dismemberment was the focusing on certain body parts. Cosmetics and
attire were rated on the appropriateness in the use of cosmetics and functionality of the
clothing for the pictured activity. Emotional display applied to the individual's visage
having a sexual connotation. Finally, product recognition referred to the recognizably of
the product being sold in the representation. The results were no surprise, advertisements
had large proportions of sexually exploitative contents. Women were shown as being passive
or submissive, in unnatural positions, emphasized in certain body parts, facial
expressions with sexual connotations, with inappropriate use of cosmetics.

These magazines, that are supposed to be selling products of physical improvement, are
selling the sexual image of women. The effects of these kinds of advertisements could be
two-fold. They could inspire men to think that by purchasing the product, they will
attract women similar to those portrayed, or they could also influence women by
representing unrealistic and many times frustrating goals. Advertisers engage social
standards of what people want to be attractive, sexy, and desirable. By using these
stereotypes, advertisers perpetuate unrealistic images of women's sexuality.

There is one factor that was not taken into consideration that would have a bearing on the
results of this study. In order to truly comprehend the results, a comparison of men in
advertisements should have been done. It is possible that fitness magazines depict both
men and women in the same manner. This could lead to the conclusion that fitness
magazines use all people in a sexual manner to sell products. A further study should be
done on different types of magazines, analyzing the representations of both men and women.

Advertisements are only one of the many printed influences in the media. A study was done
on the content of contemporary teen magazines. Their objective was to identify the
messages, in both advertisements and feature articles in the magazines read by the
teenagers. Results indicated that over 35% of the articles were focused on fashion. The
next frequent articles were feature articles, articles about beauty care and
entertainment, and then continuing articles. The feature articles were then analyzed for
theme, and consistently interpersonal relationships were the most frequent topic. Within
this topic, there were conflicting articles of advice on sex, such as "Virgins are Cool"
verses "Losing Your Virginity," found in the same magazine. There was very little if any
information on politics or voting, social issues, or international affairs. These topics
are going to affect the lives of young women in the future, but there are doubts that
these topics will sell magazines better than "How to Talk Him Out of Talking You into
Sex," found in Sassy magazine. Another aspect that should be taken into consideration is
that the majority of women pictured are attractive, thin, and white. There are very few
multicultural advertisements or articles. The idea that these representational stereotypes
are what is "cool" or "in" forms an impossible goal for multicultural women (#3
Advertisers Target Women but Market Remains Elusive).

The messages these magazines are sending to young females, who are the overwhelming
majority of readers, are unclear. One interesting observation research found on female
sexuality as addressed in these magazines is that there was only one article about
homosexuality. Whether we are encouraging young women towards exploration of their
sexuality or asking them to conform to expectations needs further research. Additionally,
research should be done on just how much these articles affect young women, and how much
of what is printed is believed and applied to their lives.

Another type of print media that might have an impact on women's sexuality is pornography.
An article by Sari Thomas (1986) explores the idea that pornography sets up levels of
desired attainment for men and therefore aspirations for women. Thomas examined nine major
erotica magazines and found that each magazine "allows the power-core of our society
(white males) to exploit the idealized standard in order to keep (women) in line,"
(Thomas, 1986, p. 111). Men read these magazines and acquire a stereotypical extreme of
beauty as an ideal of how women in their lives should aspire to be. These unreachable
goals are the epitome of the sexual stereotypes established and maintained by society and
the media.

Magazines and advertisements are not the only methods through which women are socialized
to adhere to stereotypes. Television and film both take advantage of the standard
stereotypes with the knowledge that "sex sells". These forms of media are especially
powerful in that they reach large numbers of people, and in some cases, are the strongest
socialization tools available.

Female characters are often portrayed as victims of sexual violence. Sexual abuse is
depicted as the problem of an individual. In the film Sleeping With the Enemy, a woman who
is the victim of abuse escapes from her husband and falls in love with another man. At the
end of the tale, the husband locates her and she is driven to the point where killing him
is the only option. By representing women as being isolated in their efforts to combat
abuse, Hollywood preserves that belief in society.

When women are fighting every day to be able to express their sexuality, this kind of
degradation is a brick wall in our path. Another example of the difficulties is the basis
for the movie, The Burning Bed. The original news story was about how a woman chose to
defend herself from constant physical and sexual abuse, by burning the bed in which her
husband slept. Making this information the focus of all of the news coverage, neglected to
show how and why she was pushed to this point and how.

Very little research has been done on the direct effects of this kind of media coverage.
It is apparent, however, that the media directs attention to women as either the victim
who is unable to help herself or the heroine who fights alone against men who abuse.
Through these stories, women are socialized to believe that sexual abuse is a personal
problem that they must face alone. Additionally, women are taught that their sexuality is
secondary in importance to that of their male counterparts.

There is one other kind of television that has been quickly becoming a major socialization
tool, especially in the lives of adolescents in our society. Music television is becoming
increasingly popular. These graphic music videos and songs are blasted into the minds of
our youth. Historically, these videos have perpetuated the stereotypes of male dominance
and female powerlessness. A study investigated how these images of gender and sexuality
were interpreted by audiences. The procedure involved showing a Michael Jackson video to
young men and women and asking them about the images in the video. The video portrayed a
"cat and mouse" game between a man and a woman on a dark street. In the end she runs to
him for protection from a gang. Research subjects were asked questions were about how
individuals were seen, how a viewer would describe these characters, and if the video
reminded them of something in their personal lives. The results are fascinating, in that
there is a large gender difference in how men and women perceive female characters, but no
difference in perception of male characters.

The female image, as seen in the video, is interpreted differently by the different
genders. Women are more inclined to see the woman as vulnerable or in a negative
situation. Men are more prone to define the woman's actions by saying that she is "a tease
or playing hard-to-get". Men find it easier to apply the image of the female character to
their personal life; they saw wives, past relationships, and present girlfriends in the
same situation as the character. Women compared the situation to stalking or
uncomfortable attention they had received in the past. Where women were more likely to
see danger in a situation, men viewed the circumstances as a game. These results do lead
to one interesting conclusion. Men and women construct very different meanings of the
female image; men see teasing or submissive and women see powerful or vulnerable. We
already know that men and women see the female image in distinct ways, but these! results
show a "cultural expectation that women can and should use their sexuality to gain control
over men and relationships".

The results can be interpreted, but no causal effect can be established. There is no way
of knowing if the ideals of the group interviewed were influenced by the video, or their
interpretation of the video was swayed by previously held beliefs.

Like any other experiment, this one too has it's problems. One example is the fact that
experimenters can never truly know exactly how a young adult interprets a visual image.
Another difficulty was the entire video focuses on heterosexuality, dismissing the
possibility for other lifestyle choices having dissimilar reactions to situations. There
is also a lack of social class and racial variation in the sample group of this study.
Finally, the video itself was very popular at the time, so there was no control as to how
often the sample had viewed it prior to the experiment. Despite the uncertainty of these
variables, the results are still valid. Whether these videos define or maintain views,
they do perpetuate the stereotype of women's sexuality and how it is seen by others.

Another study, analyzed forty MTV (Music TeleVision) Videos for gender role content (#4 In
Surveying the Battle of the Sexes). They focused on dominance/subservience, implicit
aggression, explicit aggression, aggression with sexuality, objectification, implicit
sexuality, and explicit sexuality. The most frequent behaviors were implicit sexuality
(themes of sexual attraction), objectification (camera focus on specific body part),
dominance (one person clearly dominant over the other), and implicit aggression (themes of
aggressiveness). Again the results were similar to the other study, females were more
likely to engage in sexual or submissive behavior. In most cases, males were the actors
and females were the recipients of their actions. Simply in terms of numbers, males
appeared twice as much as females, and were more aggressive than the females. In fact that
all four raters were in the same socio-economic level, age, and college major. Regardless
of biases and other factors, this study came to one very interesting conclusion, "The most
salient MTV (music television) message is, whether you are male or female, act sexual
This study shows that although men and women are both sexual beings, women are represented
as the objects of men's desires. Women are socialized to be submissive, sexy, and weak.
This, once again, perpetuates the stereotypes of women's sexuality in the media.

The question that is raised how much of this information is getting to women in our
society, and how is it really affecting them. Research has been done on adolescents and
television viewing. It has been said that adolescents spend an average of twenty two hours
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