Subliminal Messages of the Media

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Gender is not something we are born with but instead something we learn or are thought. Gender is a concept that describes how individuals understand their identities due to social norms,attitudes and expectations that society deems appropriate for one sex over another. The social construction of gender is defined as either female or male and these two genders are kept separated. The media plays an important role in creating social norms through various forms including advertisements, television, and movies , we are exposed to these norms in our every day life. It works as a manipulative tool that insinuates messages into our consciousness most of the time. For example, girls and women are expected to dress in feminine ways and be polite, delicate, sensitive, accommodating and nurturing. Men in the other hand are often depicted as strong, aggressive, and fearless. Gender roles exist only because society chooses to accept them but the media is the implement of such ideas. Since we are exposed to various forms of media, we become aware of what is perceived to be societal norms and we adapt such norms as “normal”. Society is then influenced by media messages and associates certain behaviors with a specific gender. This is especially harmful to children because they are not able to fully comprehend and distinguish advertising so they become more vulnerable to the persuasive appeals. This is when media literacy can serve as an effective tool to help young audience fight against gender stereotypes.

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These differences between girls and boys and women and men that are not natural and have been constructed by society as something that is always present in our lives whether we are mindful of it or not. Men can’t cry and women should not be dirty. These are gender stereotypes that are commonly expressed in our society. According to West and Zimmerman, “many roles are already gender marked” and have been “seen as natural, while it is being produced as a socially organized achievement.” (1987) The media creates perspectives used to categorize gender roles and we come to believe that gender is something we are rather than something that has been socially constructed. We are constantly bombarded by messages that reflect society’s expectations of gender. By assigning certain roles to each gender, gender expectations have created a division, making men and women completely different from one another which contributes to gender inequality. (Zinn, Hondagneu-Sotelo & Messner 2001) Portrayals of men and women in the media are not equal but instead they conform and insist on implementing gender in very traditional ways. However, according to Shields in her article, “Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective”, it is important to understand that “identities are fluid and can change over time” and some identity categories can vary as to whom it may apply as there are no specific categories attached to each gender. (2008)

A clear example of how gender is constructed in the media is expressed in the music video, “Stupid Girls” by Pink. The purpose of the song is to encourage young girls to not let themselves be influenced by what they see in the media instead they should focus on their own ambitions and goals. In general, the powerful message is that young girls should not conform to the expectations of society and they should not view the media as an example of how they should live their lives. Some of the lifestyles and values that are depicted are self respect and empowerment; she implies that young girls should not follow the stigma that women are sex objects instead they should try to change it by acting and being themselves. The video also emphasizes that the media supports sexist ideologies because they sexualize women and do not highlight their abilities. The idea that women are not capable to perform tasks that are meant for men is highly criticized in the video. Pink critiques male privilege in her lines, “What happened to the dream of a girl president? She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent.” (Pink 2006) By this she is stating that women are presented as product users rather than authority. Zinn, Hondagneu-Sotelo and Messner illustrate this point by stating that many people resist the idea that “women face barriers such as glass ceiling that prevents them from competing equally with men for high status positions and high salaries” because it varies when “refracted through the prism of sexual,racial/ethnic,social class…” but it still remains true. (2001) Pink uses the words, “Stupid Girls” to demonstrate that girls are becoming famous for reasons that are not important in society instead she believes there should be more independent and intelligent women who are famous. Although both, women and men, are represented in the media, they are not being presented in the same way. By this I mean that, men are more likely to appear in roles of high level positions while women are often underrepresented.

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