The omnipresence of sex in the media cannot be denied, and its influence on people should not be underestimated. It has become a primary source of information about sexual issues for the young generation; it teaches them how to be men and women, how to behave, dress, and look in society, as well as how to conform to the dominant system of norms, values, and practices. It is a well-known fact that sexual messages can have a negative impact on the minds of young people. Currently, sexism in the media is on the rise, and its negative influence on society, especially on adolescents and young women, is growing.
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Towards Sexism in the Media
The discussion of sexuality and relationship between sexes is as old as the world itself. Since modern society is consumer-centered, the mass media has saturated people’s lives and has become the main source of nearly all types of information and entertainment. Nowadays, it manifests an unhealthy tendency to portray females as visually appealing sexual objects, who are weak, unable to play sports, and are uninterested in masculine activities. Women are typically under-represented; their incompetence is emphasized, and a striking contrast with the men’s authority is emphasized. The media tends to show the audience stereotypical portrayal of females and males, represent the first as victims and the last as aggressors. Moreover, it justifies violence against women. According to Baxter and Cosslett, The media pathologises human body, which in turn leads to spreading of depression, anxiety, binging, and anorexia in society. Such practices of the media lead to dramatic drop in female self-esteem and shatter self-worth and self-image of every young woman (123-125).
Sexism is generally considered an attitude and behavior that is based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles. It is a special type of discrimination and devaluation that is based on one’s sex. Sexism can refer to three various beliefs and attitudes. Firstly, it is connected to the idea of the superiority of one sex over another. Secondly, it is associated with the belief that men and women are different and this idea should be reflected in the life of the society, the language, and the right to have sex. Finally, it is often attributed to the hatred between women and men (Backe 45).
Sexist attitudes and behaviors have saturated TV shows, movies, reality TV, beauty pageants, and celebrity news programs. Disney films deserve special attention in this respect. Teen and fashion magazines can neither be considered free from gender-biased trends. Finally, another powerful media that demonstrates sexist attitudes and tendencies is the music video sector.
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Sexism in the Hollywood
Hollywood remains an industry with a deeply ingrained sexist attitude to women. Whenever a reporter is interviewing a female celebrity on the red carpet before the Academy Awards or the Golden Globe ceremonies, they are asked specific types of questions. For instance, often, they have to name the brand of the dress and the reason for such choice (Buni and Chemaly 16). While male celebrities are asked existential and serious questions, women are still supposed to talk about the clothes instead of the art that they create on the stage or in movies. Reporters are still speaking in code about the gender. They still resort to the Cinderella story whenever a beautiful woman gets married to a well-known actor. During one of the red-carpet interviews, a reporter decided to check calculus abilities of one of the actresses from The Big Bang Theory TV show (Thoms). Awkwardly enough, it turned out that she had a degree in sciences, so the response was rather obvious. Such sexist remarks still exist in the media because of misinterpreted characteristics that are typically attributed to women in the society. Some of the tritest and corny examples include the female preference for the pink color.
There are many actresses, who become objects of the gender-biased criticism in the media. The world beloved actress, Jennifer Aniston, is constantly suffering from the pervasive attention to her childlessness. Various magazines are repeatedly showing her photos with presumably baby bump that is circled and pointed with an arrow (Thoms). The absence of a child makes her love story incomplete for the media since every woman is expected to make use of her ability to give birth.
Women in Hollywood are also relentlessly judged on their appearance. Angelina Jolie’s breasts were a big sensation in 2014 when she had to go through the double mastectomy (Leavy). The media has given a lot of redundant attention to her new post-surgery breasts and even remarked that the actress was ‘showing off.’ The fact that it was a necessary health-related body intervention was overlooked, and everything revolved around the ‘new boobs of Angelina Jolie.’ Another public figure that received a lot of public attention in the media was Caitlyn Jenner, who underwent a transformative surgery in order to become a woman in 2015 (Jackson). Overnight, this person became a sensation even though thousands of people were undergoing similar changes every day in the world but remained unknown. Renee Zellweger has been a center of the media attention after her first post-face lifting appearance. The public was outraged by the change in her appearance and could not simply get over the fact that aging touched every person, and some people choose to hide their wrinkles and other signs of the skin deterioration (Smith). Finally, Jennifer Lawrence has also been in the center of the media attention because of her nude photos that leaked to the Internet. The fact that thousands of women suffer the same problem every year remained ignored until a famous actress became another victim. What is even more outrageous is the fact that the event was reported not as a sex crime but as merely a sex scandal (Smith).
Sexism in TV shows
TV shows make thousands of young people glued to TV screens; therefore, the sexism present in them has a strong influence on mindsets of the new generation. Many of such daytime TV programs are gender-biased against women. For example, women characters in the Modern Family are not written as perfectly as their male counterparts are. Up to the fifth season, neither of the female characters had jobs (Baxter and Cosslett 98). How I Met Your Mother has another example of sexism. One of the main characters, Barney Stinson, is constantly shown as a man who lies to women in order to spend the night with them. Such disgusting attitude to women is not new; previously, it was used by the character of Joey from Friends. Another example of the gender bias in this TV show is related to the female character of Robin. During 9 seasons, she is trying to make peace with the fact that she does not want to have children and she cannot have them due to biological reasons. Nevertheless, at the end of the TV show, she is on her way to adopting the two children of widower Ted not even being asked whether she wants such a future or not (Backe 12). The Big Bang Theory is also full of sexism. Two main female characters in the show are good looking but stupid Penny and smart but unattractive Amy; both are ridiculed either for the stupidity or unattractiveness. The Bachelor is a TV show that is well-known virtually in every country of the world. According to the scenario, 26 women compete for the heart of one man. In fact, the show emphasizes the idea that males are the ones, who choose females and not vice versa. The Game of Thrones is one of the most infamous for its treatment of women shows. This TV series shows female characters being raped and not enjoying sex in almost every episode. Also, many TV shows usually overemphasize the changes in the woman’s mood during menstruation and PMS. In The New Girl, the main character is even unable to go through the job interview because of her mood swings and irritability during these ‘lady days.’ In such a manner, the media communicates an idea that females cannot function rationally because of their ‘lady parts’ (Douglas 12). Having a child is one of the most necessary checkboxes in the development of virtually every female character in TV shows. More important than this goal is only marriage, which usually is the most expected event of every TV show.
Sexism in Movies
Another field of concern is the presence of gender stereotyping and gender bias in movies. For example, in the film Gigli, the main character of Ben Affleck is capable of turning a lesbian into a straight woman (Ridout 55). In the movie Grease, the main female character, Sandy, is desperately changing her appearance, attitude, and even starts smoking because of the main male character, Denny (Ridout 44). In one of the most recent films, the Suicide Squad, the female villain Harley Quinn is depicted as a ‘hot chic’ that wears excessively short shorts, plays with her hair and chews gum in a sexy way. Disney movies still are the amplest manifestation of sexism (Ridout 198). They usually misrepresent and sexualize female characters, as well as glamorize violence and abuse against women. Disney movies are typically reinforcing the outdated and harmful gender stereotypes for both men and women and create two separate gender images by highlighting a specific aspect of either the femininity or masculinity. Most of them revolve around a heterosexual relationship between the main male and female characters. In many films, most female characters have traditional domestic roles.
Disney distorts reality regarding the woman’s body shape. Real women are not shaped like it shows. No one has that perfect hour glass shape and flawless skin. The women are all cut from the same pattern, and the only physical difference they possess is the hair color. Disney movies glorify one body type in men among others: massive arms, impressive chest, and muscular legs. Characters with other body types are usually weak and subservient outcasts. Gaston in the Beauty and the Beast is a typical example of a male character in the Disney world. His masculinity is primarily defined by his physical power and strength. The masculinity of violence and dominance is welcome, as well. The unwillingness to fight or prove dominance is pitiable and undignified (Ridout 66). As a rule, the climactic scene in Disney films is a battle between two men. It usually serves a purpose of maintaining pride and status and winning a woman. Very often Disney movies send a message that women are subservient to men and are primarily a source of pleasure for males (Ridout 123).
Disney movies left a legacy of sexism. According to Ridout, ‘They perpetuate sexist stereotypes in regard to body image, female roles, and interactions with men. Snow White’s body shape continues to be the norm for the princess franchise. Princesses embody the ideal women: flowing hair, large eyes, perfectly symmetrical faces, ample bust, non-existent waist, shapely hips, long legs. Is this appropriate in the society plagued by weight disorder?’ (76) It is not only about the body shape but also about the overall appearance of princesses. The qualities of beauty are paramount. In Sleeping Beauty, the first gift that Aurora receives from the fairy is a beauty. In Beauty and the Beast, although being acknowledged as beautiful, Belle is also labeled as a peculiar girl because her head is always stuck in the book. Inline, Snow White is forced into a life of servitude, although she remains beautiful. Unattainable beauty and body shapes send girls false perceptions. Disney princesses do not have flaws, unlike real people. They are the epitome of perfection (Ridout 67).
Sexism in Magazines
Home-making magazines were probably the first notoriously sexist print media available in the world. At the times when they first appeared, a woman was indeed a synonym to a wife (Douglas 56). The function of such magazines was primarily to teach females to be perfect. The audience of housebound women of those times was concerned about tasty cooking and effective cleaning; however, nowadays, sexism in magazines has shifted from the sphere of being-a-wife to the beauty idolization. Worries about the household dirt transformed into anxieties about the physical appearance (Obordo). There are some fashion magazines that focus exclusively on the provision of self-improvement tips, beauty advice, and ways to win over or satisfy a man. Examples of such printed media are Vogue, which focuses on the fashion and makeup, Cosmopolitan, which focuses on sexuality and relationships with men, and Self, which focuses on the self-improvement (Chemaly).
One of the most concerning sexist things in the modern magazines is the fact that models depicted on covers are undergoing a lot of digital retouching. The computer software removes all unwanted imperfections and defects in order to make a female look perfect. Such a procedure definitely sends a negative message to women since it presents false and non-existent beauty standards.
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Sexism in Music Videos
Music has an extraordinarily strong influence on young individuals. Very often, the images that are shown in music videos of performers and the lyrics that accompany them are degrading women and show disrespect towards certain aspects of the female beauty. The sexism that is extensively present in video clips has a negative impact on people’s perception of women. ‘Anaconda’ by Nicki Minaj deserves special attention in this respect. The video clip is saturated with images of curvy bodies of women, who are twerking with big bottoms. Such hyper-sexualized images of the female body are aimed at causing arousal in heterosexual men and visualizing their secret sexual fantasies (‘Nicki Minaj – Anaconda’). Booty shaking in the clip is extremely pornographic; it reinforces the sexual objectification of women in the eyes of men (Mahdawi). Provocative women with the little outfit are promoting the idea that females have to possess a body that turns men on. Such videos are lowering the self-esteem of women and promote a negative image of the sex-centered beauty. Meghan Trainor’s music video, ‘All about That Bass’ celebrates fuller female figure and, in this way, promotes a positive image of a diverse female beauty (‘Meghan Trainor – All about That Bass’). It emphasizes the fact that there is no such thing as the universal allure and attraction; on the contrary, there is some charm and adorableness in all body types (Edwards).
Music video ‘Milkshake’ by Fergie is another example that uses the idea of the perfect female body, thus, promotes sexism. It shows sexy mothers dressed in the 60s outfits, who are dancing and pouring milk over themselves (‘Fergie ‘M.I.L.F. $’). The idea that the video is presumably promoting is the sexy motherhood; also, it emphasizes the balance between the career, family life, and care for oneself. The clip aims at eliminating the breastfeeding stigma and raises the question of spreading the misogyny. Even though Fergie had best female interests at heart while working on the video, it is still difficult to digest this music product. Instead of attracting attention to the fact that woman remains a woman even after giving birth, she dragged audience to the screens by showing sexy curves and half-naked bodies of beautiful female models. ‘Milkshake’ by Fergie used the MILF imagery that is adored so much by men; in this way, it reinforced the idea of the perfect body image yet again.
Some people may argue that sexism in the media does not have a negative impact on the society because every individual is aware of its presence, thus, cannot be fooled by false gender biased ideas that it communicates. What is often overlooked and forgotten is the fact that as a rule, victims of sexism in the media are young people, who are not so keen on detecting the subtle sexism that is hidden in a TV show’s narrative, glossy magazine cover, or music video content. Fat shaming and bullying of chubby girls at school stem from the fact that the majority of daytime TV shows and movies that adolescents see have slim and impeccably beautiful young ladies playing the leading part. Typical examples include Vampire Diaries, The Big Bang Theory, and Pretty Little Liars. Moreover, the effect of sexism cannot be detected immediately after the exposure to it since it takes time for it to penetrate into the minds of unsuspecting individuals. Children are exposed to fairytale scenarios of Cinderella, Snow White, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Mermaid in the early childhood. At the level of subconsciousness, girls start dreaming and expecting the same events to happen in their lives. The only thing that they think is required of them is being thin and pretty just like all princesses. When they grow up, they continue being dependent on false ideals of beauty that are imposed by fairytales and strive at being perfect women and wives, perform all household chores, and behave in a complacent way.
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To conclude, the harmful and degrading effect that sexism in the media has on human minds should not be underestimated. Hollywood actresses, which are criticized for not becoming mothers or becoming less beautiful due to aging, are merely a small part of gender bias and sexist stereotypes that are imposed by individuals responsible for the creation of media content. Another outrageous source of sexist patterns in the media is the Disney movie industry. It teaches young generations of girls to look beautiful always, be good wives and mothers, and behave in a way that would please men. In such a way, this part of the media contributes to shaping a generation of women, who consider being a beautiful housewife the pinnacle of their existence. Music videos and magazines also play a significant role in promoting sexism in society. They often expose naked or half-nude bodies of women, who are flawless and impeccable in all respects. In such a way, video clips and magazines cause the development of psychological problems in adolescents because they are trying to attain these examples of beauty with few results.