For over a hundred years, Westerns and documentaries have shaped the public’s perception of Native people. The wise elder (Little Big Man); the drunk (Tom Sawyer); the Indian princess (Pocahontas); the loyal sidekick (Tonto)—these images have become engrained in the consciousness of every North American.
In 1999, the research group Children Now asked boys between the ages of 10 and 17 about their perceptions of the male characters they saw on television, in music videos and in movies.
The pressure put on women through ads, television, film and new media to be sexually attractive—and sexually active—is profound. While this is nothing new, research has found that women’s representation in popular media has steadily become more and more sexualized over the last forty years.
They have ads of how you should dress and what you should look like and this and that, and then they say, ‘but respect people for what they choose to be like.’ Okay, so which do we do first?”
Kelsey, 16, quoted in Girl Talk
Since the 1960s, feminists have argued that “it matters who makes it.” When it comes to the mass media, “who makes it” continues to be men.
This section addresses the representation of men and masculinity in the media. It covers topics such as media stereotypes of masculinity, how children see masculinity portrayed in media, how various media contribute to stereotypes of masculinity, and male authority in media news coverage, and it addresses the role that the media play in shaping attitudes about masculinity.
Although many concerns remain about how women are represented in media, there are signs that things are changing. Roles for women on television, in particular, have become much more varied and complex in the last decade, ranging from tough and take-charge characters such as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica and Detective Kate Beckett on Castle to more realistic, but still powerful characters such as Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope.
Here stands the spring whom you have stain’d with mud,
This goodly summer with your winter mix’d.
You kill’d her husband, and for that vile fault
Two of her brothers were condemn’d to death,
My hand cut off and made a merry jest;
Both her sweet hands, her tongue, and that more dear
Than hands or tongue, her spotless chastity,
Inhuman traitors, you constrain’d and forced.
Titus Andronicus, Act 5, Sc. II.
We all know the stereotypes—the femme fatale, the supermom, the sex kitten, the nasty corporate climber. Whatever the role, television, film and popular magazines are full of images of women and girls who are typically white, desperately thin, and made up to the hilt—even after slaying a gang of vampires or dressing down a Greek phalanx.
Families, friends, teachers, and community leaders all play a role in helping boys define what it means to be a man. Mainstream media representations also play a role in reinforcing ideas about what it means to be a “real” man in our society. In most media portrayals, male characters are rewarded for self-control and the control of others, aggression and violence, financial independence, and physical desirability.