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.
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.
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.
Various media analysts and researchers argue that media portrayals of male characters fall within a range of stereotypes.
Broadcasting Act: Canada’s Broadcasting Act, last amended in 1991, outlines industry guidelines for portrayal of diversity.
Canada is a diverse and multicultural nation, but a major criticism that can be leveled at Canadian media’s treatment of religion is that it does not reflect this diversity. Lack of representation is, for some religions, as considerable an issue as misrepresentation is for others. Media recognition of Canada’s ‘religious mosaic’ and increased coverage of underrepresented religions is the first step towards accurate media portrayal.
How things have changed in thirty years: more than ever before, queer people have a media presence. No longer relegated to the realms of innuendo and secrecy, we now see lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people represented on television and in mainstream film. Queer people see their reflections on screen in a largely positive light: stable, employed, charming, attractive, well-liked, and successful. And yet, there remain many challenges. The following sections will examine how media produces and legitimizes or delegitimizes queer sexualities, as well as how queer media differs from its heterosexual counterpart. To begin, though, it is worthwhile to examine the trajectory of queer media criticism over the past thirty years.