Although many concerns remain about how gender 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 Eve in Killing Eve and Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, to more realistic, but still powerful characters such as Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, while a growing number of movies and TV shows are questioning narrow definitions of masculinity.
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.
No one would deny that the mass media is big business. According to the American Motion Picture Association, the Hollywood box office alone pulled in $41.1 billion USD in 2018 and that doesn’t include home entertainment services.[i] Media executives argue that the economics of the industry make it impossible to avoid stereotypes of women, but the numbers show that isn’t true.
The pressure put on teens through ads, television, film and new media to be sexually attractive—and sexually active—is profound. Not only that, but media representations of relationships often teach unhealthy lessons.
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 leaping tall buildings or thwarting a gang of terrorists.