No one would deny that the mass media is big business. According to the American Motion Picture Association, Hollywood films alone pulled in $10 billion in 2011, and that doesn’t include the renting and selling of DVDs. [1] However, media executives argue that the economics of the industry make it impossible to avoid stereotypes of women.

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.

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.

The video game sector is the fastest growing entertainment industry and second only to music in profitability. Global sales of video game software hit almost $17 billion U.S. in 2011. [1]

What colour is an Airbender? If this question is not at the top of your mind, it’s because you haven’t been following the controversy surrounding the casting of the film The Last Airbender, set to premiere in early July. The question of ethnicity in the film’s casting casts a valuable light on many of Hollywood’s decisions when it comes to race and gender – and the attitudes and assumptions that underlie them.

Pages