Mind Control

Gender in the media is something that has been prevalent since mass media was introduced to our society. Gender norms and expectations have always been around, however, they have not always been shoved in our faces every day. In our modern-day society, the media’s influence on gender norms and expectations has become a staple to our culture.  Every man is supposed to be big and bad without emotions, and every woman is supposed to be sexy and have a thigh gap. Although this is not true, this is how the media makes us think about who we are as men or women. The media now has become so powerful that it is able to determine what we see as important, as well as how we imagine a man or woman should act and look like…whether we want to believe it or not.

What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal begins with the amount of exposure the average American is subject to and the influence that this frequency has on our views as the audience.

Television has become a staple to our nation’s society and culture.

In, “Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture,“Julia Wood offers up some excellent food for thought:

  • 98.9% of homes in the United States have at least one television.
  • The average American household has MORE televisions than residents with 3.3 televisions and less than three residents.
  • Among these television sets, at least one of them is turned on for eight hours and twenty-one minutes everyday.
  • The average American spends fifty-three hours a week engaged with some type of media.

Advertising

Advertising has become quite possibly the most effective tool that is used by media practitioners to reinforce our society’s traditional gender images or expectations. Also outlined by Wood, were some reasons as to why advertisements are more influential on our views about gender than television shows or movies:

  • Advertisements are repeated so frequently through media outlets that we are constantly being exposed to them.
  • Most advertisements focus on the visual element rather than the verbal element, because we are less likely to be critical of visuals.
  • We think that they don’t work, yet they appeal to our subliminal conscience.

Women in advertising

It is no surprise to anyone that women in advertising are sexually objectified. I mean look at this Carl’s Jr. commercial that shows women wearing bikinis playing volleyball, while demolishing their new “Tex-Mex” burger, that will probably give them all type two diabetes. This is just one example of many, that shows women in minimum clothing participating in provocative activities.

Yes, there are more “PG” commercials out there that women are the focus of. However, these commercials usually show women purchasing domestic or cosmetic products, or flirting with/talking about men. In contrast to how men are portrayed in commercials (which we will discuss next), women are usually shown in the home or in a home environment. This reinforces the out-dated, traditional gender role of women “belonging in the house.”

Men in advertising

Advertising does not just reinforce traditional roles or images of  women, it does the same for men. As brought forth by Wood, portrayals of men in advertising are very consistent with traditional views of masculinity.  Men are usually shown outdoors or participating in some type of activity. Men are also depicted as being independent, strong, in control, athletic, tough, successful, and usually accompanied by a beautiful woman.  The reinforcement of the idea of men being in control or dominant over women in advertising even goes as far as the actual positions that a male and female are in.

Even the positioning of males in ads reinforce the traditional idea of “male dominance.”

When a male and a female are in an advertisement together, the “male-dominance” is depicted by having the man being physically above the woman.

Children in advertising

Children are not safe from the reinforcement of traditional images of what man or woman should be. As noted by Wolska, ads targeted towards children usually show girls as playing house, being a babysitter, or cleaning a play house with a toy broom. On the other hand, boys are usually shown participating in athletics or playing computer games. This is where advertisements begin their process of reinforcing the idea that men are supposed to be tough, rugged, and  even violent depending upon the video game.

Agenda-Setting Theory

As previously stated, the media has become so influential in our society that it is able to control what we think about and what we deem as important.  This can be explained through examining a communication theory called the agenda-setting theory.

The agenda-setting theory asserts that although the media may not tell the public what to think, it most certainly is capable of telling the public what to think about. I know, kind of scary right? Well you’re probably wondering how that is possible. Well let me break it down for you how Wood did in her book.

Gatekeepers

Those who are in control of what messages get sent out to the audience are known as gatekeepers.” These gatekeepers include:

  • Editors
  • Owners
  • Bloggers
  • Producers
  • Advertisers

Gatekeepers are able to shape our views about gender because they determine what stories or events get covered, and how men,

It is important to understand where our information comes from and the implications it has on us as individuals.

women, and those of non-binary identities are portrayed to the audience. Which leads me into another component of the agenda-setting theory.

Priming

Priming deals with the magnitude that agenda-setting has on the way individuals evaluate and perceive the situation or issue at hand.

Framing

Framing is another imperative component one must understand about the agenda-setting theory. Framing deals with how a story is presented. Essentially, those in power, or the gatekeepers, can determine what to publish about a certain issue or topic. These gatekeepers could decide to only tell one side of the story, and the public audience would never hear that other side if no other gatekeeper brings it to light. Essentially, think of it like framing or cropping a image. One can still see the image, however, the image has been tailored to the editor’s desires. When this happens a lot of important information can be left out.

Imagine this

Lets say you are sitting at your home eating breakfast, reading Time Magazine on a beautiful Sunday morning. The featured cover article is about how many albums Justin Bieber has sold, and how he is on track to break even more records. However, as you continue to flip through the magazine, you come to an article about how the NSA has identified multiple known ISIS members living in your area.

You may ask yourself, “why is this all the way back here, and not on the cover?!” This is a prime example of agenda-setting. The gatekeepers of Time Magazine decided that they wanted Justin Bieber’s success to be on the public’s mind more than a potential terror threat.

Most people would probably not have read that far back, or maybe they wouldn’t have even bought that issue at all if they didn’t see Justin Bieber’s face on the cover. Although this is completely hypothetical, this is an example of how media practitioners can determine what people read and think about, and what gets pushed to the back of people’s minds or even ignored completely.

In this (rather extreme) case, the gatekeepers did not want people knowing about the ISIS members in a certain location, so they made Bieber’s success the main point of the issue with hopes that no one would pay attention to the rest of the issue; especially the back pages.

Takeaways for the Future

Yes, I know I have covered a lot in this post, thank you for bearing with me. However, lets run through what we have just covered and revisit why this is important knowledge to have as a consumer.

Frequency of Exposure

As stated in the beginning, our modern American society is laden with media. As an American you are always being exposed to some type of media or advertisement.

  • It is important to be conscious when you are on the receiving end of these messages. Whether you believe it or not, these messages are impacting your outlook.

Advertising and Gender Reinforcement

Whether you are a man, woman, or child, you are constantly being subject to traditional gender role reinforcement.

  • As a society as a whole, regardless of gender, it is important to understand that the images of these “perfect men and women” are not realistic and are often edited.
  • It is also important that we do not resort to hazardous methods to try to reach these “perfect” depictions. Some examples of unhealthy lengths people go to to try to be that perfect skinny model eating that big juicy burger with her perfect hair, or that ridiculously jacked actor in the action movies who kicks all the bad guys’ asses and then rides off with a supermodel into the sunset include:
    • Steroid usage or other unnatural hormones
    • Eating disorders
    • Invasive surgies
    • Increasingly aggressive behaviors.

Who creates the news

After examining the agenda-setting theory, one should understand that the news one sees on the television is not the only news out there and may not be the entire story. Therefore, in order to avoid being a victim of this phenomenon one must be a conscious consumer. Here are some tips on how to be a more conscious, informed consumer of news:

  • Do not only watch/read your favorite news or gossip channel/publication. Expand your horizons and do your own research.
  • Be conscious of who is sending the messages you are receiving. Do your research and see who is an affiliate or if there are any conflicts of interest with that media outlet and the story.
  • In order to avoid having your news “framed,” once you hear about a story, go online or elsewhere and try to find the other side of the story.

Thinking Outside of the Box Isn’t Always Creativity.

“What does it take to be a man?” If one were to ask that question around the world, one would receive a multitude of answers. However, if one were to ask someone living in the United States, the answer will most likely include words such as:

  • Tough
  • Provider
  • Strong
  • Protector

This image of what a man is supposed to be has been woven into our culture since 1776. Now the year is 2016, and obviously things have changed incredibly since then. Among the changes to our culture is, what is considered appropriate behavior, qualities, and characteristics for a man to display.

The traditional belief of what it means to be a man plays an incredibly important role in child development and has serious implications for a child’s future. The gender roles that are taught to children shape our culture’s future since they are the ones who will pass the torch to their children, and so on. Therefore, when considering the prosperity of our society, one cannot ignore the gender roles that are expected of our citizens.

When considering the traditional view of what a man is, Paul Kivel, believes that it can be illustrated by the, “Act-Like-a-Man Box” (Kivel, 1984).

Kivel’s box has three columns inside of it, and one on each side. The columns on the outside of the box contain examples of verbal and physical abuse that boys encounter when they try to deviate from the traditional image of a man, or leave the “act-like-a-man box.” Inside of the box, the two outer columns contain society’s expectations for a boy. Lastly, the middle column inside of the box represents feelings that are caused by the pressure of living up to society’s expectations of a man (Kivel, 1984).

Example of Kivel's "Act-Like-a-Man Box"
Example of Kivel’s “Act-Like-a-Man Box”

For example, an expectation that society has for boys is for them to be the provider. In this case, “provider” would be found inside of the box within the outer column. If a male is not the provider, or source of income for the family, he may be subject to verbal abuse from other males. Consequently, the verbal abuse he is being subject to would be listed in the columns outside of the box. By receiving verbal abuse from others, a man will feel upset or angry. These emotions would be listed inside of the box in the middle column.

When considering the gender boxes and Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box,” one may wonder what happens when the training that boys receive throughout their lives does not work, and they are still acting outside of the box?

Russell O’Connor offers insight to these situations in his article, “Not Everyone Fits Into Those Pre-Determined Gender Boxes,” when he states, “I tried for a very long time to fit into one of those boxes, thinking the problem must be me. But the problem isn’t me. It’s the boxes. The real question is why people are so attached to the idea that men are like this, women are like that, and never the twain shall meet, that they resort to ridicule and even violence in an effort to enforce it” (O’Connor, 2013).

When boys do not fit within the gender box, they are subject to abuse.
When boys do not fit within the gender box, they are subject to abuse.

Luckily for O’Connor, and others that share his dilemma, our culture has become aware of the problem with these gender boxes, and has made progress. Yes, the traditional expectations of what it means to be a man are still very present in our society. However, steps have been made to accommodate the population that does not fit into either gender box.

The Dude and the Flower

Who doesn’t like flowers? Contrary to popular belief there are plenty of men out there who enjoy flowers. I mean they smell nice, they look pretty, and they add plenty of life to the room. However, in today’s society, gender norms have deemed flowers as being feminine. The norm is instilled in us from the time we are children, that guys are supposed to give flowers to girls and not the other way around. As children when we were out at recess, the boys were usually not the ones going around picking flowers. This can be explained by the social learning theory, that suggests that positive and negative reinforcement teaches one gender.

Who wouldn't want some of these?
Who wouldn’t want some of these?

Yours Truly, Dylan.

Hi, my name is Dylan Martinez.  I am a senior who–hopefully– will be graduating in May with a degree in Communication Studies with a focus in Public Relations. Although I attend Longwood University, I live in Leesburg, Virginia, which is located in Loudoun County. I am a third year member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon here at Longwood. Within my fraternity, I have been the Social Chair, and a board member of the Standards Board.

I have had many experiences in my life that have qualified me to be an attractive candidate for a profession in communications.  For example, in high school I was the president of my school, which required me to speak publicly in front of all students, staff, and donors, on a regular basis. My job also required me to meet with parents of potential students to explain what life was like at Middleburg Academy, and ultimately, persuade them into enrolling their child.  Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to be an intern at Glover Park Group, a leading communications firm in Washington, D.C., where I gained a ton of hands-on experience in the strategic communication, research and government relations departments.

Over the course of my life, I have had a lot of experience with gender and the implications that it carries.

My two sisters and I. Tara (middle), and Tatum (right)
My two sisters and I. Tara (middle), and Tatum (right)

First, all my life I have lived with women.  I have two little sisters who constantly have friends over and I also live with my mother and father.  By being around my sisters and their friends all of the time I have noticed many communication patterns, leisure activities, and topics of conversation that are different between male and females.  However, all of these patterns, activities, and topics of conversation were those of heterosexual females.  This semester, I hope to gain more knowledge about the communication patterns that non-heterosexuals display during interaction, as I do not have a lot of experience with those particular interactions.