The contemporary media presentation of gender roles warps the natural relationship between the genders. The gender roles that are portrayed do not represent reality and often appear to be artificial. In general, stereotyping and media influence are responsible on how a typical male views his female counterpart and vice versa. The constant stream of thin females on a parade in Hollywood shaped the model of the female appearance (Emmers-Sommer, Hanzal, Pauley, Rhea, & Triplett, 2005) and constant stream of muscular-looking males did the same for the male appearance.
Same literature explored the effects of media on the viewers’ attitudes toward the opposite gender. The popular media can manipulate the viewers’ impression of the characters that model after the ideal in a covert or overt ways. Even the popular features like Star Trek the Next Generation seemingly representing an enlighten society still depicts characters like Lieutenant Worf, a Klingon, who by mere appearance transmits an image of the pure male aggression. Other characters, like Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and Commander William Riker, are more active and are strong decision makers. Female characters, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi, radiate with expressed femininity and grace. The original Star Trek with its first man as the captain Kurk did exhibit stronger gender roles: male aggression and female secondary roles with their grace and compliance. It is not difficult to see the progression of the transmitted attitudes: from male as being the primary decision maker to the female as the Captain of the Voyager, Kathryn Janeway.
According to Emmers-Somme et al. (2005), the research on attitude variance that is the product of film editing or natural progression (like we see in Star Trek series) is relatively new. The subtle changes in gender role depiction, especially from the same characters, are tremendously effective when viewers view the series of the same feature. The gradual gender role portrayal, let us say from the obviously feminine and compliant to overtly aggressive and becoming a decision maker, can cause an attitude change in viewers only if their own impression of gender roles does not strong roots from the childhood.
Allan & Coltrane (1996) also studied the effect the popular media create on viewers when presented in the traditional context. Males tend to be presented in active roles, enjoying freedoms and often offering their opinions. Their masculinity is often emphasized. Females are usually depicted in supportive relationships to males and/or children as wives, homemakers, and mothers. It is a rare occasion when they suggest opinions and lead their male partners in to an adventure. Certainly, there is a range of degree in such relationships. In well-featured film Pleasantville, the viewers are transported into the yesteryear society that depicts traditionally defined roles of males as breadwinners and opinion makers and females as submissive homemakers. However, colors are introduced into their grey and white daily routine with following transformation of gender roles into more androgynous depiction. There is a connotation of something wrong going on with the active and opinioned males attempting to defend the traditional ways of gender roles. Yet, the sentiment that is perceived was that of progress – that is away with the “old ways.” The whole interplay of colors change – from grey tones to a multicolor scenery suggest moving away from the old into new, with the progress being defined as Pleasentville residents little by little accept changes and embrace presents of the new life. It is of point of interest to notice here that the females, at the most, were the first ones who accepted the changes with their male counterparts being resistant. Such subtlety might suggest that the males are the ones who always have been comfortable with the set and traditional gender roles while females desired change and would become immediately comfortable with transformed gender roles.
Murnen, Wright, & Kaluzny, G. (2002) argued that many popular features present such sentiment. Even the remake of traditionally offered Adventure With Dick and Jane shows rise in female gender role as an aggressive risk taker and a participant in bread winning despite a little rebellion from her male counterpart. The subtlety in this particular feature is unavoidable with Dick trying to take things into his own hands with the resulting failure. Jane corrects him exhibiting more mature and thoughtful approach to the problem at hand with the resulting success. Such subtle progression might manifest a common attitude (or the view of the script writer) that a female should be viewed more on the equal par with the male rather playing supportive and secondary roles.
Despite these changes in contemporary media, females continue being portrayed as sex object throughout different genre. Especially disturbing is the greater proliferation of new wave animated features as in Adult Swim series, Futurama and alike where full body or partial nudity or explicit scans of body parts are frequently employed.
Emmers-Sommer, Hanzal, Pauley, Rhea, & Triplett (2005) touched on the controversy of the impact on public of sexually explicit media depictions. Their argument consisted of the position in which women can be objectified through the abundance of sexual attitude and behavior. They argued that mass depiction of such roles might create a construct of the narrow and negative male attitudes toward the women in general. When the frequency of such depiction is blamed, the conclusion is reached that the male viewers blame females for getting themselves into compromising situations. These researchers expanded their argument into the totality of the perception behind the causes of “rape myth” and Social Learning Theory. Their study confirmed the findings discussed elsewhere in literature in which the male participants reacted differently than their female counterparts to entertainment-based sexually violent material as well as to reality-based material. In other words, after viewing several films that included some scenes of sexually explicit and violent material, males more then females tend to blame female victims for the bad situations happened to them.
Coming into the full circle as far as traditional depiction of gender roles, we see an incoming of new-era depiction of females taking active roles in our society (Rouner, Slater, & Domenech-Rodriguez, 2003). True-to-life or “based on real events” features present female gender roles as being aggressive and active as far as decision-making ability/opportunity is concerned. We can take a pick at the powerful feature Flight in which the female main character refuses to be manipulated by arrogant and corrupted male Marshal and takes charge in the difficult situation that saves the life of her daughter.
Similarly, male characters are shown more and more as less manipulative and less aggressive with brighter depiction of their feminine component. In an infamous feature 40-Year Old Virgin there is an argument between traditionally set male role with the new androgynous male who does not see a particular significance in having frequent sex and who is not really preoccupied with the image of necessary male aggression. With this character looking for “clean” love and equal partnership, the viewers are left wondering whether it is an anomaly or a new wave of gender impression.
Desrochers (1995) brought up an interesting point for the discussion of gender roles and gender perception. In his study, he discovered that women prefer males who are more sensitive and less aggressive. However, and according to him, most “sensitive and non-aggressive men” would disagree with such a notion stating that their romantic experiences do not support such a conclusion. It appears that women go after aggressive and less sensitive men while later attempting to convert them into more agreeable and more sensitive. Such contradictive finding might display the societal programming (or schema, that will be discussed later in this paper) which “forces” the women to seek in males what has been programmed into their own subconsciousness creating powerful gender role constructs. That is, they subconsciously respond to the characteristics that resonate with their constructs of the ideal male character.
Not a lot of people would disagree that our society is changing. Despite the stereotyping of the gender roles, higher equilibrium between a male and female is being recognized as the changing and welcoming component in the contemporary society. Not so long time ago when it was an odd circumstance when a woman would request to apply for a position of a car mechanic or a construction worker. A few decades back, the teaching profession consisted primarily of female teachers and the school administrator positions were occupied by mostly males. There were “male” jobs and “female” jobs, strictly divided, and gender maintained. Certainly, influenced by general gender role schema the employers reward male employees with higher salaries than they do for their female employees occupying parallel positions. Media supported such perspective by feeding the public with movies depicting clear boundaries in gender roles.
Hudak (1993) referred to certain gender schema as the stable construct of perception of both genders to their opposite gender counterparts. The construct from this perspective indicates a perception with which both males and females have been growing up. The gender influence that has been with them for years and coming from their micro, group, and macro cultures was formed as the certain schema – the perspective, with which they were trained to view the world around them. According to Hudak (1993), such a construct was formed not just with images so readily available from the childhood but also with the presence and use of gender-specific vocabulary, feminine and muscular words. Such schema consisted first of all from a self-perception of the gender role point of view. For example, it was wrong for a boy to think of himself as a “sissy” for he wanted to appear more muscular, as well as for a girl to look like a “tomboy” for her wanted to appear more feminine. The children are typically sensitive to the vocabulary sets and desire to fit into the correct impression that is to fit into the politically correct gender role schema.
Such self-positioning defines the peers as well establishing even a stronger schema for gender roles. All of course might start within the narrow circle of the child’s micro-culture: his or her immediate family. “Appropriate” toys (i.e. dolls for girls and cars for boys) bring clear boundaries into the gender schema as well as “appropriate” clothing (i.e. pink for girls and blue for boys) define it even further. The girls on occasion might request to play with cars but “sensitive” parents establish clear boundaries for “appropriate” behaviors encouraging the child to fit the norm.
The children learn quickly and upon entering the group culture (i.e. school) establish boundaries even more clear. Now, the use of “fuzzy sets” (Hudak, 1993), become more overt and the fitting into the general schema becomes the matter of personal survival. Twelve years of school solidify the characteristics of gender schema, and when a young person is ready for macro-culture, he or she is already “programmed” into his or her specific gender roles.
Despite the Hudak’s logical and clear-cut approach, gender schema has some inconsistent moments. More and more youngsters disregard the used-to-be-totally-solid rules of gender schema and accept variations in their peers’ appearances, (i.e. androgynous males and muscular females) rebuking any kind of criticism. There is more inter-gender or gender- crossing in the typical for one-gender occupations. It will not be a surprise when female politicians like Hillary Clinton would run and become elected as the President of the United States.
Other nations already exemplified such a possibility. On the Philippine Islands, it is a common situation for a female to become elected as the President of the country. There, the gender roles, although very strong in the provinces, allow a possibility for a woman to take the position of power and control. One might argue, however, noticing that female gender in that country is aggressive in general. Even such a characteristic is true it does not explain so prevalent traditionalism being present in provinces whereupon many females are homemakers while males lead more aggressive role as the breadwinner.
The similar situation we can see in other underdeveloped nations in which despite the tradionalism in gender roles and the clear boundaries that separate gender roles females can rise to power, control, and decision making positions. It is not so rare an occasion to find female executives in the traditionally male run societies like Japan. Such females enjoy equal rights and incomes as their male counterparts.
On another note, in the United States higher education institutions more females enter majors to study traditionally male-occupied professions, like architecture and engineering. The pressures of the societal progress as well as broader understanding and acceptance that both genders can equally contribute to the profession and become successful at it can cause such “defiance” to the traditional schema.
In conclusion and looking at my personal life, minus the media propaganda, I do not see clear boundaries between types of gender roles. My mother was the decision maker and more aggressive in life circumstances. My father was the one who would take silent supportive roles. Yet, my mother mostly performed the household chores while my father’s main prerogative was that of the breadwinner. While the clear boundaries are presented clearly by the media to propagate the traditional stereotyping the real life presents opportunities for both genders to be aggressive or passive, breadwinners or homemakers, opinion-makers or opinion-takers, masculine or feminine, agreeable or argumentive. In our society 45% of managers and executives are females, which directly suggests that the control of decision-making is almost equally distributed between two genders. It appears to be almost a personal preference in agreement with the personal perception of the gender roles. That is, in some circumstances I find it more comfortable to be aggressive, however in others to be more compliant, in some to become an opinion maker while in others an opinion taker. Such choices can be as well the function of circumstances plus the characteristics of one’s personality core. There is no argument here that the gender role schema does exist. However, I do not think that it is so strong to overshadow the decisions of the rational mind analytical abilities of which might suggest certain behavioral preferences that are beneficial in some circumstances but not so beneficial in others. For example, many work circumstances require for one to be more compliant than overly aggressive despite the gender. Overly aggressive individuals might create an unfavorable impression. The circumstance of military training requires the exhibit of maximum aggression, despite the gender. Overly passive individuals would present an unfavorable impression. Understanding the environment and judging the need for the degree of aggression or compliance becomes the main if not the only necessary ability in order to successfully function in the modern society. Both genders must understand that the traditional roles that characterized their perceived schemas are counterproductive in the modern context. People who insist following the traditional gender roles might find themselves archaic too soon too fast. The progress of the human evolution does not consider the division between the genders but insists on equality between them. Both genders will eventually develop the used-to-be unique to the specific gender qualities, like intuition or ability for logic, rendering each being able to utilize both gender specific characteristics when the need arises.
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