Analysis of gender stereotypes in mass media
Social inequality is a common phenomenon in many societies. We distinguish our differences among the others by our gender, occupations, races, education levels and etc. We accept that there are differences when we perform in different social roles. Then, how do those stereotypes come into our minds? Apart from learning from significant others like our family members, friends and teachers, the mass media has become a powerful means to introduce us to the roles.
The different gender roles of men and women are always emphasized in the mass media. When we ask about the typical gender roles, we can tell a lot. In most of the communities, men are dominant and superior to women. In the traditional pictures of our minds, men are the bread-winners who go out for work while women are housewives who are responsible to give births, take care of children and finish all housework. Meanwhile, women are the ones who follow men’s orders and advice. Whenever we are asked about role models, we definitely have some common answers in our mind. These role models can be our parents but more often, they are some characters or celebrities in movies or soap operas projected from the mass media.
Traditional stereotypes of men and women are easily found in the mass media. Men are always the symbols of power or authority. In many TV drama series, men are the top management and the final decision makers. Also, heroism is greatly reflected from men’s character. For example, the Superman, Spiderman and Batman are some typical heroes in the western movies and they are all brave and strong with high problem-solving abilities. In contrast, women are weaker who always get into troubles and need men’s help. At the same time, the obedience of women is greatly encouraged and praised in the media. Women are always demonstrated as men’s followers in many movies, soap operas and even advertisements. They have to dress up and look beautiful in order to please men.
The family role of women is also emphasized in the mass media. Looking for a good husband and become a housewife is the life-long career of a woman. Females have been cultivated with a concept that no matter how tough and intelligent you are, marriage should be their ultimate goals. A significant soap opera, “珠光寶氣”, is a story about how a mother prepares her three daughters to marry to rich and powerful families since they were young. Besides TV programs, magazines and newspapers also talk a lot about this. In 2007, the marriage of a celebrity couple, Cathy Chui and a wealthy businessman, Martin Lee, had become the front page news in different local newspapers and cover stories of local magazines.
However, some serotypes of men and women are weakened recently. The role of women is changing. There are more and more programs and articles talking about how women fight for their own dreams and futures. Sometimes women even take over men’s role. They are brave, aggressive and independent. Anson Chan Fang On-sang, the former Chief Secretary for Administration, is a typical example of women with strong characters. Her independent and tough images are praised by the media and influencing the public though she has been retired for several years. In addition, the TV drama series in Hong Kong are more likely to promote and describe the strong side of women. For instance, the main female characters in the popular soap operas, such as “女人唔易做” and “老婆大人”, are the acting roles which contradict the traditional stereotypes. In the western media industry, more and more TV drama series are also led and dominant by female characters, such as “Sex and the City” and “Desperate housewives”.
The most important influence behind this phenomenon is closely related to the society. Because of the economic development and compulsive education provided by the government as well as the influx of western culture and ideas, there are much more opportunities for women to pursue their careers and do whatever they like. With higher social status and stronger financial ability, women no longer need to rely on men in many ways. Nowadays, women become stronger, more aggressive and independent. To media industry, females, especially the housewives, are traditionally a large target segment who spends most of the time watching soap operas at home. Since the social status of women raises, movies, dramas and articles of themes and topics covering women or female issues become very popular. “Sex and the City” is a typical successful story in US and even overseas. The main reason of its success is the resonance aroused among many of the female audiences. Their emotions are easily affected by the ups and downs of the storyline because it is not simply a drama, but can also tell women’s stories or dreams at the same time. Since then, drama describing modern women’s life or showing the strong images of women becomes a “key” to gain more rating points and even becomes one kind of genre. In Hong Kong, such kind of dramas like “女人唔易做” and “巾幗臬雄” have created very successful records in the local history of soap operas too.
We believe that stories describing females as the subject matter will continually retain their popularity in the mass media. However, the images of women would no longer be the traditional ones and are the closer representation of the current women’s roles which can be seen in the reality.