People share stories since the dawn of humanity. These stories reflect common beliefs about the world people live in. Most of the time, these beliefs are subjective and stereotypical. Once a story is shared, its ideas begin to affect other people. These ideas can be so influential that sometimes they define individual’s perception of reality. Eventually, storytelling is an example of social construction of reality. Stereotypes, myths, and beliefs are instilled in society; they shape people’s attitude and expectations. Once taught about these ideas, individuals create new stories, using old rules.
Fairytales, movies, and TV shows reflect common perception of various aspects of life, including gender roles. Ubiquitous modern media, especially television and movies, is an important factor of gender socialization, because it shows how different genders look, act, and communicate. Use of sociological imagination allows to understand modern society’s perception of gender issues by analyzing message, transmitted by television. This paper is meant to analyze gender representation on modern television, using theoretical literature.
Clearly, gender issues have impact on every sphere of social life, including the media. In fact, every aspect of how the media works is affected by gender (Ryle 427). Nevertheless, American society has become more open–minded in terms of gender and women’s rights, and modern TV shows reflect this change. For example, Vikings, a historical drama, depicts strong and emancipated female characters as well as male heroes. Although the whole story focuses on legendary Ragnar Lothbrok, who is a stereotypical dominant white cisgender male character, it pays attention to the Vikings’ unique gender model. In this show, Viking women have more freedom in choosing their way in life. For example, Lagertha and other shieldmaidens are eager to invade new lands with men, whereas princess Aslaug prefers more traditional lifestyle. This is interesting how the Vikings’ culture is compared to the lifestyle of the Christian world. Even Christian women from high social classes, like princess Gisla, are oppressed by privileged men, although females are wise and dedicated.
Westworld is another TV show wich was affected by popularity of feminism. This science–fiction drama tells a story about the theme park Westworld, where androids simulate society of a stereotypical Wild West town. Showrunners mock western movies’ stereotypes about a damsel in distress and a chivalrous handsome cowboy who must save her. Image of Dolores, the local beauty, reflects patriarchal stereotypes about female gender norms. She has long hair and wears a long feminine dress. Later, she starts wearing trousers and shirt, and this change emphasizes Dolores’ rejection to follow her narrative, created by a man. Nevertheless, major part of show’s characters is male, and there are only two important heroines.
These changes are an example of how culture industry adjusts to evolving views of the audience. Movies and TV shows of the XX century appealed to patriarchal conservative society and embraced traditional gender norms. Modern society widely discusses questions of gender and women’s rights, and it demands new media content. The media has to change the way it creates content, but it does not mean that society manages to change the rules of the industry. According to Ryle, the media does not reject new values; it exploits them in order to attract audience (421). Therefore, this new approach to gender issues does not contradict the way the system works, because it has already became a new standard.
Although some TV shows use different approach to depicting gender, most of content relies on old–fashioned values. Legion is another successful project, but its characters are more stereotypical. Since it is based on X–men comics, its plot is androcentric, and female characters are used only to enhance male protagonist’s power. Legion’s protagonist is David, and his girlfriend Syd is depicted as a typical female. She is beautiful; she has long blond hair, and her costumes flatter her body, whereas David’s image is more casual. Eventually, the show was influenced by patriarchal culture of comic books, which always rely on stereotypical beliefs about gender.
Although the industry produces more feminism–friendly content, it is still run mostly by men. Vikings, Westworld, and Legion were created, written, and produced by predominantly males. On a large scale, the vast majority of men runs the media. According to Women’s Media Center, 83 percent of directors, producers, and writers of the most successful American movies, made in 2014, were males (8). In general, states Fillips, only a few women occupy top positions in American media, although the vast majority of media consumers are female (qtd. in Ryle 422). Nevertheless, new projects, created predominantly by women, emerge, like Girls and Harlots. However, these shows are intended for female audience, which is typical for the industry, where females traditionally are in charge for women–oriented content.
Overall, modern TV shows provide evidence of changing media’s approach to gender. Popular shows try to avoid stereotypes about gender norms and roles, although the general pattern of storytelling remains androcentric. Some projects continue relying on patriarchal views on gender. The media adjusts to new demands of the audience, using these changes to support status quo. Still, media content is created by the vast majority of men, and women are allowed to produce only female–targeted projects. Hopefully, American society will continue paying attention to gender issues, and the media will produce more women–friendly content. These changes may affect current situation with gender ratio of the media top managers, and more women will be able to occupy management positions.
- Ryle, Robyn. Questioning Gender: A Sociological Exploration. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014. Google Books.
- The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2015. Women’s Media Center, 2015. Web. www.wmc.3cdn.net/