Ever since the first half of the 20th century, up-and-coming forms of medium have given many talented individuals the opportunity to showcase their abilities through pop culture and the media. From around the 1940’s to present day, the word “media” can refer to a very broad range of entertainment such as music, television, and cinematic movies (Reinhart & Ganzel). Around this same period of time when different formats of entertainment were becoming more widely seen and heard, the stereotypical roles of individuals of various demographics (gender, racial, ethnic, etc.) were becoming more subliminally portrayed through the mediums. As a result, I believe that this eventually would become one of many factors to contribute to the mass civil rights movement that has been taking place for decades.
I especially believe this to be true when it comes to feminism and promoting the equality of females while debunking the stereotypes that come along with being one. While I believe that gender (and all) equality is just and vital for a well-functioning and peaceful society, I believe that the mainstream media is comprised, in theory, of individual expressions and opinions of people with a right to their free speech. Since we live in a nation and time where fictitious entertainment casually pokes fun of or belittles people from any group over anything for the sake of amusement and fun, I believe that challenging gender stereotypes should be at the discretion of the media creators. Since mainstream media in general is assumedly not owned by one particular person or entity, I believe that nobody in this industry has an obligation to challenge any stereotype, gender or otherwise. However productive and politically correct it might be, portraying females in more ambitious and intelligent roles should suit the creators of these roles as well as the consumers watching them.
Many of the earlier female movie stars from the 1940’s were still in a position of wealth and prominence despite whatever roles they may have been featured as. To anybody who isn’t foolish, the immense talent and skill that it took to make it to the big screen should be enough to deter any prejudice regarding their gender. While many female roles in this time came off as more quirky, passive, or meek, they weren’t always portrayed to be in positions of inferiority simply because they were female. In this decade, these particularly qualities were probably seen as being more desirable in women and were good for marketing shows and movies. With this said, though, witty, strong female protagonists weren’t unheard of in the early film industry (Hossain). Katherine Hepburn played the leading role of Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, where the movie begins with her leaving her husband. To some extent, I think that the strong roles, the weak roles, and all types of female roles in between (and males, or any demographic) has been portrayed deliberately but also subjectively, depending on the ones creating and distributing the finished media.
With the freedom to choose the defining characteristics of the individual roles in TV and film, I believe that the creators are already limited by rules of censorship that allow the writers to take stereotypes and other offensive (and not necessarily true) stigmas of both genders so far. With this limited freedom and the freedom of the viewers to interpret media as they choose to do so, it can only be expected that social change can be expected after so long. A good example is the early 1990’s children’s movie, Pocohontas. While this Disney movie was historically inaccurate, it was released almost 50 years since revolutionizing of new media platforms. I feel that a half of a century of social changes along with the desire to see more assertive and important female roles in shows and movies took its course naturally. As such, Disney released a film with an adult female (who is also a minority by today’s standards) who seems to possess more intelligence and empathy, showing her male counterpart in the movie the importance of appreciating the earth and its natural beauty and resources (Bodenner). Likewise, Beauty and the Beast was released just a couple of years later. The lead character of the movie, Belle, was one of the first truly proactive and heroic female characters who is arguably still very feminine by nature. She was helping to take care of her father at the beginning of the movie and ultimately ended up sacrificing her freedom to the beast in order to rescue him. While more proactive roles have become increasingly more common, Disney, a media company for impressionable children, has used their movies to naturally counterbalance the effeminate qualities with honorable ones in their female roles. I believe that these two particular children’s movies are good examples of gender stereotyping in media naturally sorting itself out.
As time continues and the need for feminism and gender equality has apparently become greater than ever, I think it’s noteworthy that humor and self-righteousness at the expense of others are popular (and relatively newer) themes in today’s pop culture, especially in TV programs and in movies. Another more modern animated (and much less kid-friendly) example is the popular TV show on Fox, Family Guy. Not only do the male roles basically personify misogyny on multiple occasions, but the main basis of humor on the show is sardonic and belittling to literally every group of people, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race, or anything. It would only go to show that the creator himself, Seth Macfarlane, would be the host of the Oscars only to blatantly disrespect and disregard the woman who he was supposed to present an award to (Kornhaber). The sense of humor that he uses in his work most likely correlates to how he is a person. Likewise, the creative styles of all of the film and TV writers before him have probably been reflected in a similar manner. While this can be used to either promote or demote gender (or any other) stereotypes, the consumers will make out what they want to of it and will make their voices heard. That’s why the desire to have the mainstream media challenge gender stereotypes is now a pressing issue. The social acceptance of edgier and more offensive content in media should lead people to expect stereotypical remarks and jokes in what they view, regardless of whether it’s right. It is a multi-sided problem with no solution since people of all backgrounds are basically set up to be offended by something edgy on TV or in a movie nowadays.
In short, I do not believe that it is the duty of the mainstream media to challenge gender stereotypes. I believe that it is ultimately the responsibility of the creators of mainstream media to entertain their viewers. The viewers will take what they wish to from what they view, and I believe that it is their own duty to make their opinions heard and respected. I believe that such viewers have the power to discontinue the creation of offensive and degrading content that bothers and demeans them if they so wish. I also believe that it is the responsibility of the mainstream media to honor their consumer’s wishes, or else be boycotted. Since people as a whole are rarely proactive enough to successfully boycott a show or movie completely out of production, I do believe that media creators, while not obligated, can take some initiative to make a big name for themselves while bringing in media ideas that do challenge gender stereotypes.
- Bodenner, Chris. “Does Disney’s Pocahontas Do More Harm Than Good?” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 30 June 2015. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.
- Hossain, Itteshad. “Our Top 10 Hollywood Actresses from the 1940s.” The Metropolist. The Metropolist, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.
- Kornhaber, Spencer. “The Banality of Seth MacFarlane’s Sexism and Racism at the Oscars.”The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.
- Reinhardt, Claudia, and Bill Ganzel. “Pop Culture Goes to War in the 1940s.” Wessels Living History Farm, Inc. Ganzel Group, 2016. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.