Gender Portrayals in the Media

Like all good spats these days, this one started on social media. Though social media has given us a great ability to communicate ideas to people we never would have encountered otherwise—ignorance and the Internet do go hand-in-hand.

The issue arose from the video below:

The video is right in that the portrayal of women in the media is not entirely positive—and marketing does have a hold on the conversation of “what is gender?”

The issue of misrepresentation of men is there as well, and that is a growing issue. It was briefly touched on in the trailer (full disclosure; I have not seen the entirety of the film. I’m currently seeking out a copy).  But to understand the issue, one does not need the video.

Movies like Magic Mike and the Twilight series (OMG Taylor Lautner/Robert Pattinson is so HOTT!) show that there is a similarity between the dichotomy of male and female audiences feel about how their genders are portrayed, whether it is TV, movies, music, books, or elsewhere.

We can all agree that we can see above these dichotomies and understand their complexities. When you look at society as whole, you can see how the media is lying out certain expectations for both sexes that do not represent everyone and in turn creates dissatisfaction, distrust, and hatred towards the other genders. I.e. Men are pigs/dumb, woman are gold diggers/crazy. You hear it everywhere; the clubs, school, and work—society itself is confused.

There are physical, biological, and chemical differences between men and women that can explain proportional disparities in certain occupations. There are some things women do better than men and vice-versa—it’s science. It’s not say that one gender cannot do what the other does, we, as humans, as genders, are wired for certain functions and in no way are those functions permanent.

The only issue with the trailer was when Katie Couric said. “It depends on who is piloting the plane.” Rhetoric like this only perpetuates the gap between genders. It portrays a shift of power, not a balancing of power—not that that was her, or anyone’s, intention.

True gender equality will be a difficulty sought after commodity that will take the effort of both men and women. In order to reach that, though, it must be understood that both sexes are losing its representation to the media moguls who think they know what is right.


There is something called the Bechdel test to see if women are represented in movies. It follows three criteria:

It has to have at least two [named] women in it
Who talk to each other
About something besides a man

To use the Bechdel Test to determine the gender representation in a film is absurd. The ‘Test’ is one of the worst measures in any film—or media for that matter. It measures nothing on the treatment of women and can easily be manipulated depending on the ferocity of its application.

All it takes to pass the test is for one named female character to say “nice weather today, isn’t it?” to the other. Of course, failing the Bechdel Test is in no way an indicator of how good, bad, representative, or sexist a film is.

What about movies that are set in the past like “Lincoln?”

Or “The Shawshank Redemption,” which takes a place in a men’s prison in 1947?

Do these have to be historically inaccurate to represent women? Or is their absence from the film actually accurate enough even though neither film passes the Bechdel Test? Does it mean these films are unimportant ?

Wouldn’t having every piece of media conform to the Bechdel Test stifle creativity? Does fiction have a duty to represent women. Or men for that matter?

Nina Powers, author of One-Dimensional Woman, said in her book “Why should cinema/literature be “realistic” when it can be whatever it wants to be? Does reality itself pass the test? How much of the time? Can we “blame” films/TV/books for that?”

These are things to think about.

The First Amendment trumps all.

But to what point must this be taken?

To think that an artist, whether it is a musician, filmmaker, or writer, has to adhere to a certain set of standards defeats the purpose of being a musician, filmmaker, or writer. Like anything, people can choose to not to listen/watch/read the media that they deem inappropriate, misrepresentative, or even misogynistic. If opinions dictated creative outcomes, what would the point be of creativity? The First Amendment protects that whether you agree with the message or not.

Parents need to actually parent their children so the children understand the complexities of gender in today’s society. Thinking that an artist has to appease the center, or the norm, is ignorant.

Does society affect the media or does the media affect society? To think one wholly controls the other is, well, myopic. They are in tandem, one affecting the other. As society changes so will the media that is fed to it.

There is a huge swath available for creative types to represent women and men in new and nonconforming lights. With the advent of technology and the Internet—blogs, YouTube, Kindle Self Publishing—anyone can create compelling new content for little or no cost and tackle the issues of gender inequality in media.

Just because women make a certain percentage of the population does not mean films have to proportionally represent them. It’s called creativity. It’s fiction. Most men are not in the military/macho/skirt chasers, though there are hundreds of films portraying them as such.

Women need to be portrayed in more masculine roles just as men need to be portrayed in roles that are more feminine. These portrayals help break gender expectations, and in our society, which is drastically changing its own gender roles due the current recession, these should be accurately portrayed in the media.

Even the portrayal of men in the media is skewed. Check out Jerome Stuart Nichols’ video, sexual health educator from Let’s Talk About Sex, below.

Though suffrage may not have been the right word, Nichols tackles a touchy and usually overlooked issue with males today. To say woman’s issues outweigh the importance of men’s issues is disingenuous to the advancement of equality for either gender.

Even Forbes has taken up issues with the misrepresentation of men in the media, publishing the article “Are Men The Latest Victims Of Media Misrepresentation?

If men feel just as disconnected from the roles in the media, what is to say that women’s representation is any more important? If both are misrepresented, maybe there is a larger issue with the media in general than sexism? Though if this misrepresentation of both genders is such an issue, how is media such a multi-billion dollar business?

The issue of gender misrepresentation is complex and not just an issue for women.

What is most interesting about striving for gender equality, whether female or male, is who gets to decide what is equal? The media has a grasp on the conversation, yes, and it could be considered a poisonous one at that, but what about men or women who buck against what is general accepted as equal?

Some women who use their bodies for the sexual pleasure of men, whether they are porn stars, escorts, or strippers, some feel that it is empowering to have such an ability to control the likes of men. Though this may be disadvantageous to the opinion on what is beneficial to the advancement of women, who is to say their way of sexulization is not right?

A group of people cannot expect immunity from scrutiny for forcing their beliefs upon a person, whether it is a man, women, bi or homosexual, transgender, stripper, businessman/women/person, CEO, nurse.

When arguing what is the norm, who really decides?