Stereotypes and the Media
This paper outlines the major human burdens of representation focusing on the basic types and functions of stereotypes. It also explores reputable scientists’ attitudes to various stereotypes and how the latter influence the consciousness of an individual, particularly through the media. In addition, the ways to address this issue are explored. Tolerance, sense of proportion, poise, awareness, and ethics compliance are always relevant in the information space.
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, representation is defined as an “image” or “appearance”. It is also defined as visual performance in consciousness or imagination and images introduced in such a way. Moreover, a representation may refer to an expressly designed picture or work of mind shaping a clear vision. As for the burden of representation, it is a synonym to stereotype, which in its turn is a social, generalized, simplified, and rigid system of widely used representations of groups of people, where each person is seen as a carrier of the same set of leading characteristics attributed to any member of the group regardless of real qualities. It may also refer to a system that has a high resistance and is often emotionally colored. Typically, groups are real and have formal characteristics, such as ethnicity, religious denomination, gender, class, professional affiliation, etc.
The most common stereotypes are those about members of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Stereotypes make society expect certain behavior from an individual, which is similar to role-playing. Rigid social attitudes can be both positive and negative. The latter are usually denoted as bias. Thus, most social stereotypes can be regarded as prejudice, which marks them as hostile or negative attitudes towards separate groups of people.
Further, stereotypes perform a set of functions including:
- cognitive function – generalization (sometimes excessive), when something “catches the eye”;
- affective function – defined as a measure of ethnocentrism in an inter-ethnic communication, which is identified as a permanent allocation of “own” opposed to “foreign”;
- social function – refers to distinction and social categorization, as well as the formation of social structures that are actively used in everyday life. Ethnic identity, which is related to prejudices and implemented into interethnic communication, is also an important element of the social function.
In the scholarly literature, the phenomenon of stereotype was recorded in 1922 in the work of a famous American researcher, essayist, and journalist Walter Lippmann “Public Opinion”. Lippmann defined a stereotype as an ordered and determined “picture of the world” established in the human head. He outlined the role of stereotypes as saving effort in the perception of complex social objects, as well as protection of value, position, and rights.
Sex and Gender Impact through the Media Representation
Gender inequality has a profound impact on society through media culture. Statistics indicate that an average child watches television 5,000 hours, with 80,000 ads during preschool period. A wide range of various studies have demonstrated that women start feeling bad about their figures after looking through fashion magazines and customer advertisements. Deep depression, eating disorders and even anxiety are the results of poor body reflection they see in the mirror. The study conducted in Canada has revealed 5 and 6 year old children on a diet with the aim to achieve the perfect body. As a matter of fact, millions of girls and women suffer from eating disorders today. Some of them use plastic surgery to improve their appearance and meet the requirements of the media.
Sexualization of the media content is increasing es. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, each year nearly 14,000 links to sex are encountered by adolescents in the media, with 165 out of this number containing information about the necessity to use contraceptives to avoid HIV infections and diseases that are transmitted sexually, along with links to information about disadvantages of the early onset of sexual activity. Movies and especially music clips contain aggressive, rude, and abusive lyrics on the theme of sex .
Sexual stereotypes are an important socio-psychological mechanism that creates a representation of men and women. This mechanism is well-established and represents stable forms of perception and evaluation of personal qualities and behavior of men and women. In general, the content of stereotypes, prejudices and perceptions in a particular society reflects its psychology. Sexual stereotypes have a complex structure and combine at least four components :personal qualities that are typical for a particular gender, activities and sex correlative professions and social roles, and external data evaluation.
Gender as a notion is used in the social sciences to represent the socio-cultural aspect of gender rights. Its primary use is to describe social attitude towards sex differences and define cultural behavior characteristics according to gender. Krieger believes that the concept of gender is interpreted in two different ways: sex and gender. Sex and gender are believed to be at different poles of human life. Sex is a starting position a person is born with, which is determined by biological factors: hormonal status and features of biochemical processes, genetic differences, and anatomy. On the other hand, the concept of gender has a social meaning. It focuses on differences, roles and relationships between persons of different sexes.
The gender socialization term means that a child learns what it means to be a boy or a girl, a man or a woman from the very beginning. With reference to gender socialization, the biological factors of sexual differentiation (namely, the features of the nervous system and the structure of certain parts of the brain that determine differences in behavior and emotional reactions of men and women) cannot be neglected. At the same time, the process of gender socialization is conditioned and directed by various social and cultural factors. The initial socialization is related to unconscious and passive mechanisms of culture assimilation. On this level, the major role is played by the family, social environment, media, and preschool child institutions. The process of gender socialization lasts as long as social cognition and social activity continue. Clearly, early in life this process is more intense than in older age.
Functioning of sexual mechanisms through social institutions (especially media, fiction, schools)is performed on macro and micro levels. These mechanisms’ impact on the sexual consciousness manifests is as follows:
- Breakdown of the traditional system of gender stratification, a sharp weakening of the polarization of male and female social roles; significant differentiation of social roles of men and women because shared employment; increase in women representation in governmental structures.
- Changing cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, as well as changes in the structure of gender roles and socio-cultural gender stereotypes. They become less strict and less polar. These changes are reflected in advertisements with traditional gender attitudes.
- Weakening cultural prohibitions in attitude towards eroticism, sex, and relationships between the sexes.
Psychologists John E. Williams and, Deborah L. Best, who published ‘Measuring sex stereotypes: a thirty-nation study'(Williams and Best 1982), offer an important scientific contribution into the field of cross-cultural studies of men and women’s psychological features. They have found a pattern of sex stereotypes change in the countries with rapidly developing economies and an increasing number of working women. In these countries, gender-role ideology becomes more liberal. Sex-role categorization and socialization reinforce the media, namely, newspapers, magazines, radio, and, most importantly, the television. Their work summarizes ways of human socialization in society in accordance with gender affiliation.
Sexual stereotypes are a kind of indication of both sexes and their purposes in society. However, stereotypes about men and women haven’t changed a lot during the history of humanity. The positive thing about this is that resistance to changing roles of men and women facilitates the identification of sex roles, gives a sense of belonging to a certain gender category since a person’s childhood. On the other hand, people tend to follow these instructions and patterns blindly despite the fact that neglect of certain stereotypes may change their lives for better. After all, some people believe, the foundation of sex stereotypes is an unjustified prejudice, exaggeration, and inappropriate expectations that are based on a simplified understanding of social phenomena, as well as imaginary obviousness of certain behaviors.
Review of Women and Mass Media Representation
In the mass media, there are two basic forms of gender inequality: stereotypes and absence of women in management positions. According to the studies, these two areas are interrelated: a smaller number of women take part in decision-making in this industry. This leads to a smaller number of different representations of healthy and positive women and girls. The efforts to eliminate gender inequality are considered to be a key to the advancement of women worldwide. Researchers agree that up to now women have not got gender equality in the media in any country of the world despite the fact that the number of women in entertainment and television has grown and the level of awareness increased.
Burden of Representation: Sexuality
The mass culture and “means of delivery to the consumer” (among which the media is found in the first place, by its value)is a serious obstacle for proper resolution of gender issues. . Everything within the scope of mass culture interests becomes a product that should be successfully promoted and profitably sold. A woman has got to this area of interest as well. She performs as a sexual commodity there. Sexuality itself has become a ‘consumer good’ that is advertised best by seductive women. The transformation of women to the sexual product debunks the personality and diminishes the social status significantly. In fact, in almost all advertising spots the man is presented as a boss and the woman plays the serving role or the role of a primitive consumer.
The word ‘feminism’ has a negative connotation in the public consciousness: many people have an unclear understanding of feminists relating them to brutal and ugly women unhappy in their personal lives. These are thought to be angry women who hate men or lesbians. Meanwhile, feminism is a phenomenon that stands in a row with the fight against national and racial discrimination. The word comes from the French “femenisme”. The latter derives from the Latin word “femina” translated as “a woman”. Feminism refers to female movement whose main objective is to fight for social, political and economic rights equal to the rights of men. From the ancient times in a woman has displayed the same potentiality and, same abilities as to self-development as a man. The fundamental requirement of the women’s movement is their recognition as valuable persons.
Race and Ethnic Stereotyping
Racial and ethnic stereotypes have always existed and continue to exist in perception of natives in any country. In many cases they spoil mutual understanding, which often leads to undesirable consequences. Ethnic stereotypes as a purely negative phenomenon in everyday consciousness and media opinion are quite widespread. This is due to the fact that in the world of science negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities have often been studied in relation to discrimination. Today the media space is often used by various political parties or individuals for replication of ethnic and racial prejudice. The use of this tool inflames feud and results in inability or failure to anticipate the reaction of audiences. This is manifested as incorrect expressions, the use of labels (white people are racists, African Americans have a sense of rhythm and play basketball, all Asian people know the art of kung fu, Islamic terrorism, Gypsies are thieves, Nigerians are drug traffickers).
Bradley Gorham, a scholar studying the issue of racial stereotypes, has investigated the problem of racism in the article ‘News media’s relationship with stereotyping: The linguistic intergroup bias in response to crime news’. Gorham considers that even in the most progressive media the prejudice toward African Americans has been preserved so far. As a consequence of these stereotypes spilled in culture, through very subtle but effective ways of manipulation of human consciousness opinions and attitudes are shaped. Interestingly, Gorham says that sometimes journalists become victims of their own stereotypes and prejudices when preparing materials. Quite often, the media use crime materials provided by law enforcement bodies, which usually have stereotypes about the existence of “ethnic crime” (i.e. African Americans, Roma, Tartars or Caucasians are considered to be people accustomed to crime). According to Clint Wilson, the burden of racial representation often turns into a form of racism and always includes the idea of people’s division into higher and lower races. The former are the creators of civilization and mean to dominate over the latter. Implementation of racist theories often finds its expression in the policy of racial discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of race, color or ethnic origin (“racial discrimination”) is almost always a violation of human rights and leads to negative consequences.
Social relations emerged simultaneously with people, and a need for respect emerged simultaneously with the relationships. Recognition of individual autonomy and its uniqueness, necessity of respectful attitude towards it indicate a high level of cultural relations. The differences in identity (ethnic, socio-cultural, individual, sexual) determine individual uniqueness and exclusivity.
Society is not and cannot be homogeneous because it consists of people of different ethnic origins, religions, political opinions, ages, genders, interests, education, financial statuses, etc. Stereotypes in a society are recognized to have a sturdy nature that can be transmitted from one generation to another and are often perceived as given. Therefore, media if it ensures the safety of cultural traditions is able to control social cohesion. Otherwise, it is an obstacle for mutual understanding between different ethnic, religious and gender groups. This creates opportunities to generate and maintain an atmosphere of disintegration and acts as a source of tension preconditions for conflict (ethnic, confessional, ideological, political). But in a modern democratic society, the process of psychological personality formation is based on the principle of “all are different and all are equal”. Gender, chauvinistic or racist discriminatory principles are used to manipulate the society, often through the media, by overstating the status of one community and understating the status of others.
Tolerance is the first stage to prevent as well as overcome stereotypes. Dialogue and direct contact are the best sources of information about the other. They pave the path to spiritual and cultural rapprochement and act as a tool for solving various problems.