The objectification and gender stereotyping of men and women in film and television
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
The effects of gender stereotyping in the media...
The nostalgic amongst you may remember the popular teen movie sensation that was Clueless (1995) starring Alicia Silverstone as Cher, a wealthy teenager from Beverly Hills. She was blonde-haired and conventionally pretty, and regularly partook in "typical" teenage girl activities. Cher and her scatterbrained girlfriends spent copious time shopping, having makeovers and furiously chasing after boys. Furthermore, Cher (or Alicia) was ditsy, superficial and generally a little bit silly.
Interestingly, despite its somewhat vacuous nature, Clueless was an extremely popular movie, as was the television series that followed. Girls worldwide lovingly watched this movie and went on to emulate Cher, not consciously realising that they were adhering to a seemingly offensive and outdated stereotype. But the inaccurate assumption that our fellow female counterparts are unintelligent is not solely limited to teenagers, unfortunately.
On screen, women are far more likely to be depicted as a "housewife" over anything else. Where men are usually portrayed as being strong, women are normally shown as being weak and needy. Obviously, these gender-based stereotypes are not always the case in real life, but those who create such films and programmes appear to grab hold of old stereotypes, despite them being mostly incorrect or outdated. It seems as though the inclusion of a strong and interesting female character is of a lower concern than the inclusion of a similar male equivalent.
Discriminating...or an age-old requirement we've all accepted?
The modern depiction of women seems to be a person that is emotionally hysterical, man-obsessed and whose only concern in life is whether or not her shoes match her handbag. Over the last few decades it appears that the movie industry has made its female leads increasingly stupid. These caricatured heroines are merely a reflection of our rapid decline into an image-obsessed culture; they are regressing back to the pre-feminist, misogynistic clichés of the past. Haven't we moved past the sexist ideals of previous eras? It seems as though things are only getting worse.
In an attempt to push these ideals in the opposite direction, some films have become just as two-dimensional and as sexually objectifying as their predecessors by objectifying men in same way. This year saw the arrival of the much-talked-about Magic Mike, a film which concerns itself primarily with displaying the male body as a primitive sexual object for the viewing pleasure of a herd of drooling women, gurgling and clapping like infants. Essentially Magic Mike is just old-school sexism wrapped in a new, oily package.
On the subject of chick flicks, another film and TV franchise that portrays both sexes in a damaging way is Sex and the City. The main characters claim to have a hidden depth, but on the surface the women’s interests are usually limited to sex, men, clothing and shopping. Movies like this encourage the idea that women should be superficial and fake, and its entire portrayal of its apparent feministic female liberation is the right to buy expensive shoes. The characters are consumer-obsessed cartoons appearing as vacuous and hollow women who objectify men for their bodies and penis size – which is not an accurate depiction of a real woman (or at least I hope not) and is also an unhealthy attitude to be observed by men. For some, Sex and the City was a refreshing story of friendship and freedom. For me, it was an orgy of consumerist pornography dripping with unhealthy stereotypes.
Does my insecurity look big in this?
Gender-related insecurities apply not only to films blatantly intended to be viewed by women but also to films of a more masculine variety – take the current trend of superhero movies for example. Whilst the obvious musculature of the characters is predominantly there to stay loyal to the comic books from which they were born, it wouldn’t be a lie to say that the decision to feature certain actors to play roles such as Captain America and Thor, was to also attract female audiences that are keen to view these “hotties” (as they are officially known by today’s colloquialism). In this case and in other films where the lead role is quite clearly intended to be an object of desire, the result, unfortunately, is added pressure put on men to meet or exceed these standards, as they believe that this is what they are supposed to look like.
"...Shows such as The Only Way is Essex and Geordie Shore merely demonstrate to the younger generation that it is attractive to be intellectually inept."
Of course, several different factors affect a man’s self-esteem. The most common factor is the expectations that society has put on him, including his physical capabilities and how he manages his everyday life. How a man looks, or at least how he thinks he looks, plays a large role in a man’s confidence; and in our culture, displayed through film, a man is expected to be physically strong and handsome. Anybody that feels as though they are not meeting this apparent ideal can quite easily find themselves in a damaging state of depression or status anxiety.
LAD - a sense of achievement, or a moronic outlook on life?
Television also plays a significant role in the unhealthy influence of young people’s behaviour and attitudes. With the recent creation of docu-dramas such as The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore, men are encouraged to become just as materialistic and shallow as the female characters depicted in 90’s chick flicks. Fully grown men behaving like ‘lads’ is now a glorified pastime and is held up as the pinnacle of manliness. This unfortunately promotes moronic behaviour in those who allow themselves to watch such mind-numbing displays; and those who feature merely demonstrate to the younger generation that it is considered attractive to be intellectually inept.
When analysed and reduced for what it is, it’s all just a big charade. Both men and women are trapped in a ceaseless arms race to appear more attractive to one another. In these modern times it seems that if you are not a celebrity then you are deemed worthless, and of course this is where large businesses step in and inform you that while you may not be a proper celebrity, like those that you shower with affection, you can still dress and smell like them. Problem is, such is the draw and power of advertising that people – normal, everyday folk such as yourself or I – are sucked into this vortex of denial and materialistic happiness. By behaving like the idiots on TV, buying the same clothes, the same aftershave, the same car and the same jewellery, they are all saying 'look how closely my life resembles the celebrities'.
It's time to make a stand, for equality and normality
Film and television that pressure men in these ways lay new expectations of what the desirable modern man should be like, blissfully aware of the damage that they are causing and unwilling to change. Today, men are more mentally maladjusted and less fulfilled than ever before; they are encouraged to be in touch with their own emotions and yet are criticised for it. Men increasingly appear to feel confused about what they are and who they are supposed to be. With more men feeling incarcerated and embittered, is it plausible to think of men as the new oppressed? Could men be the new women?
Overall, with men accounting for 75% of suicide rates in the UK due to depression, and with 80% of women claiming that women on television and in the movies make them feel insecure, surely equality should be for both sexes, rather than a dominance of one at the cost of the other.
The time for change is now...
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