Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Although women gained rights, how did the media's representation of women change over time?  Did it become worse or did it stay the same? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The exact contours of an answer might exceed the space allotted here.  Certainly, I think that one would have to concede that the media representation of women has changed over time.  One can see this in the depiction of the leaders of the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In her book, Where the Girls Are:  Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, Susan Douglas makes the argument that there was a distinct media bias in how leaders of the ERA movement were depicted in the mass media.  She contrasts the covers of news magazines that depicted prominent figures such as Gloria Steinem and Kate Millett.  The cover of Newsweek magazine that depicted Gloria Steinem features reflection that demonstrates an adulation with "The New Woman" embodied by Steinem. This depiction is one in which there was more discussion of Steinem's "hair and legs" than "with her ideas."  The implication was that a woman who "looked like this" did not need to be a feminist, and that "the new woman" still adhered to an external and patriarchal notion of beauty.  In contrast the cover to a Time magazine article on modern feminism featured an artist's drawing of Kate Millett as a "grim, ball- busting ninja from hell" who "did not wash her hair enough."  In the analysis of both media images, one sees how the representation of women changed in highlighting feminism, but still doing so within the patriarchal focus in which women were still objectified as objects of beauty. The content of their political and social ideas were secondary to a depiction that would increase circulation of male- owned media avenues.

Over time, a case can be made that the depiction of women has changed, but still features a clear patriarchal bias.  Women's depictions in the media are not proportional to the complexity of human character.  The media depicts different visions of women, but they are limiting in their scope.  Powerful depictions of women are narrow and one- dimensional, focusing on "ball busting" strength that is meant to equate women's power with something undesirable.  The flipside to this is an oversexualized notion of women's identity, one in which girls as early as six years old begin to see themselves in seuxalized depiction.  While the media has depicted more women, the depictions of women are static and reflective of a patriarchal niche that women are supposed to fulfill.  In this light, one can see that the media's depiction of women have changed, but are still limiting to the full range of characterization intrinsic to being a human being.  Recent studies have indicated that "fewer than one in five experts interviewed by the media are women, 46% of news stories reinforce gender-based stereotypes, and Only 6% of stories highlight issues of gender equality or inequality."  These help to emphasize how there still is a ways to go in terms of seeing an accurate depiction of women in the media's representation of women.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial