In order to appreciate the role the mass media plays in society’s views of human sexuality, it is good to go back and look at the images portrayed in old television programs from that particular medium’s early days and, then, compare those images with those presented today. A commonly-cited example of the distorted and somewhat “sexist” view of human sexuality is that represented by the characters of June and Ward Cleaver, the parents in the program Leave it to Beaver. June, the family matriarch, is presented as always dressed in clothes that accentuate the traditional perception of the female role in society. In other words, the submissive, always properly dressed even when performing housework and preparing meals – the woman’s “job” – with hair perpetually professionally arranged. In short, June Cleaver was the personification of the media’s image of the traditional female. Now, contrast that with today’s portrayals of women in mass media. Television shows like Scandal, House of Cards, The Good Wife, Homeland, State of Affairs, Madam Secretary, and many others all feature, smart, highly-educated and personally courageous women (well, Claire Underwood isn’t exactly courageous; she’s mainly equal to men in her capacity to control her surroundings and manipulate others to her advantage through guile). The evolution of feminism is very much reflected in the media’s portrayal of women. Instead of the 1950s depiction of the prototypical housewife lamenting the shortcomings of her laundry detergent, today we are bombarded with images of physically-fit kick boxers and corporate big-shots who happen to be women. Just compare a Gatorade advertisement from the 1970s with one today. The images of human sexuality fully reflect that evolution.
The mass media plays a huge role in influencing human sexuality. While, yes, shows like Scandal showcase "strong female characters," the problem remains that we need labels like "strong female characters." There are Netflix categories dedicated to broadcasting, "This show/movie features a strong, independent woman!" However, these shows and movies rarely even pass the Bechdel test:
1. Must feature at least two women.
2. These women must be named.
3. These women must talk about something other than a man.
It doesn't just matter that we are getting female leads in movies and shows. What are they motivated by?
An current example of a "strong female character" is Christina Yang in Grey's Anatomy. She is lauded as one of the smartest and most innovative characters on the show, but because she puts her career before her love life, she is considered cold by other characters and by some audiences. It is difficult to find truly strong, independent women in the media without a catch.