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Mass Media

There is a general agreement that the mass media act as important agents of socialization, together with the family, peers and school contributing to the shaping of gender roles. The mass media is comprised of literature, television, movies, newspapers, e-mail, leaflets, and bumper stickers, to name a few. All of these forms of communication help encourage people to develop and maintain the gender stereotypes. Without doubt, the most influential one among them is TV.

Television carries over some strong sexual attitudes, most often showing women as sex objects for men. If you glance through magazine advertisements, you'll notice that women are much more likely than men to serve a decorative function. Women lie or lean back in seductive clothing, with a liquor bottle in their hands, or they take a seat flirtatiously next to the nearest male. In contrast, men stand up, they look competent, and they look purposeful.

The majority of women on TV are restricted to a few occupational roles. Male roles are far more extensive and more exciting. Women are often shown on TV in 'traditional' roles such as housewives, mothers, secretaries and nurses; men are shown as husbands and fathers, but also as athletes, celebrities and tycoons.

Also, women are portrayed in the household or in very stereotypically female occupations, while men are seen as independent breadwinners. In magazine advertisements or in TV commercials men are more likely to be shown outdoors or in business settings; women in domestic settings. Men are rarely portrayed doing housework. Instead, men are more likely than women to be shown working outside the home. The world of paid employment is not emphasized for women. Companies’ ads portray women in housecleaning and child rearing roles to sell cleaners and baby products. They sell beer and cars to men by showing women in revealing outfits, or a sweating man out in the yard working hard on his lawn. These gender stereotypes are used to sell the products to the people they believe would use them most, showing them in the "situations" they would most likely be in.

In Addition, some theorists distinguish between styles of programs which are broadly 'masculine' or 'feminine'. Those seen as typically masculine include action/adventure programs, Westerns and factual programs; those seen as more 'feminine' include soaps, sitcoms, romantic fiction and melodrama. Sport on television is dominated by men and tends to inculcate masculine values. Sports programs define men in relation to competition, strength and discipline. Most war films promote violence as 'natural' and heroic for males. Women in these films are typically mothers or housemaids, or they are shown as ill-reputed women. The soldiers are men of few words, heroic deeds and stoic endurance. As John Wayne put it, 'Never apologize, mister - it's a sign of weakness'. Lethal tasks are performed by soldiers in these films with no show of emotion.

Finally, research has shown how on TV, 'good' women are presented as submissive, sensitive and domesticated; 'bad' women are rebellious, independent and selfish. The 'dream-girl' stereotype is gentle, easy-going, sensitive, submissive, non-competitive, sweet- natured and dependent. The male hero tends to be physically strong, aggressive, and assertive, takes the initiative, is independent, competitive and ambitious. There are few women in the heroic role played by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Generally, men on TV tend to be shown as more dominant, more violent, more powerful than women and they are also more likely to look down on women than vice versa. They drive, drink and smoke more, do athletic things, and make more plans. So TV images largely reflect traditional patriarchal notions of gender. Stereotypical masculinity, for instance, is portrayed as natural, normal and universal.