Еssay on Female Images in Mass Media

In our age of information Mass Media has an extremely important influence on human mentality and outlook. Images created by TV, Radio and advertisements form our attitude to reality around us. Images of men and women created by Mass Media are extremely important and condition the way people perceive themselves and each other. At the same time mass media is not a remote phenomenon. It exists as a reflection of our reality. Images created by TV reflect social processes, relations and attitudes between people. TV does not invent images but rather reflects ones which exist in reality. This way TV and other Mass Media has complex meaning. From the one side they influence social opinion and even form it to certain degree. From the other side they reflect reality which exists in the society at the present moment.

The history of female characters in Mass Media reflects the entire history and development of female roles in the society. These changes and development are influenced by many processes, such as globalization, feminist movement and many others.

From the one side Mass Media shows actual female images presented in our society and from the other side creates a desired ideal all women should want to reach. During the recent decades mass media speculated using women as sexual object in media and advertising.

Situation did not change much at the present moment. Media still uses sexual appeal on TV and in the advertising. At the present moment there are several typical images of women presented by Mass Media to the audience. “Sexist images still permeate large segments of the mass media: abnegated wives and mothers, macho women, attractive women, masculine executive women, frustrated women, isolated women separated from their context, silent, humble obedient women who are not protagonists, faithful, loving women, servers, helpers” (Lovera, 12). Images of strong women which appeared in media production recently illustrate the switch of social roles and illustrate the influence of feminism. Strong women who can be as strong and clever as men constitute a comparatively new category of female characters in modern media production.

Despite new roles of women are reflected in movies, advertisements and TV shows changes are still slow. New image of strong and attractive women who is self-confident and self-sufficient slowly enters media industry. This can be partially explained by the fact that mainly men run media industry and they are reluctant to illustrate new roles and achievements of women. Along with not very true reflection of reality such depiction has other negative consequences. Women who get an image of themselves through the media lack true information.

This was mass media becomes an aid for those who is interested in saving old roles of women in the society.

Processes which occur in the world at the present moment have a direct impact on Mass Media. For example, globalization of the economy naturally leads to globalization of mass media. The concept of globalisation is especially meaningful in the media context if we speak about the notion of “identity”. There is an assumption that globalization can destroy cultural identities. “Once upon a time, before the era of globalisation, there existed local, autonomous, distinct and well-defined, robust and culturally sustaining connections between geographical place and cultural experience” (Castells, 1997, p. 65). This phenomenon forms cultural identity. Identity does not only identity the belonging to this or that culture; it can be called a “collective treasure” of the community. In addition, mass media in not only influenced by the globalization. It is also a tool which links people from different parts of the world and provides rapid flow of information.

Such inventions of our time as Internet and cable system as long as cell phones make interaction between people easier. This enables the Mass Media to send same messages to different parts of the world. Technological advances have several important impacts on the informational messages transmitted by mass media. First of all informational limits disappear. Different people get same message. This results in generalization of images and characters created by mass media. At the same time consumers of mass media also get new features since they receive new information. Some stereotypes are destroyed by mass media while others are proved and enforced. The roles of women in movie production are definitely full of stereotypes. For many women globalization gave hope to change stereotypical roles of women in media. Unfortunately till present moment globalization did not prove a significant improvement in the female role in mass media. In the age of globalization everything including movie making industry is run by economic necessity. This way images created by media must also be profitable. Old and stereotypical female roles  become more convenient and profitable. That is one of the reasons which prevents changes in the views on women in mass media.

There are typical features peculiar to all women presentation in media. First of all the age of female characters becomes younger. Popular actresses nowadays are younger in comparison to past epoch.  In addition, popular actresses become thinner and taller. These changes are conditioned by the switch of the beauty ideal. Women in movies reflect social perception of beauty. Popular actresses become more and more similar to popular models. Ideals of beauty popular in our modern society describe thin and tall women as a beauty ideal. These images are reflected in mass media. There are different explanations of such active propaganda of unattainable ideal of beauty. Some explain such standards by economic reasons. These ideals help different cosmetic and diet  industries to get high profits selling their goods to women. “Women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, new clothes, and diet aids. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between 40 to 100 billion (U.S.) a year selling temporary weight loss (90 to 95% of dieters regain the lost weight)” (Hamburg  45). Another possible explanation also has an economic background but approaches the problem from the different side. Specialists state that economic stagnation and slow down results in depression and this in naturally reflected in female characters. Thin and pale women reflect low self-esteem of women in the society. Thin body is loudly advertised as a necessary component of beautiful appearance. Modern media actively supports these ideals and promotes them.  This has negative consequences on the health of women. Through the mass media women get wrong ideals of female beauty and finally they get wrong perception of themselves. As a result multiple nervous and eating disorders become normal among young female population of the world. “The American research group Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. says that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control””including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting” (Schneider 115).

Specialists in many fields of health industry and psychology warn about dangerous consequences of beauty ideals promoted by mass media. These ideas of female beauty are not realistic. Most of the women are not able to look the way women on screens do. In addition, modern development of technology helps movie makers to show women from the best perspective hiding all counterparts and demerits. There is another problem which appears as a result of images created by media. Not only women become dissatisfied with their appearance. Men who watch popular movies, TV shows and advertisements also get used to the female characters created by mass media. They soon notice that ideal images are not alike to women who surround them. This way men become dissatisfied with reality around them. They do not appreciate real women because they do not correspond to ideal image created by media. Like mentioned above thinness becomes the key characteristic of beauty ideal. What is notable thinness promoted in media does not correspond to any health standards. Women with proportions of the body advertised in media can not be healthy and give birth go healthy children. “Television and movies reinforce the importance of a thin body as a measure of a woman’s worth. Canadian researcher Gregory Fouts reports that over three-quarters of the female characters in TV situation comedies are underweight, and only one in twenty are above average in size” (Hamburg 48). The difference between media images of women and real women is terrifying. According to the latest research only twenty years ago average models weighted less than 8 per cent than average woman. These numbers have changed dramatically during last time. At the present time the difference between models and real women makes more than 23 per cent (Hamburg 49). It is evident that such a difference has negative impact on female self-esteem and self-perception. Models and actresses look like unattainable ideals and women feel depressed and frustrated comparing themselves to these images. Race question is another controversial issue of mass media presentation. Despite actresses and models of different races appear on screen women with white skin are definitely the most popular media images. There is no need to say that such a situation underlines beauty ideal of white women while women of other races are treated like those who do not meet the requirements of this ideal. Tall height of actresses is another problem created by modern media. Specialists state that this tendency came to movie industry from modeling business where tall and thin women became a standard of beauty. Tall height becomes additional source of low self-esteem for average women. At the present moment big percentage of popular actresses are higher that average women.

All these facts have serious consequences for health and self-esteem of women. As states Kilbourne: “The real tragedy is that many women internalize these stereotypes, and judge themselves by the beauty industry’s standards. Women learn to compare themselves to other women, and to compete with them for male attention” (Kilbourne).

Not only appearance of the movie actresses influences female presentation and self perception. The roles women play in modern films can also be informative. Despite diverse panorama of modern film industry women are still limited by their typical roles they can not overcome.

Women are depicted differently but all of them are dependant on men. At the same time there are typical division which illustrate attitude of the society to women. Women presented by contemporary film  industry can be divided into two major groups: they are either simple and not very clever or evil.

Double Indemnity a classic “noir” story of murder and suspense, is an interesting movie which not only creates a perfect image of femme fatale but also investigates her story and inner world. The movie is very interesting because it investigates how the role of submissive housewife is changed to the role of femme fatale. The movie depicts the story of love, betray and murder, told by the main character ”“ Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in the form of flashback. Main character depicts the perfect crime he and his beloved Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) have planned and committed. Phyllis Dietrichson presented the perfect character of “femme fatale” ”“ a woman, who uses her beauty, sexuality and seductiveness to manipulate others and to subdue them to her will.

Most of the spectators tend to blame Phyllis for being heartless and mercenary. She didn’t love her husband; she seduced and used Walter, committed a murder and betrayed her lover.  All her actions, therefore, can be explained if we look deeper into her motives through the symbols and signs, the authors of the film give us. We get an impression about the Dietrichson family through the eyes of the protagonist ”“ Walter Neff. He expects to see happy family when arrives to their mansion for the first time. He sees a luxurious mansion and beautiful woman.

His attitude changes soon when he gets to know Phyllis better and penetrates deeper to family secrets. When he enters the house, he feels dusty air and the rests of yesterday cigars smoke. Luxurious rooms create a negative impression by its stuffy interior, which presses on him. Even the windows are closed and do not let the daylight in. This is the prison young and lively Phyllis is trapped in. Seduced by high social position and money, she married an older man and got into the golden cage. Being the housewife of the millionaire, she desperately lack usual communication and warm human relationship.

Phyllis: Suppose we sit down and tell me about the insurance. My husband never tells me anything.

These words she tells Walter during their first meeting describe the kind of relationship she has with her husband. Living close, they stay apart at the same time as each of them stays in his own dimension, which interconnect very seldom.  Later during the talk, she explains to Walter that her husband is too busy down at Long Beach in the oil fields. Bitterness is hidden behind her playful tone.

Her husband married the beautiful, twenty years younger doll but wasn’t interested in her inner world, toughs and feelings. The parallel with Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen come to my mind when I see these shots. In this story main heroine is locked in her luxurious house and her husband treats her like a doll, but doesn’t pay any attention to her interior. The same happens to Phyllis. She rises against her role of pretty and silly housewife and performs effort to change her life and get out of “stuffed and dark” house of her husband.

“Devil in a Blue Dress” is a stylish neo-noir film based on the same titled novel by Walter Mosely. The movie was shot much later than the one described earlier but the image of women created by the authors has a lot in common with Phyllis Dietrichson. Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) in his search for easy money agrees to find fiancée of one of mayoral candidates ”“ Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals). Very soon unexpected and dangerous events make the simple task a dangerous adventure. Easy, messed up in several murders, has to solve a number of enigmatic tasks and overcome himself in order to accomplish the task. His old friend ”“ “mouse” (Don Cheadle) becomes a great help in this twisted situation.  Daphne Monet is a very interesting and ambiguous character. Girlfriend of the one of the richest men in Las Angeles haunted by too many people; she becomes the reason of all fights and conflicts in the movie. Jennifer is a perfect incarnation of “devil” (it is evident that she’s meant in the title of the movie). Cool, glamorous “femme fatale”, always accompanied by the men in love with her, Daphne had no difficulty to catch mayor in her web.  She acts with an astonishing calmness when the part of her life, so diligently hidden come to surface and gradually destroys her dreams.  The theme of family rises in the movie in connection to the election campaign. One of the candidates wants to find his girlfriend in order to create the picture of “perfect” family before the elections. I do not mean that love is absolutely absent in this unit. Female character of the movie presents an image of femme fatale who cares about nobody but herself.

Despite the movie is bright and interesting female character presented there is typical and fully corresponds to female roles conditioned by modern mass media.

In media despite women possess different roles they are still depicted as a dependant on men. Run-men media industry is slow to adapt the changes in mentality and social roles. In the most of the cases women in media are depicted as somebody who are supplementary to men.

Femininity in media is still subordinate to masculinity and this creates tension between media images and reality. This is an important factor as it is hard to overestimate the role of media in the contemporary society. As states Sara Lovera: “At the end of this millennium some things are certain: the dominating mass media – from newspapers to the Internet – function as an instrument that propagates the dominating development model: that of those who hold power” (Lovera 13). So, female roles in modern mass media are determined by social reality and they reflect contemporary stereotypes which exist in the society.

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