The Role of Women in Mass Media

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Mass media is a powerful tool for information and entertainment. However, the press has for centuries demean women and dim their light. Women have been perceived to be on the sidelines despite being laying active role in society. This, however, has been changing due to a change in how the community views women. Over the course of the late 20th century and the 21st century, the portrayal of women television, film industry, music among other genres has taken a different path. This paper will explore the changes that have been experienced in mass media perception of women across the spectrum from politics to technology.

Initially, the role of women in TV was narrow as compared to their male counterparts. In an advertisement, for example, women only participated in adverts that target other women (Tuchman, 2016). Examples of these adverts included adverts related to cleaning, cooking and housework and if in employment they are in clerical and other ``pink-collar'' work. In other adverts, however, women played limited roles and were not the lead characters. Men mainly did advertisements concerning sectors such as banking, engineering, and investment. In cases where women took a more significant role in advertising, most of them were objectified and sexualized, in other instances hyper-sexualized.

Clothing advertisements such as jeans were highly sexualized. Other clothes such as T-shirts were branded with words that were demeaning to women such as "I love women," "Women love me" among others. These modes of advertisements were seen as attractive to the public by the business people. Adverts about bars and dance clubs had women drawings in sexualized manners. In 1980s nude or semi-nude images of women were used in most magazine advertisements, this portrayed female gender inferiority. This perception led to women self-objectification because according to Fardouly, appearance comparisons play a significant role in self-objectification among young women (Fardouly, 2015).

This has however reduced, though not at a fast rate, negative portrayal of women has decreased. Lately, most advertisements have a higher percentage of women than before. Women are also largely involved in all kinds of ads. Nowadays, the society is moving away from using only female models in advertisement and involving other women. Women are no longer objectified, and their role in all kinds of adverts is improving (Adage 2016).

In the film industry, the role of women had been to act as the love interest of the main protagonist. In the few cases where women were protagonists, they usually portrayed what was viewed to be women concern in the society. These movies were mainly directed towards the female gender. There was also lack of women executive producers, directors and film directors (Lauzen 2013). The role of females in the film industry was narrow, and the society was used to the fact that films should have a male protagonist and that women should play minor roles (Silverstein 2015). The female role in cinema was limited. Women only portrayed on characters that described the traditional duties of women in the society such as being housewives. Men were in most cases given the traditional masculine roles such as political and scientific roles. Few films also focused on women. The cinematic world always concentrated on the male gender and the topics that the society viewed as masculine.

The film industry usually excluded women in some of the roles such villainy, crime and gangs, war crimes among others. Here, women were seen as incapable of portraying such huge roles, and it was seen as a field of men. In most films also, women were seen as sex symbols and sexual objects, usually portrayed in dancing partially naked in clubs and strip clubs. The sex industry in the film was primarily viewed to be carried out by women. (H & Behm-Morawitz, 2015). However, in the recent times, the portrayal of women has changed. In many cases recently, women are taking the lead roles in films. This can be seen in recent movies such as Hunger Games film series, Tomb Raider, Divergent film series among others. Women are now taking active roles in all kind of films. Attempts have been made by women to increase their role in the industry. This is attributed to the feminist movement that has strived to improve the role of women in the industry.

Movie awards such as the Movies and TV awards have provided a unified Best Performance in a Movie Award. This award was usually split into a male and a female awards. Unification of this award in earlier times would have seen all awards going to men since women played a limited role. But lately, the roles of both men and women are becoming more and more equalized. Despite the combination of these awards, the last year's award was won by Emma Watson, a British actress. The three women out six nominees in this award also indicated a change in the role of women in the film industry.

Nowadays, women play leading roles in spy and political movies that were the norm for decades for being male-dominated. Other iconic characters and modern-day superheroes are now mainly lead by women. More women are also taking roles in screenwriting and directing of films. This is a positive change from the times when women only participated in movies that were thought to be female oriented. Military films and films depicting criminals and drugs that were considered to be best directed by men are now experiencing a shift in directing and screenwriting from male to female roles.

In television, women were largely underrepresented (Schilling 2013). The areas of concern include new broadcast, TV shows and coverage of women issues. In the newsroom, the analysis of women was usually disregarded and ignored by people. The women in turn never took any crucial roles in the newsroom. In the news content, women were not focused on and were only shown on crucial matters such as criminology or as spouses and relatives of the rich and famous. Issues related to women were deemed to be less newsworthy. Topics such as women rights and gender disparity were not presented in the news. Matters such as the portrayal of women succeeding in politics, finance, entertainment or business were narrow. Women in journalism participated in smaller roles, and the leading roles were left to men.

In TV shows, women characters were few and were not centered on the plot of the story (Bahadur 2012). They were supporting characters, and the lead roles were left for men. Topics such as marriage and parenthood were more focused on women and were only thought to be related to women. In these shows, marital status was considered to be more important to women than to men. Most parental roles were left to women, and women in media were usually depicted as mothers. Parenting and housework were more geared to women's lives than men. The division of work in marriage was also depicted, with men being more of breadwinners and most women being unemployed and their duty being housework and taking care of children. Of the few that were depicted to be employed, they were employed in roles were thought to be women related. Engineering, law enforcement, business, and entrepreneurship were thought to be male related fields.

The TV shows were less centered on the issues that affected women such gender equality and women movements. Women were also viewed to be more passive than men. Here problem-solving was portrayed to be actively done by men than by women. Women who participated in problem-solving were subordinate to men and were likely to submit their problems to men. Currently, women portrayal on TV is changing, and the newsrooms have more women than before. Both men and women nowadays analyze news. Both men and women give news broadcasts on various topics that are a concern the society as a whole, unlike earlier times when women only discussed women related issues. All kinds of news that is, both men and women broadcast political, weather and even sports news.

The news coverage, unlike in the 1980s and ‘90s cover women related issues that in the past received less coverage. Women movements are now being recognized and are frequently covered in the media. The mass media has equally increased the coverage of women campaigns. Majority of the media now affords women in top leadership roles relatively high media visibility compared to a decade ago. Female athletes, business people, and politicians are a common feature in the current news (Wilde 2015). Men domination in the news is decreasing creating a more equal playfield for both men and women.

Television shows have a different portrayal of women. Women lead TV shows are becoming more common. More central roles in TV are being given to women; this is a positive change from the ‘80s and '90s where women were only there as subordinates tot the lead roles. In these shows, women are depicted to solve problems like any other male lead characters. These female characters solve general society problems that affect everyone. These include political, social and even economic issues. In reality TV shows women are more involved in decision making.

The television shows are also changing the portrayal of women from only performing female gender-related roles to more generalized roles.  In current TV shows, women are seen in roles such as CEOs, political figures, and even evil. Characters such as law enforcement are changing to include more women. Women are no longer depicted to be performing minor roles such as housework and parenting and are now involved in roles such as military, and police service. Domestic roles in TV shows depict almost equal participation of men and women. Involvement of women in fields such as engineering, medicine, and the law is also taking route. Women are also winning more and more TV awards due to their exemplary performance in the shows. These usually have both male and female nominees, and despite that, the number of women who are winning is increasing. Unlike any other mass media, television has seen a significant shift in the portrayal of women.

Eikhof observes the portrayal of women entrepreneurs in mass media mainly magazines. In Eikhofs view women, entrepreneurs were largely underrepresented in mass media thus affecting upcoming female entrepreneurs.  More visibility of women entrepreneurs in the current press has sparked interest among women who now see the field as admirable and attainable. It also has brought attention women's active role to the investors and stakeholders who are now more willing to invest in their ventures. Magazines are beginning to embrace this move and are now more willing to capture women-led businesses in various industries (Eikhof, 2013).

Chimba and Kitzinger demonstrate the biased approach on the representation of women in science. Scientist women have received negative visibility despite their significant contributions as the mass media has only capitalized on women's appearance. Chimba and Kitzinger suggest that the mass media representation has only be used to "sex up" the field and increase the popularity of science (Chimba &Kitzinger, 2010). Science has made significant stride and women have played a huge role yet this is yet to be appreciated by mass media. Women in science have the challenge to overcome stereotypes that have dimmed their light, and the mass media can only be part of the process if it reinforces positive representation

In magazines, the role of women was more objectified and sexualized. Magazine covers usually portrayed perfect models whose appearance was edited in a sexualized manner. These images were edited to remove beauty flows that were seen unattractive. These women were also partially nude. Magazines also had sections in which women were compared as well as their attractiveness rated. In these magazine sections, women were portrayed nude or partially nude. These magazines victimized women and characterized women only as objects of marketing the magazines. The role of women in these was only restricted to the sexuality, other sections such as business and politics only depicted men.

Currently, the role of women in magazines is shifting from advertising and sexuality to better roles such as business, politics and other roles that are equally represented by men. Some of the magazines have removed sections in which nude women were portrayed and replaced them with parts depicting women in different carrier fields such as law, engineering, and medicine (Lim 2016). Most magazine covers have reduced objectification of women and use different covers related to the magazine purposes. For magazines that still portray women on the covers, the women involved are non-nude and are not necessary models or celebrities. Although the change is still minor, much had changed from an era when women were only objectified in magazines.

In music videos, women role was sexualized and objectified especially in hip-hop and rap where women speak in charming manners and dress partially naked. They also dance sexually and have no sense of identity. Certain body parts are only focused on, and sense of individuality of these women is not regarded. Even in music videos where women are the lead musicians, this is still a major problem, and they have no morality (McKay, 2013). The transformation that has been experienced in the music industry is demeaning towards women (Glantz 2013). In the 1980s and ‘90s depiction of women in the music industry was less sexualized and objectified, women were less naked than in the current music videos.

This negative change is being embraced by the current society especially the people who listen to the rap and hip-hop music genres. Here, the women roles are mainly supportive, and the male counterparts are the only ones singing (Bakula 2014). This has even led to uprise of female rights movements who want this to be reduced. Some women in the music industry are trying to change this notion that women should be supportive characters in the music industries.The music sector is one of the major fields in which women are still being portrayed as nothing more than objects of pure fun and entertainment. In pornography, women continue to be seen as sexual objects as the majority of consumers still view women as sexual objects and actors uphold this stereotype (Atkinson, 2015). In this industry, like the music industry has reinforced the status quo since not much has changed in the sexualization of women in the society (Wright, 2016).

The mass media has made significant strides in improving women's visibility and changing the traditional roles that stereotyped women. These industries have also taken a rapid change, and most of these changes have taken part in the advent of the 21st century. However, Some sectors, however, are experiencing a slow change in the portrayal of women as women are trying to outgrow the self-objectification that have shaped their behavior for centuries. Mass media is an essential tool in shaking perceptions and the same press that has or years demean women can actively change that by supporting positive representation


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August 01, 2023



Communication Marketing

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