Critical Readings: Media and Gender

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The book ``Critical Readings: Media and Gender``, edited by Cynthia Carterr and Linda Steiner, is an original and interesting study of media and gender. Many different approaches are used to analyze subjects such as: communication, media texts, entertainment, institutions, audiences and news. Within the scope of more than 300 pages, the authors discuss the following topics: gender identity and television talk shows; historical portrayls of women in advertising; the sexualization of the popular press; the representation of lesbians on television; the cult of feminty in women’s magazines; images of African American women and Latins in Hollywood movies; sexual violence in media; women in popular music; pornography and masculine power; women`s relationship to the Internet. This book can be very helpful during the process of exploring gender studies, mass communication, the sociology of media, cultural and media studies, politics, journalism and communication studies.  It provides insights into many aspects of feminists` problem. It is focusing mainly on inequalities between men and women and on the gender`s representation in the media.  The authors discuss many topics to show how the media play an important role in the shaping of individual self-identities. It is written in a clear and accessible style and it explores contradictory character of gender representations. The book considers a wide range of research and provides new ways of  thinking about media`s influence on gender and sexuality.

             Many authors write about interesting subjects. Myra Macdonald writes about the negative effects of women`s advertisements. Marguerite Mortiz describes how American television presents asexual images of lesbian characters in movies and soap operas. Sherrie Inness emphasizes that prestigious women`s magazines point out that femininity is a very desirable quality.  Helen Davies indicates that female rock musicians are being humiliated and mocked by British rock music press. Elizabeth Hadley Freydberg also underlines that Afro-American and Latino women are usually presented in Hollywood films as sexual objects that have to be controlled and sexually exploited. In the last chapter, Heather Gilmour discusses the gaming software currently being developed for girls which is stereotyping them and exerting pressure on them to act in certain ways. Fortunately, nothing is as bad as it seems. For instance, Mary Ellen Brown argues that a popular entertainment genre like soap opera can contribute to the better position of women in the society. Likewise, Jane Shattuc claims that daytime talk shows encourage women to talk about their inferior and unequal role in the society and to share their mutual ideas and experiences about this issue. In order for the empowerment of women to have a genuine impact, some women think that that women`s alternative media are the only solution. Carmen Ruiz writes about women`s grassroots communication project in Bolivia. This project empowered a group of rural women to make their own media, encouraged them and made them feel useful members in the public domain.

            The field of media and gender is very important. Despite their struggles, women today experience unequal treatment in significant ways. All over the world, they are assigned prescribed roles and do not work in the most prestigious occupations, earn as much money or enjoy positions of equal social status as often as men do. Mostly working in poorly paid service jobs, they are severely under-represented in politics and the highest levels of business management.  The authors point out that popular attitudes continue to keep women in their traditional place. They also emphasize that the media have contributed a lot to women`s subordinate social and economic status. Since the beginning of the media history, the media have been limiting women in many ways. The media have been altering the way women have seen themselves and others. Nevertheless, great changes in their position have occurred. In the 1860, feminists in the UK and the USA joined the campaign for greater social, educational, political and economic rights. The turning point in women`s employment came after the Second World War. Many married women who went to work during the war continued to work in peacetime, and many more joined them in the following decades. A new women`s movement blossomed in 1960s and 1970s. The more radical feminists of 1970s rejected conventional gender roles. It was argued that sex is defined by the physical body and is characterized by the initial biological structure from birth. On the other hand, gender is unstable. It is a category by which we understand the body. The cultural ideologies and discourses surrounding us make sense of a body and determine our gender in multiple ways. It gives us social, political, symbolic, and economic understanding of our bodies and how they are similar or dissimilar to other bodies. This observation has been a dominant characteristic of media studies now. The expansion of the research has also been connected with the entry of a lot of women into media and communication departments in the UK and the USA during the past 30 years. Nevertheless, women`s lobbing and feminists` continuous struggle have influenced the media. However, there are still many ads and articles in magazines and newspapers, many TV programs where the stereotyping of men and women is so apparent but at the same time society is so blind to it.  Fortunately, there are alternative media forms where the goal is to present more modern and liberal images of women.

            The media have gone through impressive changes over the course of the past 30 years because new technologies have developed (desktop computers, the Internet, mobile phones, satellite television, cable television and so on). Furthermore, the academic study of media and gender has become one of the leading studies in schools and universities. The development of gender awareness is fundamental for our sense of self and it is also predominant in any assessment made of another person. It has been the topic of many debates, thus showing how  important the development of gender awareness is.

            Globalization and convergence of various forms of media have fuelled the widespread promotion of ideas and values in a scale and intensity that haven`t been experienced before. This book seriously examines how this development has engendered or hindered the definition and status of gender in modern society. It repeatedly points out how, as a powerful socializing agent, the media have become an important vehicle that contributes to social changes. For example, when Afghani`s women`s status in the society was brought to public attention in Western media, many people around the world joined various campaigns in order to help these women.

So, while the media have unquestionably contributed to the (re)production of sexist norms, values and beliefs, they are also capable of playing a significant role in bringing to world-wide attention the material harms that women may suffer as a result. (Carter and Steiner, 2004:5).

Bibliography

  1. Carter, Cynthia and Steiner, Linda. (2004). Critical Readings: Media and Gender. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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