Harmful representations of women in the media are not just limited to television or films, they are wide-ranging and can be found in nearly every medium in popular culture. Three of the mostly widely consumed mediums for these depictions of females are television, video games, and magazines and each one of these has a corresponding set of unique problems. While there are many other issues related to the way females are repented for viewers, for the purposes of this essay it is useful to explore gender stereotypes in television, overly sexualized images of women in video games, and unrealistic images in magazines. As a whole, these three issues support the idea that these problems have a negative effect on the way women not only perceive themselves but how our culture understands them as well.
Television is one of the most present and widely viewed mediums in this country and has a large effect on the way women see themselves and how others view them. Television, with its many shows about men and women, is responsible for some harmful representations of women because, among other reasons, it supports many gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are harmful for women because they confine women to several gender-specific roles that are not always true. “Regrettably, Wife Swap is simply another in the increasingly long line of ‘car crash’ reality shows along with Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor, and Mr. Right, where women are either portrayed as commodities, desperate individuals obsessed with marriage, or in Wife Swap’s case, entirely measured by their success in the domestic sphere" (Fairclough 345). These stereotyped perceptions of what women are like is hardly true, yet even humorous television shows depicting women, especially Wife Swap, further solidify the view that women are single-minded and unable to think or act outside narrowly defined and culturally coded behavior. For a woman that might be trying to live without being married or concerned with more important things besides keeping a perfect home, this can be even more harmful since she will think she is not “normal" because she is not living the way a “real" woman should. For younger girls, this creates the impression that little girls are supposed to grow up and getting married or else they are not feminine.
Much as with television, video games can confine women in many ways as well. One of the most noticable elements of many video games is not really so much stereotypes about women’s roles, but the way they are presented as sex objects. Consider how “the impossibly busty body of Laura Croft, the female protagonist of Tob Raider, can be viewed nude on certain websites. The theory is that these stereotyped representations could be damaging to both girls and boys" (Norris 716). Even though she is not a real women, she is still idolized and made into an unrealistic picture of what the perfect should be. For young boys, this gives the idea that a real woman should look the way this character and to little girls, she is seen as a hero who is impossibly beautiful and has a body that no true human woman could ever hope for. This makes both boys and girls prone to idolizing an unrealistic woman and might make the real women look dull in comparison. Women in this game, at least the central character, Laura Croft, is an unattainable ideal and that is, in itself, a very damaging notion for both genders.
Unrealistic representations of women are even more common in fashion magazines where impossibly thin girls are posed in ways that often show off how skinny they are. Just as with video games, it gives women and younger girls the impression that it is possible and important for them to look like a model and unhealthy obsessions with their weight often happen. “In common discourse, eating disorders are often seen as the result of the pressure to be thin, operated by the media. Magazines and the media propose/impose an unnatural model of beauty and young women fall into the trap of serious eating disorders in the effort to emulate their favorite top models" (Giordano 149). Consider any cover of any number of women’s fashion magainzes such as Elle or Vogue. Instead of having a cover that shows a new product or topic of interest to women, or even the clothes being modeled on a normal female, in order to sell them the woman is very thin and sexually posed. This makes the women looking at these images feel less confident in their own bodies and more likely to develop issues about their weight such as anorexia or bulimia. Just as with video games, it makes girls feel like they have to conform to unrealistic standards of what a woman or girl “should" look like. It is not healthy for young girls to think that when they are adults like many of these models they should look like they do not eat, yet there are still many cases of anorexia and other eating disorders because of it.
Western culture is very invested in entertainment so television, video games, and magazines are all very common and can be found everywhere. Since that is the case, many women are exposed to these ideas about how they should behave and live their lives, especially through television shows like those mentioned above. Women are also always confronted with these harmful ideas about how they should look through video games and magazines as well. In order to make it so that women do not feel like they are trapped into looking perfect or like the unrealistic models or video game characters and that they do not feel like they must be housewives to be successful, there needs to be a big change in the way the media represents women. This might be a hard task though because it all sells very well so that means that women have to resist the temptation to believe the way the media presents them.
Fairclough, Kirsty. “Women’s Work? Wife Swap and the reality problem.” Feminist Media Studies 4.3 (2004): 344
Giordano. “Anorexia Nervosa and its Moral Foundations.” The International Journal of Children s Rights13.1 (2005): 149
Norris. “Gender Stereotypes, Aggression, and Computer Games: An Online Survey of Women.”CyberPsychology& Behavior 7.6 (2004): 714