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How women are Treated by the Media

Updated on April 22, 2013

Women And the Media

The idea of the negative portrayal of women in the media can take on several aspects and opinions. Some may say that women were at one time treated as the inferior partner, or person on any given show to include the news. Conversely, some may say that over time women have become the controlling force in the forefront or background of the media especially in an operational aspect. The fact is that how women are treated or referred to in the media has changed over the years and one may or may not agree that the direction of such change, however, there is evidence of that change. The following essay is designed to give evidence of such changes. This essay will outline the treatment of women in the media from past to present and allow for thought as to where this treatment will or could possibly lead.

Research have shown that the way women have been treated in the past as well as how they are now treated in that woman are not called by titles that are indicative of personage, but as compared to things and objects. This is to say that women were and often time are still objectified and compared to things like money, cars, coke bottles, jewelry and things of the like in the form of some supposed hidden compliment. Women were for the most part the “invisible entity” especially in the news media. “Media images of politicians seem to reflect the images of men and women in the media in general. In 1995, the main research results of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) showed that women were just 17 percent, and men 83 percent, of the news subjects on radio, television, and newspapers during one chosen day. Five years later, in 2000, the main results of GMMP had hardly changed: women in the world’s media in one day were found to be just 18 percent of the news subjects, and men 82 percent. As Margaret Gallagher (2001, 83) states, one of the battles in the struggle to tear down current gender-based divisions in relation to public and private is a battle to change media perceptions of the newsworthiness of female politicians.” (Braden)

The media portrays women based on style or look as opposed to substance. For instance, women are often compared to the correlative object the person likes or dislikes, situation depending. “She usually looks like a million dollars. When Gitte Seeberg glides through the corridors of Christiansborg in her light yellow coat and short skirt, high heels and the blonde ponytail, she lights up the room. This afternoon in the garden in Gl. Holte, however, the style is quite different. The high heels are exchanged for a pair of blue plastic thong sandals and the skirt and coat for shorts and a t-shirt.” (Gallagher) Men of all types, ethnicities, and levels of authority have accepted these types of covert or overt comparisons to women throughout the years. However, these types of regard are never by other women that we are aware. The objectification of women by the media lends us to think and believe that the media is a strong male driven world. Nevertheless, over the years, women have taken a stronger role in the decision-making processes first behind the scenes and then now more in the forefront.

“There has been concern that the modern bias facing women in politics is that the media simply use traditional frames built around the dominance of men in coverage of women, which makes it difficult for women to be portrayed as anything other than outsiders. The new celebrity culture in politics does not seem to offer an alternative frame for women. Rather, as van Zoonen (2005, 95) suggests, the celebrity attention paid to female politicians functions “as a continuous reminder of their odd choices as women and their odd position in politics”. The only unproblematic position for women that the territory of politics allows for is one of support; support of the wife for the husband in politics or support of the female colleague for the male leader.” (Van Zoonen) These types of attitude not only objectify women but also seem to belittle their roles as mother or providers in the home. As if to say that, the roles of women are to support the men they are married to, and to raise their children since they cannot do what the men do or compete on the same level as their men or his counterparts. The role of women in politics as portrayed by the media is that of the “wife” of the politician. The media was in a frenzy when, years ago there were women running for high political offices, or in many cases winning seats. Although there seems to be a shift in position and attitude publicly, there still seems to be a hidden attitude behind the scenes. This can be seen or quantified by the disparagingly greater cover of male candidates by the political media than that of women candidates. In my opinion, the coverage of Sara Palin was far less than that of her running mate, and she was probably one of the most outspoken radical politicians in recent times. That is not to say that she was covered. However, she was not covered as much as the other candidates who happen to be men. This is an alarming thing since she was a few hundred thousand votes away from becoming the vice president of the United States of America. The media has taken on the “celebrity politician” (Van Zoonen) attitude and therefore have seemed to be placing women in a position of the “outsider” (Van Zoonen) in the political arena.

“There seems to be broad agreement that when women in general and female politicians in particular are represented in the media, they are presented in special ways, as stereotypes or through conventional frames. This can be done in various ways: by presenting women who achieve the same results as men as “unique”. For example when a woman becomes prime minister, she may be asked specific questions, rarely asked of male counterparts: for example, how she combines the highly demanding work of prime minister with husband and children. Other gendered media practices include reporting male and female speech differently; gender stereotyping female politicians by using gendered descriptive terms (for instance age, physical appearance and marital status are much more likely to be seen as relevant than they will be for male politicians); and explicitly marking the gender when the news actor is female (“the female politician” as opposed to “the politician”). Media images of politicians seem to reflect the images of men and women in the media in general. In 1995 the main research results of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) showed that women were just 17 percent, and men 83 percent, of the news subjects on radio, television, and newspapers during one chosen day. Five years later, in 2000, the main results of GMMP had hardly changed: women in the world’s media in one day were found to be just 18 percent of the news subjects, and men 82 percent.” (Kahn) The stereotypes the media has given to women are often times subtle references to them by gender. Instead of saying politician, they would say “female politician” (Kahn) The media often refer to women who are successful in the political arena as “unique” or “different” (Kahn) when in fact they are simply performing at the same level as their male counterparts. The type of separationist or level of what might be looked at as distinction can only mean that the media can and will go out of their way to label women differently form men what in fact they are the same. The questioning of women in prominent political positions is often different from their male counterparts. No male candidate is ever asked how he will juggle the demands of the office and the raising of their children. No male candidates are ever asked what would have if a pregnancy happens. No male candidates are ever asked how his wife will feel about his workload and him being gone from the home because of his workload. No male candidates are ever asked how he will handle the pressures of balancing his contribution to the home as well as the office. These are question often and regularly asked of women candidates even at the lowest level of politics. Even the speeches given by men and women are regarded differently. Where a man is strong and driving home his point, a woman is emotional and expressive. Where a man would be regarded as protector of the sanctity of the home, a woman is regarded as being the “pit bull with lipstick.” As stated by the media after a Sara Palin speech. I many cases men are covered by the media over three times as much as their women counterparts. This trend seems to even on the international scene of politics where women are covered at an alarming rate of four times less than their male counterparts do. Women are often classified by their age, weight, marital status, and clothing, whereas man are rarely ever judged by any of these things unless they are being placed on some list that makes fun of clothing in general and they seemed to have made a clothing mistake. These types of regards about men are so rare that I could not find any article where it has been done.

“A comparative European study of male and female participation in television programs carried out in 1997-1998 in Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden showed clear signs of unequal and stereotypical gender representation. Firstly, men were better represented than women in all television genres were. Secondly, the largest female participation was found in programs dealing with “soft issues” such as human relations, family, social and health issues. Women were least represented in programs dealing with “hard issues” such as crime, technology/science, and sport. Thirdly, women were more often seen in roles with low status: more as ordinary citizens (47%) and victims (37%) than as politicians (28%) or experts (20%). Even though in most of these countries women’s participation in public life has traditionally been high, men still comprised the majority of politicians (72%) and experts (80%). (Eie 1998.) This study shows that changes in the social world, including the increasing participation of women in public decision-making, are not reflected on television. As a member of the Screening Gender project writes, “By and large, media images still reflect stereotypical reflections of gender roles. A male politician is first and foremost perceived as a politician. A female politician however is first and foremost seen as a woman, a wife and a mother. Her profession is rarely separated from her gender. By approaching a female politician as a woman, a mother or a wife, her social status tends to be diminished.” (Van Dijck) As can been seen, the way women are treated by the media is not only an issue in the US, but also in foreign countries was well. Many country that are usually seen as rather progressive in their thinking have revealed in their media coverage that they regard women differently from men in their media coverage. In these countries, women are omitted from covering the “hard issues’ whereas they are always covered when dealing with the “soft issues.” In the same instances, men are covered during both issues. This type of differences in coverage is almost as if to say that men can relate to all issues where women can only relate to the softer issues at hand. As was stated about the media coverage of women by American media, men are considered politicians where women are considered “female politicians” (Van Dijck) This gender reference difference seems to draw a relationship to women as a woman and not as a performer of their duties. Men in the media are regarded by their positions, duties, and performance to such. Women are regarded by their gender, looks, and struggle as a parent and wife.

Apart from the political media, women are treated even more objectively. The many ways that women are regarded are in the least derogatory towards women. “The way that it likens them to animals and possessions; and the way in which the woman is placed on the bed in the advert portrays women as being only objects used for sex; void of any personality or feelings. Both these adverts succeed in dehumanizing women in that the first divides the woman up into parts of a body, implying that she is nothing more than say, and a car, something which is only a number of parts put together.” (Dines, G. and Humez, J)

The way the media dehumanizes woman inferring that she is like a wild animal with no control of thought and who simply act based on pure instincts is rather deplorable, but is often done by entertainment media. “By showing her as an animal with little control over herself and led by sexual instinct. It also shows her as being a possession, as is a cat or dog, through the way the man has to feed her with Lion Bars, and as we see from their room, if she doesn't get her Lion Bars, She'll destroy it, just as an ill-trained dog might, if left un-fed.” (Dines, G. and Humez, J)

We can see from the examples given by the entertainment media, that women are regarded as objects of the male desire or property of the men in their lives. Many of the research have shown that women have an expectation of look, performance, attitude, and behavior, as is stated in the following excerpt. “The contradictory messages that women are given. They are expected to be sexy and virginal, experienced and naïve, seductive and chaste. They are made to feel that they have to achieve this ideal, by constantly, being presented with these images and are made to feel guilty and ashamed if they fail. Rita Freedman found that: "When Glamour magazine surveyed its readers in 1984, 75% felt too heavy and only 15% felt just right. Nearly half of those who were underweight reported feeling too fat and wanting to diet. Among a sample of college women, 40% felt overweight, while only 12% were actually too heavy" (Dines, G. and Humez, J) I would venture to say that the numbers from this Glamour Magazine survey might not have change very much since 1984. This can be easily seen by the multi-billion dollar diet industry where a new weight loss product targeting women is on the internet almost every week. Women are often expected, even now to always achieve this standard of “perfection” as the male admirer or even potential admirer would dictate by his purchasing of whatever material, book, periodical, magazine, or television commercial he chooses to indulge.

When asked to think of five stereotypes for women, the one stereotype that all respondents gave was the bimbo, a conventionally beautiful young woman with little intelligence and whom they considered would usually be found on soaps and quiz shows. All the stereotypes that the respondents gave were from soap operas, dramas and adverts. None of the respondents felt that women are represented in a wholly accurate manner.

But what is interesting, however, is the fact that C and D thought representations to be more true than A and B. A and B both rejected the majority of images they spoke about, and even said they felt angry at what television portrays as a woman. The messages that the men and women received were different, but still not constructive. A and B both said that they felt television telling them that their place is behind men and that there is a pressure to always look good. Respondent D said he felt that television dictates what type of woman he should be attracted to, but despite that, he felt that the representations of women are getting better all the time. C Thought that the numbers of women involved in television programs are representative of the number of women in the population. On referring to the roles of men and women, he states that; "...generally, the men are the hunters and have to provide, and women are the carers." He also stated that he tends to associate shallowness with beautiful women (the mannequin), but denied that this view came as a response of the women portrayed on television.

One might argue from these interviews that men consider television representations of women to be truer than do the women. Even though everyone admitted that they are not wholly representative, these portrayals still have some effect on the views that the respondents hold about women.

Therefore, we can see the different roles that women are shown to fill, and in some aspects they are representative; there are domestic women, career women, single mothers, beautiful women etc. While television can be said to reflect the changing roles of women, it seems to portray them in a light of approval or disapproval, positive or negative according to the roles that patriarchy favors: the housewife is favored, whilst the woman in power is often shown to be the villain. More importantly, women are often represented as not being so intelligent as men, and having to rely on them. It is also shown that a woman is either intelligent or beautiful; but rarely both. It is important to note also, the effects that these portrayals have on people, and while these interviews are by no means representative of the population, it proves that they do affect people’s views of what women are like. (Ingham)

As one can see by the above excerpt, women on television are depicted in relationship to their numbers in society. In that regard, they are then treated as if they are in constant competition with each other for the lesser amount of available men. In addition, are I say that with the rising number of gay men being represented on television (that is not to say that there is anything wrong with that number) the disparity between the heterosexual men and the women on TV are even greater. Women on TV are they left to really be portrayed as “out of control animals fighting for that one good man.” (Ingham)

“The majority of soap operas are set in a domestic situation, because the home is a place where women's expertise is supposedly valued, and is also a place of comfort. Often, the central characters are female, and the ultimate achievement for these women in soaps is to get married and have children. Therefore, it could be argued that the myth of never ending materialism actually conceals the subordination of women. In fact, the subliminal messages often tend to be male dominated. In one episode of Home and Away for example, there was a disagreement about Jack and Sam having to share a room. Sally says to Sam, who is about ten years old; "So what? I and Shannon share a room all the time.” to which he replies; "Yeah, but you girls like sharing rooms, trying on each other’s clothes. We men need our space.” This implies that women always need other people, compare themselves with others, and cannot cope on their own like 'men' can. Even though this line came across somewhat humorously, being delivered by a ten-year-old boy, it still portrays the patriarchal ideology that women have a need for companionship that men do not. Indeed, it is companionship and relationships which are emphasized in soaps, with relationships being portrayed between women as important, but not as important as the relationship between a woman and a man. This is often portrayed through the central female character being a wife and usually a mother, if not wanting to be one, for example, Pippa in Home and Away fills the role of the selfless mother and wife; the good wife who, according to Meehan; "is domestic, attractive, home centered and content. She does not wish to become involved with the world outside the home, leaving this to her husband" (Trowler) Women are not human anymore unless they are wives, supporters, encouragers, and homebodies for the men in their lives. It is ironic that both the political and entertainment media both portray women in similar ways as is outlined in the above piece.


Braden, Maria. Women Politicians and the Media. Article. Lexington Kentucky: The University of Kentucky Press, 1996.

Dines, G. and Humez, J. "Gender, Race and Class in Media." London: Sage (1995): 6-8. Magazine.

Gallagher, Margaret. Gender Setting: New Agendas for Media Monitoring and Advocacy. London: Zedd Books, 2001.

Ingham, Helen. "Private Screenings - Television and the Female Consumer." The Portrayal of Women on Television (1995). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kahn, Kim F. " Women candidates in the news: An examination of gender differences in U.S. Senate campaign coverage." Public Opinion Quarterly March 1991: 55(2), 180-200.

Trowler, P. Investigating the Media. London: Collins, 1988.

Van Dijck, Bernadette. Screening gender: Gender portrayal and programme making routines. United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), Expert Group Meeting on “Participation and access of women to the media, and the impact of media on, and its use as an instrume. 12-15 November 2002, Beirut, Lebanon. Website. 21 April 2013.

Van Zoonen, Liesbet. Entertaining the Citizen. When Politics and Popular Culture Convergence. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.


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    • gaeparks profile image

      gaeparks 4 years ago from North Las Vegas, Nevada

      As a thought...some women seems to perpetuate these attitudes and stereotypes about each other.