The main purpose of this essay is to discuss the omnipresent issue of women's portrayal in the media by studying the effect of the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Buffy The Vampire Slayer is an American television series which aired from 1997 to 2003 following a young girl (Buffy Summers) who is chosen to be a vampire slayer and confront the dark forces in her fictional world. However, what made this particular series interesting was the fact it was augmented with an astute example of counter-hegemony due to the prevalent theme of feminism. The protagonist plays an independent, male-like role whom seemingly promotes feminist behaviour. Firstly, it is important to define the key components of the question, which in this case are the concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony. Secondly, one must identify the issues of ideology and hegemony, before finally explaining how Buffy The Vampire Slayer has addressed these particular concerns. The series challenges orthodox anti-feminist ideologies, such as the media presenting women as sex icons and dependent damsels and men as chivalrous, independent heroes, by altering the way in which the audience not only perceive women, but men likewise.
The term hegemony originated from the writings of Karl Marx, but was conceptualised by the Communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci. Hegemony describes the “socialisation process by which the dominant class persistently projects its ideologies, while subordinate classes see these ideological practices and expectations as 'common sense' and consent to them” (Lealand and Martin, Pg 52, 2001). Lealand and Martin (2001) argue hegemony is primarily a Marxist ideology in the sense that social class is a key factor in determining the ownership of the media and how audiences fathom media text. The general Marxist belief in view of a capitalist society is that the media are part of a powerful, unelected elite who use their influence to reinforce the status quo and neglect contrasting views. Television 'normalises' dominant ideologies as common sense, providing capitalist media elites with a efficacious assertion (Lealand and Martin, 2001). Thus, the values of the society one inhabits are perceived as natural, and not learned.
Hegemony can be used to explain society's patriarchal structure in regard to what is considered conventional female roles. Young women mature in a society surrounded with female directed ideologies, such as romance, monogamy, motherhood and dependence, which, when they reach adulthood, causes these stereotypical roles to appear as the norm (Lealand and Martin, 2001). One of the principal techniques the ruling elite use to enforce these so called norms is the utilisation of the media in its portrayal of women. For example, gender stereotypical commercials aimed at young girls that present toy kitchens or dolls cleaning the house.
Counter-hegemony on the other hand, is opposition to the status quo. For example, the suffragettes movement in the United Kingdom and United States during the early 1900's is a form of oppositional force. From a media specific perspective, the aim of achieving the political objective of gender equality is advocated through attempts to establish alternative media forms which provide more progressive and positive representations of women and girls (Carter and Steiner, 2004). Buffy The Vampire Slayer falls under the counter-hegemonic umbrella because of the feminist themes that engulf the series. Author Zoe-Jane Playden argues that the creation of the protagonist Buffy is an attempt to break away from the traditional male superhero image that had dominated television and comics, such as Batman and Superman (Playden, cited in Kaveney, 2001). Feminist themes also involve the rest of the characters in such a way that the roles of men and women are almost reversed. Buffy is seen to be independent and physically strong, whereas the male characters are often depicted as being...
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