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Thesis in Progress

By anneasia Mar 31, 2013 7224 Words

This chapter presents the background of the study, the rationale for conducting a descriptive analysis on the evolution of selected local gay films from 1970's to present, the research problem and objectives, significance of the study and its scope.

A. Background of the Study
Media is said to be very influential and powerful because it has the ability to shape people’s views on various beliefs, religion, gender and race related issues, and others. People’s perceptions are being molded as media plays significant roles in society such as political, economic and social. It is said to be powerful for it holds many channels such as in print (books, newspaper, magazines and others), television, radio, the internet and films.

For decades, American entertainment media have defined the Asian image to all the world. And usually, that image has been shaped by people with little understanding of Asian people themselves--and with little foresight into how such images would impact the Asian American community. Despite the good intentions of individual producers and filmmakers, limited and unbalanced portrayals of Asians have traditionally been the norm in the entertainment industry. Too often, an Asian face or accent is presented as a shorthand symbol for anything antithetical to American or Western culture. Too often, no distinctions are made between Asian Americans--acculturated U.S. citizens with deep roots in this nation--and Asian nationals who may or may not have any loyalty to the United States. Too often, the media insinuate that Asian Americans don't belong in their own country. (MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans)/Restrictive Portrayals of Asians in the Media and How to Balance/p.1)

According to Balkaran (1999), Mass media have played and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, the media have fostered a distorted and pernicious public perception of African-Americans. In 1967, the Kerner Report attacked the mass media for their inadequate handling of day-to-day coverage of racial events. The Report charged the media with failing to properly communicate about race to the majority of their audience. That is, white America needed to hear more about the actual conditions and feelings of African-Americans in the U.S. Only when events are associated with concern of the "white public" do they become newsworthy. Given the situation in America where the major news media have predominantly white reporters and serve a mainly white audience, it follows that the "public" which dictates newsworthy events is a white public. The day to day tensions of black existence and exploitation, which are crucial concerns of the black community, are not primary concerns of the white public. Only the symptoms of these conditions, such as freedom rides and social disturbances, impinge upon whites. Hence, it is only such "events" which become newsworthy in a white press.

Balkaran (1999) also said that, one of the main reasons for the inadequate coverage of the underlying causes of racial stereotypes in the U.S. is that the condition of blacks itself is not a matter of high interest to the white majority. Their interest in black America is focused upon situations in which their imagined fear becomes a real problem. Events like boycotts, pickets, civil rights demonstrations, and particularly racial violence mark the point at which black activity impinges on white concerns. It is not surprising that the white-oriented media seek to satisfy the needs of their white audience and reflect this pattern of attention to these selected events. (as cited in YALE articlesVol.21, No.1/ Mass Media and Racism/1999)

Media speaks volumes about what is important in a society. George Gerbner of Temple University discusses how portrayals in media can affect how children see themselves and others: he argues that if you are over-represented, you see yourself as having many opportunities and choices while if you’re under-represented, you see yourself as having the opposite.

Ethnic minorities in Canada do not see themselves mirrored in the media, and this perpetuates feelings of rejection, trivialises their contributions, and devalues their role as citizens in their nations. Since the media grants legitimacy to certain populations by including them and treating them respectfully, fair and equal representation is critical for building a healthy multicultural society.

North American entertainment and news media are not balanced in their portrayal of visible minorities – groups that are visually recognizable as different from the majority culture or ethnicity. In Canada, visible minorities are defined by the Employment Equity Act as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour". According to Statistics Canada, “The [Canadian] visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Japanese and Korean”. Representations of these minority groups are often inadequate or non-existent and when they are portrayed, these portrayals are often stereotyped and demeaning. (Mahtani, M. (2001).Representing minorities: Canadian media and minority identities.Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes Ethniques au Canada)

Film encompasses individual motion pictures, the field of film as an art form, and the motion picture industry. Films are produced by recording images from the world with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or special effects. Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating — or indoctrinating — citizens. The visual elements of cinema gives motion pictures a universal power of communication. (EICAR/Glossary/p1.)

Maslog (2007) stressed that film is the most popular form of entertainment here in the Philippines. The Filipinos' passion and love for movies is evident on the large number of movie houses, not only in Manila, but also in other cities and provinces. The Philippine movie industry is even on the top list movie producers in Asia. Filipinos indeed have seemingly undying passion and talent for watching and producing films.

Gay portrayal nowadays is very much different the way media does in the past decades. Most of the earliest gay films portray gays as a comedic character. Cross dressing, sward speaking, doing feminine jobs and a lot more that suggests of their sexuality but it is always often done in a “cowardly” manner (like how slapstick comedy works), and in exaggeration to make it comical. These portrayals were done during Dolphy and Roderick Paulate’s reign on gay films. Media now, has been more reflective of what and how male homosexuals really are, in terms of their characteristics, appearances and in their stand in the society. Now, they are being characterized as hardworking, high-earning individuals, with masculine physique and has good looking partners just how we see them in reality, making it hard for the male and female sexes to tell the difference between a straight man from a gay.The comical witticism of gays that we see in reality would be one of the reasons why media portrays them as a hilarious character in films, ads, sitcoms, and others. There may be changes with the portrayal with regards to their appearance, social status, occupation and view of character (serious, comedic, heroic, etc.), but is still often mixed with humorous situations or lines that still suggests the stereotyped ideology of gays.

According to Burgess (2003), Stereotypes (or "characterizations") are generalizations or assumptions that people make about the characteristics of all members of a group, based on an image (often wrong) about what people in that group are like. The media also plays an important role in both perpetuating and in breaking down stereotypes. If they characterize particular groups of people in certain ways, their viewers (or readers) are likely to do the same. So if a movie -- or the motion picture industry in general -- characterizes a group of people negatively, they are likely to be perpetuating negative stereotypes and making conflicts worse. If they emphasize the positive aspects of groups that contradict prevalent stereotypes, they can have a significant role in building mutual understanding. (As cited in

Looking at gay culture and history, we can say that they are more open nowadays that they were before. According to Moon (1995), the lives and experiences of the gay community have increasingly become more socially visible, as evidenced by a number of popular television programs, films, books, magazines, websites, and public events revolving around the common system of gay language, history, and activities shared by gay men.

During the forum of “The Larger Picture: A Look into the Dynamics of Media and the Business of Gender and Sexuality” Remoto, author of Ladlad: A Gay Anthology, remarked, “There was a time nainvisble (sa media) angmgabakla (homosexuals were invisible in media). But when they became visible, malinamanangpagkaka-portray (their portrayal was wrong)”. An example of media gay exposure is the controversial installment of the “Hello, Billy!” advertisement series of telecom giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, which earned the ire of the gay and lesbian community, has been pulled out. Yet, the hurt of the insult it supposedly directed against male homosexuals remains. Remoto reacted to this advertisement and said that there had been times when they wondered why ad agencies could not focus on the gay and lesbian community as a target market. But now that they are doing it, he pleads, “Please stop insulting us.”

The topic about homosexuality in media is unavoidable. It is everywhere, and one reason behind this may be because of the fact that they are viewed as different. Many people in our country still consider being gay as immoral and unnatural, mainly because of our Religious belief. With all these this negative views pertaining to homosexuals, portrayals and representations of them scatter all around. These portrayals send messages, either intentional or unintentional, and these affect the views of the society regarding homosexuals. Cadwell (2010) said, It should not come as a surprise as media at this moment offer films that are gay-themed. Nowadays, the media and homosexuality are in a “back and forth discussion” with regards to proper representation. These representations mold how the society look at these people and “tweak the social atmosphere”. And because the media has the ability to change the negative vibes regarding homosexuality, it then became important to homosexuals how these portrayals are viewed.

B. Rationale
Despite Filipino films being representations of Filipino culture and identity, they are not given the care and attention due them. According to Hernandez (1999), Homosexuality, then, was considered a taboo subject. Being able to read and see articles and images associated with homosexuality nowadays is a sign of social change. Decades ago, homosexuality is considered an illness, a sign of a degrading society, an act of perversion, or simply an embarrassment: not anyone would dare to read an article about homosexuality. It was shrouded in silence. The reason behind this may be that they had never encountered any representation of homosexuality before, may it be in art, visual images, theater, or film. Such a topic is considered deteriorating. Any act of homosexuality is considered deviant and results to severe punishment. Many homosexuals today hide their true identity to avoid being penalized but some decide to come out because they are no longer alone. Many LGBT groups and organizations have come to rise. To be fully themselves, homosexuals need to come out and accept their real identity. (As cited in SOCYBERTY/Ideologies of Filipinos on the Portrayal of Homosexual Characters in the Philippine Films/2011/p.1)

Cadwell (2010) said that, This once taboo subject is now one of the most talked about topic. It should not come as a surprise as media at this moment offer films that are gay-themed. Nowadays, the media and homosexuality are in a “back and forth discussion” with regards to proper representation. These representations mold how the society look at these people and “tweak the social atmosphere”. And because the media has the ability to change the negative vibes regarding homosexuality, it then became important to homosexuals how these portrayals are viewed. (As cited in SOCYBERTY/Ideologies of Filipinos on the Portrayal of Homosexual Characters in the Philippine Films/2011/p.1)

C. Research Problem and Objective
Specifically, this study aims to address the question:
How much has the portrayal of gays in selected films evolved in 1970s up to present? The researchers aims to present the following through content analysis on selected gay films, namely: Physical appearance then and now, age that is usually used in portraying gays, changes in characteristics then and now, occupation, view of character: comical, lead, antagonist, protagonist etc. Demographic profile (age, profession, role in the family)

Psychographic state (attitudes and behaviors)

D. Significance of the Study
The results of he study will be beneficial to the following: * Philippine Gay Community
* Film makers
* ABCommuncation Students in SJCQC
* School Administrators
* Philippine Society
The researchers expect to benefit the gay community from this study. This study may serve as a voice on the gay community as they try to change the ideology of the Philippines society towards their culture and beliefs. This study will be beneficial for the local film makers to help them give realistic and deeper gay portrayals on films; Film and television industry for them to know how the society towards their culture and beliefs. The results of this study will be beneficial to the students of St. Joseph’s College of Quezon City, particularly among BS Education students and AB Mass Communication. This will provide information about how the media portrays the Gay community in local films. The results of the study will also be beneficial to the school administration especially to the Professors of Gender Studies that they may be inspired in continually doing their teachings about the Gay Community and this study will also serve as their basis in the future. And lastly, for the other members of society will also get fruitful insights in this study, for they will learn about media literacy about the presentation of media of gay portrayals on films and to change the negative mindset on them.

E. Scope of the Study
The researchers focused on the film’s portrayal on the male homosexual from 1970s to present, media’s perception on these portrayals, stereotyping of media and male homosexual culture and history. This will include analysis of their physical appearance, demographic profile, and psychographic state.

The researchers have limited their subjects to giving the readers the evolution of gay portrayals in selected films in the Philippines from 1970’s to present.


This chapter reviews the related literature and related studies that would provide a concrete background of the study.

A. The Male Homosexual Portrayal

In a study, Cadwell (2010) said that, it should not come as a surprise as media at this moment offer films that are gay-themed. Nowadays, the media and homosexuality are in a “back and forth discussion” with regards to proper representation. These representations mold how the society look at these people and “tweak the social atmosphere”. And because the media has the ability to change the negative vibes regarding homosexuality, it then became important to homosexuals how these portrayals are viewed.

In a study on Portrayal of Homosexuality in Media, made by Shapiro, The new century has brought about various changes to the growing world. Among the most talked about topics is the issue of homosexuality. This once taboo topic is now more common as homosexuals feel more comfortable and open with their sexuality. Perhaps the greatest reason for this is because of the rise of new shows on American television that feature gay individuals. Homosexuality and relationships are increasingly common due to the evolving coverage in the mass media. In their study, they also included homosexual portrayal concerning politics. During the candidacy of Bush and Kerry, homosexuality has become very visible in politics. The election played a major role in how homosexuality is represented in the media. Both candidates had the subject of legalizing gay marriage on their platforms. People could vote for Bush if they were in a favor of a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, or they could vote for Kerry who was against it. This proved to be one of the most controversial elections, in part because the issue of homosexuality was brought to the forefront. The media played a large role in the debate over this topic, contributing to the perception that homosexuality was an important moral and ethical issue. In this past election homosexuality was portrayed merely as an issue, or in other words, just something that needed to be dealt with. It was dehumanized in a way that allowed the public to forget about the real people behind the issue – the gay community. In short, the media’s portrayal of homosexuality in politics was heightened as of late, mainly because of the election. It was portrayed as being controversial, especially concerning moral and religious beliefs. The media also created a kind of wonderment on how to deal with it as a situation. Through the media, politics has brought the issue of homosexuality to an inescapable new level.

Through this studies, the researchers found a trend on how homosexual portrayal becomes an issue to the public. Their appearance on media is still debatable and is an issue regarding to as how they are treated by the media.

B. Media Sterotyping

A study by Abelman (1990) entitled, “Mass Communication: Issues and Perspectives”, says that, stereotyping in media can also be approached by asking how media cover or portray different racial and ethnic minorities, the sexes, and the people of different ages. He also said that Media confer the status of those individuals and groups it selects for placement in the public eye, telling the viewer who and what is important to know about, think about, and have feeling about. Different members of the society does create a certain norm common in each group they belong to, but the ideology, the image that media creates regarding a certain norm, specifically with those included in the third sex has been an issue of stereotyping and discrimination.

According to Gataullina (2003)Mass media became on of the main sources of popular culture in modern capitalist society. Media, however, not only entertains and offers news to people, but also transfers the stereotypes, beliefs and values of the society to reproduce the existing order of social life. Louis Althusser in his theory of ideological state apparatuses, says that schools, families, religions play the role of the ideological state apparatuses. These institutions invisibly transfer and indoctrinate the dominant hegemonic ideology of the society into the minds of people in order to be able to control people. In the modern capitalist world, I would argue, media turned to be yet another althusserian ideological apparatus that control the mind of masses. It seems like media creates the unique pieces of art: movies, documentaries, magazines, music, TV shows and others. Theodor Adorno, however, would argue that all of these products of media contain zero level of uniqueness. According to him, what we see on TV screens or in newspapers is produced only with one purpose of being sold. Therefore, what is manufactured (popular culture) by media has to reflect the life of people, it needs to be on such level that people would understand and except. This reflection, however, is created through reproduction of stereotypes, which fill the life of society and, thus, are known to everyone.

Gautallina also said that, Another stereotype that presented in all of the movies was the dependency of women upon men. Male characters always participated in helping a female-character to reach the success. Velvet needed young man who would help her to practice her horse-riding skills. Monica's love to a basketball player was an important component on her way to glory. The rejection of her love by man was one of the main moments that made her want to practice even harder. The main character of Blue Crush received an important advice from a young man she fell in love with, and, therefore, managed to win the competition. And, finally, in A League Of Their Own most of the women lived with the thoughts about their husbands who were fighting in the war. Besides, all sponsors, the manager and the couch of the female baseball team were men, and the existence of the team depended upon what the men says, rather from the athletic skills that these women manage to develop. What makes all these examples even more interesting is that one can develop a counter-argument, saying that the fact that in these movies men were helping women to achieve the success was instead a break of stereotype, which represents men as those who achieve high goals, and women as those who help to achieve these goals. If we compare the different ways, in which media depicts helping male and helping female characters, we will see that if men help with a wise advice and with their knowledge, then female helps by cooking and taking care of children. This is yet another stereotype, common to all kinds of mass media. (as cited in

Through these studies that the researchers found, the researchers were able to conclude how media does stereotyping and how it differs from a media representation or portrayal. It also gave researchers knowledge on how the audiences or viewers perceive certain film/media stereotyping.

C. Homosexuals in Reality

Gay is a term used to refer transvestites and other probably to other effeminate homosexuals. Gays in the Philippines are seen everywhere. They speak funnily all the times and swish their hips while walking. To understand gay culture as defined by style is to alter our sense of its meaning.

That is especially useful when it comes to all those gay male styles that reveal some connection with femininity. Not all gays’ projects femininity. There are others who look straight but they are actually gays. "The construal of Homosexuality as purely a matter of sexuality (sexual object choice) which doesn't necessarily affect gender identity, is best exemplified by what Harplin calls the "straight acting gay" that remains gender-intransitive regardless of his sexual orientation. (Philippine gay culture pg. 39). The gay lingo (i.e.) the gay language is spoken by them to make their conversations private and exclusive to homosexuals. But this is no longer exclusive to gays much to our divas dismay. From obscure parlours around the Philippines it has infiltrated the tri-media and is now being spoken or understood or both by everyone in the Philippines. Gays are more than merely homosexuals. "To be gays basically means, more than evincing a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex, also becoming effeminate, transvestism, and perhaps funny- only boosters my by now stale argument of how all gays are homosexual but not all homosexual are gays" (Philippine gay culture pg. 53).

For sake of entertainment and self-confidence, gays give emphasis on improving their life by joining pageants, improving talents like singing, dancing as well as acting. Most occupations that gays are into are also feminine type of jobs like being a cook on a typical eatery, beauty parlour work like fashion design makeup and hair styling. The cross-dressing on gay people is quiet normal just like the way they act and speak every day.

Gay culture is unusually consumerist, a situation that is possibly due to the fact that establishing a subculture is facilitated by adopting tangible signs and actions that enhance recognition as gay (Valocchi 1999). Gays are single, in long-term relationships, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, even one’s best friend. They are like everyone else in society. The only difference is that physically, emotionally and spiritually they are attracted to members of their own sex. Yet, throughout most of modern history the homosexual individual has been vilified as different, aberrant and a sexual deviant.

Powell (n/a) said, Gay culture in particular, must be allowed the intensity of its diverse expression, equally for primary instances of culture and for their critical examination. Gay culture represents a subculture, a set of people with a set of behaviours and beliefs that could be distinct or hidden, which differentiates them from the larger culture which surrounds them.

In these studies, the researchers have come to known the similarities and difference there is in film portrayals regarding gays from male homosexuals in reality. the researchers also found out that there are classifications of gays.

D. Synthesis
Based on the review of related literature and studies, the researchers found out the following significant insights:

* that media stereotyping can be true but not for all classes, genders, sex, religion. and others that it represents. * how powerful media can be in telling people what to think about * that the issues concerning gays is unavoidable and it manifests on the different channels of media.

E. Research Gaps
The researchers finds the previous studies lacking or vague of the following concepts or ideas:

* description of the similarities and differences between the gay portrayals and gay's life in reality.

* auidience's perception of the film portrayals

* gay's view on they are being portrayed

* concrete description of how were gays started to be stereotyped and be portrayed as parloristas and others.

* a latest study about male homosexual films in the country.

* a study which will refer on the evolution of gay portrayals in films.


This chapter presents the theory that provided the researcher a perspective on how the research problem may be answered. It also presents the theoy's relationships with the major variables of the study. Definitions of major concepts are also presented to provide the readers clarification as to how these concepts are used in this research.

A. Theoretical Framework

The researchers will use Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw’s Agenda Setting Theory.

Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw stated in this theory that “the media is the one who tells the viewers what to think about and how to think about it” (p.378, Griffin, 2008). It says that the media (mainly the news media) aren’t always successful at telling us what to think, but they are quite successful at telling us what to think about. Media influence affects the order of presentation in news reports about news events, issues in the public mind. Media Priorities It says what people should think about and how people should think about.

Mass Communication let us what to think about. Agenda setting describes a very powerful influence of the media. The theory explains the correlation between the rate at which media cover a story and the extent to which people think that this story is important. It explains why most people prioritize the same issues as important because of the way media presented it. The media is showing what the most important issues are at hand so it gives the people the impression that it is the most important. Media primes issues by repeating it and giving it more importance by broadcasting it to the public and penetrating it to the public’s mind.

Agenda-setting theory seems quite appropriate to help us understand the pervasive role of the media. Agenda-setting creates public awareness and concerns about the issues that are created by the new media. This theory is good at explaining why people with similar media exposure place importance on the same issues. Although different people may feel differently about the issue at hand, most people feel the same issues are important. They are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individuals in the mass should think about, know about, and have feelings about.

Priming states that television coverage of the news not only develops individuals’ knowledge of on specific issues. (Willnat, 1997). The core idea of Priming is that when it comes to expressing an opinion, an individual does not make long disquisitions, but rather “takes a short cut”, for or against the issue in question effortlessly. Priming refers to the impact which that same coverage has on the elaboration of a judgement on their political actors (Iyengar, 1987).

Framing talks about how people attach importance to certain. Media controls people what to perceive about an issue. Framing shows that frames can affect a person in particular, or society in general. Scheufele (1999) thinks of these perspectives of framing as “microlevel” –describing how people use information and presentation features regarding issues as they form impressions- and “macrolevel” –anaylizing how the way an issue is presented by journalists resonates with existing underlying schemas among their audience (Scheufele, 2007: 12). Framing and Priming theories analyse some questions that the theory of the Agenda-setting leaves understood.

Figure 1. Theoretical Framework Agenda Setting Theory

B. Conceptual Framework
The researchers used Agenda-setting theory by McCombs and Shaw as their umbrella theory. The agenda-setting theory and television as the medium of the message serve as a tool for educating and informing the viewers about the roles that the gays and to show how the gay are portrayed on local films. This is called framing in agenda-setting theory. On the other hand, showing the certain issues how are gays portrayed and how they are perceived by the people is priming in agenda-setting. In discussing the research problem and objectives the researchers wants to be able to view how realistic are these portrayals in the true state of gays in the Philippine society. Using the Agenda setting which describes a very powerful influence of the media. Since the researchers used the Agenda-setting theory, which serve as a tool to inform and educate the viewers. The researchers want to elaborate that the television and film are the main factors that persuade the perceptions of gays on Philippine films. The figure below shows the relation of the variables to each other and to the chosen theory to be used:

Figure 2. Conceptual Framework Agenda Setting Theory

C. Definition of Terms
1. Gay
- Refers to a male homosexual.
2. Gay portrayal
- Refers to how male homosexuals are being represented.
3. Selected local films from 1970's to present
- Gay films from 1970's to present that were chosen as samples. 4. Image of gays in Films
- How gays or male homosexuals are being shown in terms of image projection. 5. Demographic profile
- Relating to age, profession and role in the family.
6. Psychographic State
- Psychological variables referring to attitudes, behaviors and characteistics. 7. Physical Appearance
- Refers to the manner of dressing, talking and others that can be seen physically.

Media may not be successful in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling people what to think about.

Framing of gay characters in selected local films

Image of gay in film portrayals

Framing of gay characters in selected local films from 1970's to present in terms of: * Demographics
* Psychographic
* Physical Appearance

Priming of gay characters in selected local films from 1970's to present in terms of: Image perception

Gay portrayals in selected local films shown from 1970's to present


The media can be an instrument of change: it can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds. I think it depends on who’s piloting the plane.”

- Katie Couric, Journalist believes that all people should be equally represented in our media, that our voices should be heard and that we should all be valued for our talents, capacity as leaders, and ability to contribute to the world at large. 2011

The media don’t just offer us a window on the world. They don’t just present reality, they represent it. Media producers inevitably make choices: they select and combine, they make events into stories, they create characters, they invite us to see the world in a particular way. Media offer us versions of reality. But audiences also compare media with their own experiences, and make judgments about how far they can be trusted. Media representations can be real in some ways and not in others: we may know that something is fantasy, yet it can still tell us about reality.

The media constructs views of the real world for us to read and interpret. These views having been mediated provide filtered and partial meanings. However we mostly ignore this selection and often fail to question the language and images that are used.

Wendy Helsby Film & Media Tutor, Queen Mary’s College, Hants, editor of Understanding Representation (bfi, 2005)

Media have embedded values and points of view. Media, because they are constructed, carry a subtext of who and what is important -- at least to the person or persons creating the construction. Media are also storytellers (even commercials tell a quick and simple story) and stories require characters and settings and a plot that has a beginning, a middle and an end. The choice of a character's age, gender or race mixed in with the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors that are portrayed, the selection of a setting (urban? rural? affluent? poor?), and the actions and re-actions in the plot are just some of the ways that values become “embedded” in a TV show, a movie or an ad. It is important to learn how to “read” all kinds of media messages in order to discover the points of view that are embedded in them and how to assess them as part of the text rather than merely accepting them as “natural.” Only then can we judge whether to accept or reject a message. Being able to recognize and name missing perspectives is also a critical skill as we negotiate our way each day through our mediated environment. 2003 Center for Media Literacy / Literacy for the 21st Century / Orientation & Overview 2006

The media and gender/sex portrayal

By Mchoe | Published: July 26, 2011

People may argue that as media has progressed to the later of the 1900(s, we have generally been more accepting towards gender role bending, particularly in regards to relationships.  We have become more accepting towards lesbian relationships and even gay relationships.  This is definitely apparent, when we take for example the hit TV series “ER”.  This series had at least one if not many lesbian relationships, even references to gay relationships among some of the hit characters on the cast.  We can take for example Dr. Kerry Weaver who eventually throughout the seasons openly admitted to being lesbian.  Even her relationships were portrayed by the episodes.  Was the show immediately dropped even though this was in the 90(s?  No, it continued on for 15 extremely successful seasons.  Another example can be taken by a hit TV series Friends.  In 1994, in the Pilot episode, Ross announces he is getting a divorce because his wife found out she was lesbian.  As usual this lesbian relationship develops all the way through the 10 successful seasons.  Okay, at this point I’ll add a third example.  The new series “Happily Divorced” is about how a couple gets divorced because she finds out her husband is gay.  This is in 2011.  We might ask ourselves, so have things really changed in which we can accept the change in traditional “Men and Women” relationships?  The obvious answer would be yes, there are things that are portrayed through television that may very well have been condemned even a few decades ago.  However, my argument is, if we take into account the overall change of how media has portrayed both genders, have things really changed for the better?  Are we looking at things a little bit one sided?

To really understand what I’m talking about, we would have to look at each gender/sex individually, not in how they interact with the opposite or same sex.  Let’s focus on masculinity and how the media has constantly put pressure on males to be what they think defines a man.  How males and females are expressed in the media can in a sense be contradictory to many of the messages that other movies read out.  Taking for example Batman.  Each and every movie introduced a Batman that is vocally deeper, bulkier, stronger, and richer.  Batman was merely a character in the early 60(s with the physique of any man walking down the street.  Then came the 90(s, Batman now has the roaring Batmobile, he has the suit that compliments every muscle group in his body.  Then the new millennium, they get rid of the short and stout George Clooney, and replace him with the tall and muscular Christian Bale.  This “man” has it all, he has the deep voice, he has the muscular build even for his suit.  He has the multi-billion dollar corporation, he has “power”.  He’s even got a bigger car, every aspect is just “bigger”.  He’s got more women and on top of that he’s got the Batmobile that could easily crush his predecessors.  So what does this do for what so many are trying to establish?  So many individuals are trying to break free from the norm, some parents are trying to let children decide what toys to play with rather than shoving Barbie or G.I. Joe in their face.  Some are trying to break free from their traditional gender roles, breaking free from the pressures that society has overlayed.  So what role is media playing?  Is it helping individuals accept who they are and lead their own ways?  We even have famous talk show hosts coming out and expressing their sexuality, does that make all fair and square?  Or do these contradicting messages from the other side outweigh what we expect society to become? I would most certainly argue the later.  There is still much more work to do before we can break free.  The paradigm shift is far from near.  The media portrays masculinity as having the most of everything.  The most money, the most power, the most beautiful woman, the most physique, etc.  These are all factors, at least one is always “defining” who the man is in the movie or show.  We can look at Rocky Balboa for instance.  Follow him from beginning to end.  He certainly increases his amount of power and money, in the end he essentially owns his own successful restaurant, he’s no longer the slum dog from the streets.  More importantly, let’s focus on the last installation of the Rocky Balboa series.  The major focal point of this is clearly the physique presented by Sylvester Stallone.  Off set he admittedly states that he did take human growth hormones to appear “tough”.  This man had abs that were the size of his fists.  What message does this give across to the audience?  Bigger is better, you’re a man, you can beat anybody up if you’ve got the muscles, you have to look like this. What does this mean for males?  Can we argue that there is tremendous pressure put on males to be “masculine”?  To be the man in the situation?  Stereotypes of males include: Tough, strong, stoic, being the provider, being the initiator, being available for military service, being a father, etc.  There are so many roles that a male must take on because of the stereotypes that have developed in our society.  This is not changing for the better.  It’s made clearer everyday that a man must take these responsibilities to conform the norms of our society. Now I want to shift to females and what is expected of them due to the grasp media has over society.  Males have been clouded by a dark cloud of external pressures, but females are also told to look more beautiful, to put more makeup on, to have longer eyelashes, to have bigger breasts, to look skinnier, and the vast array of physical establishments. If we compare the media’s targeting of women in the earlier years, much as changed, must has improved, which is not to say there is much that has become worse.  Women were originally portrayed as people who were present to please their man.  They were told that they belonged in the kitchen or at home with the child.  These were bold straightforward messages as now, the paradigm in which females are only good for house work has changed.  Sure, Lysol and household cleaning and scenting products are only advertised by women still, but there is never an add that says something along the lines of “get her the best mop for her job” or the like.  Even more important is that it is absolutely normal for a female to go out into the work force and look for a job.  Her primary title is no longer “house mom” or “stays at home and cooks for her husband”. Even in media, she can be the action girl, such as in Kill Bill.  She can be the hero, she no longer has to be the damsel in distress, as even Disney, a latecomer to the movement, is beginning to acknowledge with movies such as Tangled.  Even kids shows revolve around the primary female character that goes on adventures to solve problems, hence action figures. Okay, at this point the attitude should be “So what? Things are changing for the better, females are now given the opportunity to take on roles equally within society, sexuality is more openly expressed and accepted, what’s the big deal?”.  What about males?  Females can reach and cross over the deep gender gap that has previously for many years kept things black and white between the sexes, but is this a one way street?  Is the media portraying acceptability of males taking on women tasks?  Even if the media does portray this behavior, it is most certainly done in a ridiculed sense; it is most often done to fulfill a comedic purpose.  So has the media in a sense pressured men to be well, the “man” that they need to be?  Many will argue that women are victims to media as well, they are told to be the “woman” that is hanging up on the 20 foot poster in the Victoria’s Secret window.  They’re both victims, but how much of a bigger step can a female take over the gender gap than the male?  There is a more diverse expression of females by the media than there is of males. The media has not fixed the gap for both sides, in fact s has put a heavier burden on males than ever.  It all boils down to the simple situation, in which situation will you do a double take?  The little girl playing with the pink Tonka truck or the little boy braiding Barbie’s hair?  Is it possible for the media to crudely state as “correct” something that I would have to term as “over correction” of one side?  It is hard to say and if it is possible, it will take a great deal of time.

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