The mass media has always been one of the most powerful tools that shape the opinions of the society concerning certain issues that are of critical importance. This is because the mass media is one of the most powerful agents of socialization as it has the ability to remain in the cognitive processes of the actors, hence influence how they act and interpret the phenomenon.
Thus, mass media shapes what the society is by presenting various aspects such as cultural attributes. However, the media is sometimes biased towards what is considered ideal. This paper seeks to examine the representation of women in the American media. The paper will seek to answer pertinent questions as to whether the representation of women in the American media is biased or it reflects the ideal picture of the American women.
To effectively understand how women are presented in the American media, the paper examines the work of Douglas who retraces her life so that she can bring across how the media presents the American women.
Central to her ideas is that the way the media portrays women is not influenced by the popular cultures that govern women behavior, but the media creates this popular culture that determines behavior. This is done by popularizing what the media considers to be the ideal form of a woman. Due to its huge influence as an agent of socialization, the media further influences women to adapt to this ideal types and thus alters the general view of women.
In the contemporary popular media especially in the advertisement industry, it is evident that what Douglas, (45) views as the setting of the popular belief by the mass media exists as media campaigns give what is thought to be the ideal character of a woman. This induces a mental evaluation process that affects the way women think as they evaluate for themselves how far they are from the ideal types from the ideal type.
Such campaigns have been vital in influencing various issues in the female gender such as the walking styles, styles of dressing as well as hair dressing styles. Therefore, women are either consciously or unconsciously encouraged to strive towards this ideal type due to the popular images that are created by the mass media.
The role of the American media in shaping the cultural identity of women has led to what Douglas refers to as a contradiction of cultures as the influences of the media over the generations have been changing.
In comparisons of how media has influenced the cultural identity of women over time, Douglas (48) notes that the influences of the media during the baby boomers was totally different from the influence of the same towards women’s cultural identity during the era of generation X.
Therefore, she concludes that the media has led to a confused identity in women, a fact that has resulted to culture shocks and cultural diversities among women of different generations.
According to Douglas, while the media concentrated on what women could do and what they could not do during the baby boomers, the media of generation X started to focus on the abilities of women and how women can work just like men can. This led to an ideological shift from viewing a woman as a home caretaker and the concept of modernized woman took the center stage.
Examining the role of the media in the 1960s, Douglas notes that the rise of the ideal modern woman ideology forced many women to strive towards achieving this status. The media played a crucial role during this era as various female oriented programs in the audiovisual and the print media focused on the socially constructed ideal woman.
The emphasis of the modern woman in the media further created the urge for millions of the maturing girls to fit into the new social fitting as they felt that they required being that ideal woman of the television. Going by such cases, the media has had a tremendous role in shaping how women view themselves and how they act towards this ideal type.
According to Douglas, (78), the role of media gained influence towards women liberation in the sixties as thousands of baby boomers entered teenage hood.
During this era, television programs such as “I Dream of Jeannie” which portrayed various roles of women took center stage in influencing the cognitive processes of the teenage girls. The influence of the media towards the female cognitive processes further aided the rise of the “pre-feminist agitation” as they were not only cautionary, but also libratory.
Therefore, the media struggled to show that the women had the power to liberate themselves to what appeared to be unfavorable cultural restrictions compared to their male counterparts. As feminism gained center stage, the treatment of the media towards this movement turned to be one of the most critical ways that the media influenced women identity.
Women have also been portrayed in a sexual manner by the television and other elements of the media. The emphasis of feminine traits in the media and the popular dressing has been portrayed in a manner that has been considered sexual by many critics.
Some media programs have been accused of making women appear as though they are sex objects as they emphasize on the need to dress in a manner that has been considered seductive. The contemporary media has also portrayed women as though they are judged more on their physical attributes as opposed to their inner attributes.
This have led to women focusing more on their physical attributes as opposed to their inner attributes such as taking advantage of their mental capacity. Such misrepresentation of the image of the American woman by the television has been detrimental to the women folk especially the young generation women as they have been consciously fed that their physical image is their main drivers for attention and recognition.
In conclusion, Douglas manages to show that the role of the media in shaping the cultural identity of women cannot be underscored. Having taken her analysis for a period of approximately four decades, Douglas, clearly shows how the media influenced different stages of women liberation and how this different generational stages affected the conceptualization of women hood by the media and conversely by the women themselves.
The media helped to shape the atmosphere for feminism and the concept of women liberation and the quest for gender equity. The media has constantly influences how women view themselves due to the “ideal” mental pictures it creates. The media popularizes certain desired standards of a woman making many women focus towards that ideal type.
The end result of such a pursuit has been women identity that has been shaped by the media as opposed to a society that has specific needs to address. Nevertheless, the media has played a crucial role in shaping gender identity of women.
Douglas, Susan. Where the Girls Are. Three Rivers Press. New York: Three Rivers Press. 1995.