I’ve been watching the show New Girl lately, while simultaneously reading about how the media [especially advertisements] present an unrealistic impression of what people look like, and how people act. The media does this by depicting flawless young women in order to sell all sorts of consumer products (and ideals), regardless of whether or not young women are the intended target market. When I started watching, I thought the show New Girl was about an adorable girl with a sunny disposition, but it’s actually about her 3 male housemates and their endeavors to influence her to have a more masculine attitude about dating. [They influence her to be less: fun, smart, academic, and caring; and instead be more: calm, reliable, daring, and aggressive].
People today are the most media saturated people in history, and therefore, are more susceptible to the wills of the ‘media gatekeepers’ who regulate the images of gendered behavior that we see. The media tries to normalize unrealistic standards and gender ideals, while promoting stereotypes and gender biases. The New Girl show speaks volumes about the sexualization of women, as all the characters are thin and very attractive. In this way, the media hurts male-female relationships by poorly representing real life behaviors. It creates stereotypes by depicting thinness and whiteness [westernization] as normal, and shows nonverbal cues representing men as authoritative and women as passive. These ideals will hurt people who do not inherently fit into the medias expectation of desirability.
The Bechdel Test assesses gender bias in film by asking : are there 2 women characters? who talk to each other? about something other than a man? This test generates awareness about representations of women in pop culture. Lots of films fail this test. This is especially surprising since studies have found that films with strong female characters gross more $ than those that marginalize women [examples: The Hunger Games, and Frozen]. Also, despite studies that demonstrate that viewers prefer films/tv programming with diverse casts and writers, women and minorities are less likely to be employed as lead actors and writers/producers. This show: New Girl was created by a woman, Elizabeth Meriwether, [and to give partial credit] it does an OK job at ethnically diversifying their cast. Research at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism studied 500 top grossing films [from 2007-2012] and found that ~76% of speaking roles in film were white actors. And since the leading cast of New Girl is mostly white, [3 out of 5] it is not far from this finding.
The show tried to be emotionally realistic with the characters actions, but male portrayals in the media are stereo-typically depicted as independent, strong, and confident; they are also frequently: white, heterosexual, and powerful. And women in media are depicted either as housewives or as sex objects; always either obsessed with cleanliness/homeliness, or as young and flawless beauties. So the characters in the show are fairly stereotypical representations of gender. All of the characters are attractive, young, thin, westernized, unmarried individuals. It is with gendered portrayals like this, that the media is subliminally instructing us to do things [to change our behaviors/expectations] to adhere to the cultural prescriptions of desirability.
The media has been manipulating our perceptions of reality for a long time. “Men don’t feel like they are currently being portrayed correctly [by the media],” says Keith Richman, Break Media CEO. And just like films and shows, the media is able to edit real life people to fit into the stereotypical gendered behavior. Example: Female athletes (but not male athletes) are subjected to conflicting and contradictory media messages about their physical abilities and accomplishments. The media symbolically annihilates female athletes, because their unfeminine appearances don’t represent ‘American values and norms’; so they received less airtime and less attention in the press, and therefore are denied value in society [belittling their accomplishments]. The same thing happens to men who are in un-masculine professions; the media edits the exposure of the event to better suit their gender biased angle.