Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What Movies Teach about Gender

Our society shapes us into the people we are today. Parents, teacher, friends, and work places are just some examples of agents that tell us how we should act. One area where socialization is especially fierce is gender norms. For millenniums boys have been socialized to be masculine and girls to be feminine. One of the big gender socializers that influences thousands of people across social classes, age groups, and even countries is the entertainment industry. I specifically refer to movies. Children start viewing this kind of entertainment when they are young and continue consuming it throughout their lives. A lot of us take this for granted, but it is important to realize the hidden gender messages that might be becoming a part of us and our children. Look at the following list and see if any of these messages have stuck with you or your family.

1. Men get their hands dirty and women need to be sheltered.

These are probably some of the oldest gender stereotypes that have been portrayed in movies. One of the classic story models is that there is a girl locked in a tower or otherwise in trouble and the man goes through all sorts of dangerous tasks to save her. A lot of these movies show a type of obliviousness from the girl from things that only the man can understand. Women are best in a safe place away from conflict. Men are the ones that should get their hands dirty. In real life that means men get dirty working on the car, dealing with politics, knowing the news, fighting crime, etc. Women avoid this.

This leads to men and women consistently falling into the same gendered jobs. There are jobs that are male dominated and others that are female dominated. Male jobs are often powerful, dirty, educated, wealthy, and/or less socially taxing. Female jobs focus a lot on social labor. Politics is one example of a male dominated job that is powerful and needs leadership skills. Women are more than capable to fill these jobs but perhaps the gender socialization that they see in movies and other places makes them believe that it isn’t the place of a women to pursue these jobs.

2.     Looks are everything

Image result for katniss sweatyThis is a common critic of the media. The main characters of most movies are meant to look good. This is done on purpose so it attracts the most people to watch the movie and increase sales. This may seem like harmless business but it has proven to have great impacts especially on adolescents. Girls think that being skinny is the only way they can be attractive. In movies it is hard to find a lead girl that is even remotely chubby. The chubby girls are the friends of main characters or the ones that are picked on. Maybe this encourages some girls to live healthier, but most lose too much weight or they find unhealthy ways to stay skinny. Main female leads are also expected to look impeccable always. This is even true for strong lead characters like Katniss in Hunger Games. Even when they get dirty or messy, they do so in a terrifically fashionable way. All of this is often harms girls’ self-esteem.

Men are portrayed as attractive and strong. The muscles on male leads are almost a given in popular movies. When they do not have muscles they must be smart, but a lot of them are both.

3.     Men hold in emotions and Women let it out

Image result for captain america angry
In American movies in general, individualism and independence are often emphasized but it is especially true for male characters. As part of this they rarely express themselves and they keep their problems to themselves. Ironically the main emotion they end up showing is anger. This is a challenge for boys and men who funnel many of their other emotions through expressions of anger. If they are sad, they show anger. If they are confused, they show anger. If they are scared, they show anger.

Women leads are also independent and strong minded, but there are a lot more movies that show them talking to parents or friends when they are discouraged, crying because they are hurt or scared, and being embarrassed. But there are also movies that show women holding in their emotions like the men.

4.     Modern women are manlike.

In the name of gender equality, production studios are trying to have women characters that do the same things as the men. “Strong” women leads are praised because they break the stereotypical gender norms. Depending on what you like this can be good or bad. It can be good to show our girls that they do not have to rely on men to protect them all the time and that they can do the same things that men can do. This can help them get on top of their careers even above the men. But the bad side is that this masculinity is praised so much that girls may think that the only way they can excel is if they are masculine. This mentality is far from gender equality. It simply reemphasizes man dominance in society. Girls need to feel comfortable doing traditionally masculine things and traditionally feminine things.

5.     DO NOT BE A SISSY!!

While women can be like men, men cannot be like women. Some movies show gay men or transgender men and they try to show that they can act more feminine, but straight men should be masculine. Period. No discussion. There is a name for girls that act like boys: “Tom boy.” While this name is socially acceptable, names for boys that act feminine are negative: “Sissy.” True gender equality needs to allow men to act more feminine just like women are allowed to act more masculine.

6.     Women should appease men’s visional appetite

This can be a hot topic. Some gender equality enthusiasts say that women should be allowed to show off their skin if they want and that it is not fair that society tells them that good girls do not do this. But others argue that it is demeaning for women to be portrayed as objects viewed for entertainment instead of humans that should be taken seriously. Whatever side of the argument you fall on, it is important to realize that movies often teach that beautiful women have lower cut shirts, tight clothing, and other revealing attire. Movies also make it seem that men should expect this especially from their girlfriends or any girl that wants to grab their attention.


These are just a few of the gendered beliefs that can be taught by movies. Next time you watch a movie, try to think about how it portrays men and women and see what other messages are being taught. Just because the film industry is trying to show more gender equality does not mean they are doing it well. 

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