Construction Of Gender Identity Through Media

Posted on October 19, 2011 in Media

By Vrinda Ravi Kumar:

According to Stuart Fischoff whose paper ‘Favorite Films and Film Genres As A Function of Race, Age, and Gender’ in Volume 3 of the 1998 Journal of Media Psychology, there are “women’s films” and there are “men’s films,”. Women’s films are where the story is told from the woman’s point of view, the woman is the clear protagonist or heroine, or the story centers around women and women’s issues. “Men’s films” tend to focus more on action, sex and competition. These gender expectations are consistent with the social identity theory which holds that people seek out particular messages which support their social identity. Harwood extended the theory to selective choices in media viewing as a form of social identity gratification. Film preference is dependent on self identity and it’s reinforcement.


Daniel Chandler (Television and Gender Roles) also states that television still perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes because it reflects dominant social values. Reinforcement of such values is seen as ‘natural’. However, as one might expect in a primarily patriarchal society, men dominate media and its production and, influenced by these stereotypes, unconsciously reproduce a traditional ‘masculine’ perspective, perpetuating dominant gender stereotypes. Viewers are frequently invited to identify with male characters and to objectify females. This has been called ‘the male gaze’. This mode of viewing is called ‘unmarked’: it is an invisible and largely unquestioned bias.

When we come to the history of the ‘Women’s Movement’, probably the first movement that questioned the socially constructed roles that were being thrust upon the population at large, Nancy Artz charted it well in her paper ‘Gender Representation in Advertising’ which is another example to the gratification of identity group perception. The more relatable an advertisement with respect to the social conditions at that time, the better it is. The Women’s Movement is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important social developments in the second half of the twentieth century. In recognition of the significance of the movement, the year 1975 was declared “International Women’s Year”. This social and intellectual movement, which began in the 1960’s, is still evolving and giving rise to new discourse.

The term “gender” itself has undergone much intellectual scrutiny in the recent years. The terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’, once synonymous, are now bifurcating to completely different meanings. This concept was widely talked about by Judith Butler, in the first section of her book ‘Gender Trouble’. Her claims are that gender is completely culturally constructed and sex should not be taken out of it’s strictly biological perspective, and should not be allowed to spillover into the territory of culturally determined social roles. While sex has an intrinsic radical discontinuity, gender of the personality and mind logically need not followed the ‘sexed’ bodies and the associated social determinism.

An explanation of why this is done, if not logically demanded is given by Linda Kalof in her paper ‘Dilemmas of Feminity’. It is her belief that gender and sexuality and social constructions or “interactional accomplishments” situated in and shaped by patriarchal constructs as articulated in popular culture. The idealogical “codes” for gender are learned early in the socialization process, entrenched during adolescence and transmitted in large part by popular culture.

Since the first half of the past century, the public view of women has come a long way. The traditionally idealised woman like Ilsa Lund in Casablanca was gentle, pliant, prudent and emotional. Women are now increasingly shown as aggressive, assertive and active individuals, however, in almost all the films, such women are eroticised. One must ask the question as to why females deviating from their gender roles are seen as attractive and males deviating from their roles are seen as ‘weird’ or homophobically are classified as homosexual. Another interesting point is whether this differential reaction to deviations from gender roles is due to the fact that females are being recognized as being forced into a domestic identity while males were seen as being autonomous and independen. This difference in tolerance to alternative gender identities can be categorised as being beneficial to women at the price of being objectified.

This leads us to the conclusion that there is a culturally and traditionally defined ideal role for women and men and deviations from it are now being explored and widely accepted. However, the question of why there should be any intolerance in the first place is an interesting one. Why is the deviation from roles defined for an individual, which should be solely his/her personal business, personalised by the rest of society? Is this an invasion of a globally pre-defined circle for both men and women? Is trespassing on a circle by a member of the opposite sex seen as a threat?


1.’Favorite Films and Film Genres As A Function of Race, Age, and Gender’ by Stuart Fischoff in the 1998 Volume 3 of the Journal of Media Psychology
2.Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
4.Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991, ‘Gender Representation in Advertising’ by Nancy Artz
5.Television and Gender Roles by Daniel Chandler
6.’Teaching the Boys: New Research on Masculinity and gender Strategies for Schools’ by R.W Connell.
7.Dilemmas of Feminity : Gender and the Social Construction of Sexual
Imagery by Linda Kalof