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How Magazines Create Gender Stereotypes

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In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores. In most cultures, girls are warned off taking the initiative in any relationship and by 10 years old, already have the distinct impression that their key asset is their physical appearance. What is one media source that perpetuates these types of stereotypes you ask? MAGAZINES!

The magazine that I chose to do my literature review on was the June 2018 issue of Woman’s Day. This magazine is divided into sections which are titled as followed; “Your Look”, “Your Home”, “Real Life”, “Your Body”, and “Your Kitchen”. The title of this magazine would lead me to believe that each section represents a “woman’s day” consists of, but they could not have been more far off. When considering the question “what meanings about gender and sexuality are conveyed in this magazine” we can be lead to believe that all women do every day is worry about “our look”, which consists of how we apply makeup, how we do our hair, and how we worry every day about our skin acquiring wrinkles. Why is aging meant to be seen as something we must avoid at all costs, why is gray hair and wrinkly skin not celebrated amongst women? This would be a great time to incorporate the article by Naomi Wolf titles “The Beauty Myth”, in this reading the author discusses is how forced adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women as they gained power in other societal arenas. Wolf argues that this standard of beauty has taken over the work of social coercion formerly left to myths about motherhood, domesticity, chastity, and passivity, all of which have been used to keep women powerless. In the author’s view, “the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood. ”

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The myth of beauty spreads the belief that an objective measurement of beauty exists, and that woman must want to embody it, and that men must want these women. However, Wolf contends that the beauty myth is really not about women, it is about men’s institutions and power. Beauty is about how we behave, not appearance. The qualities labelled “beautiful” in women in any given moment in time are no more than symbols of female behavior considered desirable at that time. Besides weakening women psychologically, the beauty myth feeds a multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry, and keeps women from rising too high in the workplace by offering a way around antidiscrimination laws. I counted the amount of times I saw some type of “anti-aging” skin product being advertised in this magazine and I counted up to 24, which is heartbreaking. Does a woman’s life experience have value if our culture tells her to be ashamed for it to show on her face? What is so great about looking young? Current beauty standards are based around the pillars of youth, for example we told to chase after baby smooth skin, longer eyelashes, and being skinny, these features are really only natural in young girls who have yet to go through puberty. Why is it that women are encouraged to look like young children, is it because children are often associated with being naive and controllable? As long as us women continue to resemble youth we will CONTINUE to be treated as if we are just as inexperienced and malleable as they are.

A theory of gender that could be used to look deeper into the way magazines such as this issue of Woman’s Day can be detrimental to children is when we look at the social learning theory, this theory places more emphasis on the impact of the social environment on gender role development. Exposure to gender-typed models and reinforcement contingencies encourages children to behave in a gender typed manner (Mischel, 1966). It may be hard to believe but even toddles have knowledge of gender stereotyping as young as a year old. In the article, “From Infancy through Middle Childhood: The role of Cognitive and Social Factors in Becoming Gendered” by Powlishta et al. we can see that by 24 months of age, toddlers have been shown to look more at a surprising, stereotype-inconsistent photograph (a man feeding a baby, ironing, putting on makeup) than they do at a stereotype consistent photograph.

Multiple studies of this sort indicate that even toddlers have fairly well developed gender categories. This means that they have also begun to understand gender labels and have acquired at least implicit knowledge of gender stereotyping. This understanding of stereotypes can influence children to have sex-differentiated toy preferences early in life, Powlishta et al. states that “Compared to girls, boys prefer watching cartoons and adventure programs on television, spend more time in outdoor chores and leisure activities, engage more in sports, and are involved in activities that are less structured. In contrast, girls spend more time in indoor household tasks and chores and are involved in more shopping and socializing. As with toy interests, however, there are also striking similarities in boys’ and girls’ use of time. Learning about all of this has thrown me off quite a bit, when I was younger I was so convinced that I was an individual, no one else was like me and I had original thoughts, feeling and reactions. Now I’m sat here wondering if it was society instilling the belief that women are in charge of cooking for their household that made me tell my parents that for Christmas I wanted a whole kitchen set or if I was sincerely interested in the culinary arts at age nine?

In the article titles “Household Labor and the Routine Production of Gender” by Scott Coltrane, his main argument is that even though the people he spoke to were under the impression that they have equal divisions in labor, they still embody certain gender norms. Coltrane brings forward the importance of household labor and the effects it has on conforming gender roles, furthering inequality among the sexes both inside and outside the home. He contrasts the roles of moms and dads, explaining that dads often try to separate themselves from motherly roles in order to preserve their masculinity. He challenges this idea by studying he differences between family’s experiences regarding the work shared within the home and the social effects of shared work. Although all parents sampled were child centered, and attempted to share the housework and child-work, there was still a division between mothers and fathers, and what roles each individual should have. Most parents were responsible for traditional tasks; mothers did most of the cleaning and cooking, fathers did most of the yard work. Most women said they did praise the husbands after they completed some housework, which essentially perpetuated the stereotype that women/mothers are supposed to do the housework.

These stereotypes are perpetuated in magazines, when browsing around the magazine section in Barnes and Nobel I highly doubt we would see a magazine that is marketed towards men advertising “wrinkle erasers”, “fast easy makeovers”, and food processors on the cover! Another theory that can be applied when viewing this magazine is the social constructionist theory which essentially views gender as a social construct-a system of meaning that organizes interactions and governs access to power and resources. It can also be seen as a set of strategies for negotiating the social landscape. Doing gender reflects the social constructionist view that gender is a significant social and cognitive category through which information is filtered, processed, and acted on to produce self–fulfilling prophecies about men and women. We can now turn to the article “Gender and Language” by Mary Crawford. In this article she states “Feminist research on gender and language has developed and changed since its resurgence in the early 1970s. There is less emphasis on cataloguing differences in the speech of women and men and more interest in analyzing what people accomplish with talk. As a result of this shift in emphasis, more diverse groups of speakers are being studied and more is understood about how people create and maintain social realities through “doing gender” in everyday talk. This was fairly interesting to me because now I wonder if men’s magazines are worded differently than women’s?

This magazine was clearly marketed toward woman, the activities that they depict us doing throughout the one hundred and fourteen pages are worrying about aging, our styles, how our hair and makeup look. We apparently all love re-decorating and cleaning every surface in the house. We try to lose weight, do makeovers, avoid calories, and lastly of course WE COOK! Taking a deeper look into this magazine has really left me quite unsettled and I am fairly stressed about the fact that they think they can reduce us women to being this simple minded and concerned with the home and our looks. Why did I not see one article about mental health? Why did I not see an article about how to embrace myself as I am, why was everything written about the body telling me that I needed to lose weight, erase any wrinkles as soon as possible, or get rid of gray hair? Why are women’s magazines so centered on tearing us down instead of bringing us up and empowering us? These questions will continue on for many years but one day, but hopefully by the time I am begin to age into my later years I will see magazines on shelves encouraging me to love myself at every age of life.


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