Gender and Television

I interviewed my Aunt who is in her mid-50’s so she is not necessarily old, but definitely vouched that gender roles in media have changed over time. She grew up with two siblings and two hard working parents. She, and the rest of my family, have lived in Olympia, WA their whole lives. I was most curious of what television was like when she was younger because I want to have a better understanding of how it was different than today. I started off by asking her what types of shows she watched or what shows were really popular. She seemed thrown off by this question and actually took a while to be able to come up with an answer. Because of this, I felt as though she and her siblings/friends didn’t watch a lot of television. When she did come up with an answer the main show she could talk about was Leave It To Beaver. She said that the main time she would watch this show was every once in a while after school if she didn’t have homework. I was actually somewhat disappointed by her answers, although they were interesting, because she said exactly what we would expect to hear about gender roles in the media. A lot of it was similar to what we read in the chapters for this week. I think that part of me was hoping to hear some sort of contradiction to the stereotypical gender roles. Firstly, she said that women really didn’t get a lot of screen time. She said that women today definitely get a lot more screen time, but she mentioned that this isn’t necessarily a good thing because in a lot of ways they are portrayed very sexually. She seemed sort of disgusted by this and mentioned that it’s hard living in a family full of boys when you have to watch t.v. with them and how they view women. Even though she was joking when she said this, there was definitely an undertone of frustration which goes to show the effects of how gender roles in the media influence how people think. I asked her how women were portrayed in the media when she was in her teenage years. Again, she said a lot of it was either sexual or as the stereotypical house wife. Her exact words were, “like a slave”. ImageShe used Leave It To Beaver as an example of how wives were expected to be. She said the older women would always look presentable, would have dinner ready when the husband came home, took care of the kids, and maintained the house. Almost every comment she made regarding gender was that women were very much expected to clean. This was the prominent portrayal of women in her eyes. She also said that the women had to almost be submissive, although these weren’t her exact words. She said that the husbands acted like, “do as I say” to their wives and they were expected to do exactly that. Then I proceeded to ask her how this portrayal has changed over time. She said that it has changed a ton! However, I don’t know if she meant this in a positive way. She said that back then the media influenced women to be the house wife. Now, the media often portrays strong, working women. She said that now, women are expected to play both of these roles! Not only are they expected to keep the house clean and to cook, but also contribute to paying the bills. In many movies she feels as though the ideal woman is someone who can do both of these things. She also used the exact term, “puppet on a string”. I was sort of taken aback by this comment. In a lot of ways I think she was taking these questions and rather than simply discussing women in the media, she was discussing how women are portrayed in general and what men expect of them. In this way, I felt that maybe this had a lot to do with how her parents were and the household that she was raised in, but I’m not positive about this. Another show she mentioned was Love American Style which I have never heard of. As a famous actress, she mentioned Lindsay Wagner which I have also never heard of. This really surprised me because I sort of expected her to name the typical shows and actors that everyone has heard of already so this was interesting to me. Furthermore, she talked about Bionic Woman. She described the main character as a woman who could put on these metal body parts and became super strong, and somewhat heroic.Image She said this was a twist on six million dollar man, which sort of reverses gender roles in my eyes, but she didn’t go in to detail about this movie which I was disappointed by. Although I’ve never seen it, I feel that this may have been portraying the main woman as strong which is not typical in the media. Lastly, I asked her about advertising and how it portrayed women. She said that the one thing that stuck out was that women were expected to clean. She mentioned Arm & Hammer, and an oven commercial that she couldn’t remember the name. The Arm & Hammer commercial seemed interesting to me because she said the woman in it was always flexing her arm, but was essentially just cleaning the house. I would be interested in seeing the commercial to see if this was meant to be empowering or demeaning. As far as magazines, she said women’s magazines were always meant to show you how to please your man. This seemed really similar to the cosmo that we read about. She said it was either about cooking, cleaning, or sexually pleasing him. She even mentioned that there were ideas about how to take your man away for a weekend to do something nice for him. This really seemed like a gender role reversal because you would expect the men to take the women out on dates. Overall, her interview was very much what anyone would expect to hear and was actually very negative. From this interview, I think I gained the knowledge that the way the media influences you has a lot to do with your family and how you are raised. 

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One thought on “Gender and Television

  1. Hi Taylor — First, can you use some paragraph splits in the future? It helps the readability tremendously. Second, I’m so pleased your aunt talked about Bionic Woman, and that you found that sweet People Magazine cover of it — it really encapsulates the split between “strong”/”powerful” and “demure”/”feminine” that women of that era had to miraculously embody.

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