Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Impact of Mass Media on Females

Written Assignment #1: Sociology Class

From a very early age, young children, especially females, are heavily influenced by the mass media of their society. Even before the average young girl has learned how to read, she has already been heavily influenced by various forms of media such as television programs, television advertisements and symbols displayed in advertisements in her environment. She learns the socially acceptable norms of what she should look like, act like, and what career path, if any, would be most appropriate for her due to her sex. The impact of this gender socialization has both short and long term negative affects on the majority of females.

In considering the impact that television programs have on children, we first must look at how prevalent television viewing is in the average home to see how big a role this plays in socialization. According to research by Vandewater, Bickham, Lee, Cummings, Wartella and Rideout (2005:A), the television is on for approximately six hours a day in most American homes, making television viewing the activity that children spend the majority of their time doing, except for sleeping (2005:562). They found that 39% of children between the ages of 0 and 4, and 29% of children between the ages of 5 to 6 years old live in households where the television is on always or most of the time, even if no one was watching it (2005:573). They conclude that, among other things, television viewing plays a major role in the socialization of children's lives.

So what are children viewing as they log so many hours captivated by this form of media? According to research by Potts (2001), "...viewers are deluged with action-adventure cartoons that feature tough men, female characters appear only as sidekicks" (2001:2). She quotes Innesss who claims that "women are a minority in the Saturday morning cartoons, and those who do appear are sexualized and marginalized; viewing action-adventure cartoons, you would never deduce that women make up over half the world's population" (2001:2). Her research goes on to laud one program, despite the proliferation of shows such as "Dexter's Laboratory", "Johnny Bravo", "Hey, Arthur!", and other male-focused programs. Potts points out that "The Powerpuff Girls" is one attempt to turn the tides of traditional children's programming, as it "provides positive female media images that are not based on sex appeal" (2001:1), and "reinforces the notion that girls, just like boys, are capable of having strong and assertive personalities and can be anything they want to be" (2001:7). Programs like this are a good start in helping young girls identify non traditional roles they could pursue. Unfortunately these shows only make up a small fraction of their television viewing experience, leaving much programming still dedicated to the building up of males and marginalization of females.

Vanderwater, Park, Huang and Wartella (2005:B) did another study discussing television viewing in relation to parental controls. They learned that the most effective way to reduce television screen time for young children was to set time rules regarding usage rather than program rules. If both rules were combined, parents would have a large impact on both the reduction of television viewing time, as well as better control over the nature of the programs watched, thus reducing the affects of this form of media in the lives of their children.

Print-based media also plays a significant role in how young girls form opinions about themselves. Bedtime stories read to young children are often based on females needing a male for protection (Snow White), for escape to a better life (Cinderella), for financial stability (Rumpelstiltskin), or for personal fulfillment (The Little Mermaid). In an article written by Franzwa, she quotes Suelze who argues that "the image of woman in media as varied as toy catalogs, TV commercials, and children's books portraying women as nonworking housewives discourages women from entering nontraditional fields of employment" (1974:105). Even when families or individuals try to eliminate traditional gender socialization in the raising of children, "the culture (particularly through the mass media) continues to saturate all of us with traditional images" (1974:105).

As these same young girls reach teenage-hood, they often begin reading popular culture magazines which are inundated with articles and advertisements that tell girls how to look, what to wear, which diets to try, etc. In a study by Andersen and DiDomenico (1992), they surveyed the top 10 magazines read most by young men 18 to 24 years of age, as well as the top 10 magazines read most by young women of the same age. It was found that in the top 10 magazines for young men, there were 5 diet advertisements or articles, and 17 shape advertisements or articles. In the top 10 magazines for young women, there was a dramatic increase compared to the males in the number of diet advertisements or articles, rising from 5 to 56. The shape articles showed a much smaller increase, rising from 17 to 20. It is noteworthy that the differences between the ratio of the male and female diet advertisements/articles in the magazines correlate almost exactly with the ratio of males to females who suffer from eating disorders. Print-media sends significantly different messages to males than it does to females.

Durkin and Paxton (2002) also approached the topic of how media images affect female body image. Through experiment, they determined that after viewing images of idealized females, the girls in their study (one group in grade 7 and the other group in grade 10) experienced lower body satisfaction and overall mood. As well, they experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety, though more so in the older group of girls than the younger. Durkin and Paxton attributed the difference between the two group reactions to possibly stemming from the older girls feeling like they may have 'failed' to meet the expectation of the idealized female images they've been saturated with since childhood. "The most deleterious framework of unrealistic body shape expectations may be set in childhood and young adolescence, but the full impact on body satisfaction may not occur until later" (2002:1002). Overall, their findings suggest that the idealized female images found in media are powerful in creating concern over the middle adolescent girl's mental well-being.

It is clear that the various forms of media in North America help to shape and mould the female culture. Beginning with young girls, following them through adolescence and into adulthood, females are taught how they should look, feel and act. When females fail to live up to those impossible ideals, it often results in both physical and mental harm to themselves. Trying to counter this influence is difficult, as the media mindset touches so much of our everyday lives. But as media begins to more regularly portray images of healthy and realistic women, and as females begin to see more positive role models in their lives, hopefully this will begin to change the attitudes of society, one mind at a time.

By Heather McCue


Andersen, Arnold E., and Lisa DiDomenico. 1992. “Diet Vs. Shape Content of Popular Male and Female Magazines: A Dose-Response Relationship to the Incidence of Eating Disorders?.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 11:283-287.

Durkin, Sarah J., and Susan J. Paxton. 2002. “Predictors of vulnerability to reduced body image satisfaction and psychological wellbeing in response to exposure to idealized female media images in adolescent girls..” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 53:995.

Franzwa, Helen H. 1974. “Working Women in Fact and Fiction.” Journal of Communication 24:104-109.

Potts, Donna L. 2001. “Channeling girl power: Positive female media images in "The Powerpuff Girls."..” Simile 1:N.PAG.

Vandewater, Elizabeth A, David S Bickham, et al. 2005. “When the Television Is Always On: Heavy Television Exposure and Young Children's Development.” American Behavioral Scientist 48:562-577. A

Vandewater, Elizabeth A, Seoung-Eun Park, Xuan Huang, and Ellen A Wartella. 2005. “"No -- You Can't Watch That": Parental Rules and Young Children's Media Use.” American Behavioral Scientist 48:608-623. B

The Meaning of Work: Motherhood

Written Assignment #2: Sociology class

Most often when you are introduced to someone new, the conversation follows a typical pattern. First, there's an exchange of names and pleasantries, often followed next by the question, "So, what do you do for work?". Learning what people do for work is typically a way to evaluate how much prestige we should bestow upon that person, or conversely, if we should simply weed out this potential relationship because it offers us no personal gain or networking value (Boley, 2000). Typically, we will hold onto the business card of a lawyer or that of a CEO of a large company, than of a janitor or telemarketer. Because this mindset is so prevalent, studies have been conducted to illustrate that there really is an actual rating system of prestige that we, as a society, have given numerous occupations. A quick glance over the results shows that the higher the income and more specialized the career, the higher the prestige which is allotted to it (Gorder and Frank, 2007).

But does holding a lower prestige job really warrant such a negative label? Occupations near either ends of the prestige scale offer some of the very same extrinsic rewards. Though differing in quantity, both offer the worker an income, a means to contribute to a pension however large or small, as well as possible extended health benefits. Similarly, both have comparable intrinsic rewards including things like the opportunity to interact with other adults/peers, opportunities for workers to feel like they're contributing to both the economy and society, and the chance to build up their resume with more experience so they can one day climb another rung on the corporate ladder. Perhaps there is less difference between these types of jobs than we initially realize.

Then what of a job that offers no salary, no health benefits, no pension building opportunities, no resume enrichment? A job that, instead, is highly demanding yet often mundane and tedious. One that asks for your time and energy 24/7, and occasionally leaving you feeling isolated from the outside world with little opportunity for meaningful contact with adults/peers. How might that job rate on the prestige scale? Who would be clambering for such a position?
Parenthood is considered by many to be one of those types of careers- a non-standard job that is not even included on the prestige scale mentioned above. With such seemingly little payoff for investment in this occupation, why are people willingly taking on this work? What makes this work meaningful if, by all other measures, it falls short?

For the purpose of this paper, I will be focusing exclusively on stay-at-home parents who choose to leave behind wage labour and the career world, in exchange for raising their children full time. Because most often, the parent who stays home with the children is the mother (Downing, 200), I will further narrow the topic to stay-at-home mothers. Though it should be mentioned that the contributions that stay at home fathers make is recognized and appreciated, especially given the unique stigmas they encounter in that job (Doucet 2004).

Never a black and white issue, the decision to stay home to look after her children, if she even economically has this as a choice, can be a difficult one with many trade-offs to consider. Leaving behind a familiar master status, potential career advancement, valuable income, and often a sense of self-worth, can rest heavily on a woman as she weighs out the alternatives to a professional career (Daniel, 2006) (Dillaway and Pare, 2008). But for those who are in a position to make a choice, the benefits of staying home cannot be ignored.

First of all, the decision to stay at home can bring with it some less obvious financial savings as the various roles and jobs that a stay at home mother performs no longer need to be contracted out to others (Pediatrics, 2008). According to studies done by Stacey Rubin and H. Ray Wooten (2007), they found that there were personal benefits for the mother when she chose to stay home, such as the personal satisfaction knowing that she wasn't 'missing out' on her child's life or milestones. She felt very good about being around during her child's formative years and being able to influence her child in a way that would be difficult to do if she had been at work. Rubin and Wooten also found there were benefits to the family, too. They learned that the children benefited from having a parent's time, and couples benefited from having more time together. There was more opportunity to build memories, time to “hang out”, to participate in fun activities, and have both quantity time and quality time as they formed close relationships.

The consequences of having a parent, typically the mother, choose to stay home with her children can be both positive and negative. She may not be seen as a 'success' in the eyes of society by giving up career potential, income for her family, or more mind stimulating days. She may, on occasion, experience frustration with her decision to stay at home, experience feelings of failure due to a lack of any immediate appreciation for the tasks she has taken on, and face exhaustion from the constant demands on her time. But if we look at the bigger picture, we see that what she does have is the opportunity to largely raise and influence a part of a future generation, the children that she and her partner have chosen to raise. By virtue of her staying at home with them, she is the primary influence on her young children, helping to instill in them the ideals and morals that they, as a family, value most and that contribute to society at large. She is 'there' as a witness in her children's lives for the many things they do and accomplish in life. Mundane conversations of a child simply asking "Mom?" are, at the same time, priceless moments when she is there to reply "Yes?". It is really the little things like this that add up and over time, become paramount. Though there is such a thing as quality time, often times what matters more is quantity time - simply being there beside a child as they navigate through life (Snyder 2007).

Raising children is not easy, immediately gratifying, or a financially prosperous venture. The prestige granted to a woman who answers the question, "What do you do for work?" with a reply of, "I'm at home raising my children," may not match that of what a doctor would receive. But in the end, she makes her decision after considering what is best for her and her family. She knows that the meaning of her work cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but rather, in the satisfaction received from the warmth of a gentle hug from her child who pushes the hair away from her ear to whisper a deep secret about nothing in particular.

-Heather McCue

2008. “STUDY: MOM'S MARKET VALUE AT $117,000..” Pediatrics 122:12.

Boley, Robert M. 2000. “The Power of Networking..” Assessment Journal 7:4.

Daniel, Lincia. 2006. “To go to work or stay at home? The mother of all parenting debates. (Cover story).” British Journal of Midwifery 14:494.

Dillaway, Heather, and Elizabeth Pare. 2008. “Locating Mothers.” Journal of Family Issues 29:437-464.

Doucet, Andrea. 2004. “"It's Almost Like I Have a Job, but I Don't Get Paid": Fathers at Home Reconfiguring Work, Care, and Masculinity..” Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers 2:277-303.

Downing, Jane. 2000. “Just a Feminist Mother.” Social Alternatives 19:57-62.

Goyder, John, and Krislyn Frank. 2007. “A Scale of Occupational Prestige in Canada, Based on NOC Major Groups.” Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers canadiens de sociologie 32:63-83.

Rubin, Stacey E., and H. Ray Wooten. 2007. “Highly Educated Stay-at-Home Mothers: A Study of Commitment and Conflict..” Family Journal 15:336-345.

Snyder, Karrte Ann. 2007. “A Vocabulary of Motives: Understanding How Parents Define Quality Time..” Journal of Marriage & Family 69:320-340.