Do you ever wonder why Mr. Clean and Windex commercials generally show women cleaning the bathroom and washing the windows instead of men? Or why Budweiser beer commercials show men sitting around watching sports with their buddies while sipping a beer instead of women? The answer is simple: women, not men, are expected to clean the house and it is more socially acceptable for a man to lug around the house with a beer than it is for a woman. But do we blame the commercials for creating these social standards, or do we blame our social standards for creating these commercials? Social evolution does not occur spontaneously, and as changes eventually do begin to take place, there is usually some factor responsible for the development. While changes in gender roles over time do affect advertisements, it is more common for the media to instigate the changes in gender roles and affect gender socialization.
Rosie the Riveter is just one of the many examples. Rosie the Riveter appeared during World War II as a picture of a woman with her sleeve rolled up showing her muscle and saying “We can do it!” with a red handkerchief tied into a bow around her head. At the time, women were stay-at-home mom’s taking care of the children and the home while their husbands were away on the front lines. As more and more soldiers left the country to serve overseas, manufacturing jobs were left with no workers. America suddenly convinced its women that they could handle a man’s job building military equipment and riveting aircraft cowls, and soon enough women were not only joining the “Rosies” in the factories, they were joining their husbands in the wars also. “With some ten million men at war and the rest at work, America needed it’s women to go to work to build the planes, tanks, and ships needed to fight Hitler… so the government teamed up with industry, the media, and women’s organizations in an effort to urge [women] to join the labor force by telling them it was their ‘patriotic duty’ to go to work… slogans such as ‘Victory is in Your Hands,’ and ‘Women, the War Needs You!’ were all used to convince women that their country’s needs were more important than their individual comfort.” In order to respond to its extreme need for women in the labor force, America released propaganda advertisements which changed the female role forever. Since the time of Rosie the Riveter, less and less women have been choosing the now “old-fashioned” female job of being a housewife.
While Rosie the Riveter paved the way for an increasing female labor force, today’s advertisements seek to change women’s appearances. Every day we are attacked with numerous advertisements for weight loss, especially for women. Women on television are portrayed as thin, long-legged super models wearing a size six. What a drastic change since the earlier female beauty queen, Marilyn Monroe (size fourteen). Due to this advertisement pressure on women to be skinny, more and more females are going to health clubs, changing their diets, and doing literally anything they can to fight off those “excess” pounds. According to Naomi Wolf, “contemporary standards of feminine beauty have devolved to a point that can only be described as anorexic, and America’s young women are paying the price through a near-epidemic of bulimia and anorexia.” Wolf believes that today’s standards for female beauty are just a myth created by the media to control women by forcing them to be obsessed with their bodies.
Men are faced with the same kind of media pressure. Like women, men are also striving to shape their bodies according to the media’s standards. Men also run to the gym after work to pump iron and some are even removing their chest and leg hair and visiting tanning salons in an effort to become the California dream guy with big shiny muscles, a dark tan, and light hair. After the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, movies like Death Wish, First Blood, and The Hunt for Red October caused many American men to feel “unmanned” and powerless. “Millions of American men,” as James Gibson puts it, “began to dream, to fantasize about the powers and features of another kind of man who could retake and reorder the world.” Now men struggle to prove their manhood through muscles and mass.
As the media continues to represent men in advertisements more than women, our society continues to respect and represent men more than women in every aspect of our daily lives. Women continue to be paid less at certain jobs, and experience more discrimination than men. According to Robert Bartsch, this is linked to the fact that men are more present in television commercials than women and he believes “these trends are one measure of how society views women and men.” His studies show that “male voice-overs occur approximately 90% of the time,” and “the consensus of these studies is that there is unequal gender representation in commercials.” Going back to the household cleaning materials and beer, Bartsch also states that “there is a greater use of female product representatives for domestic products and… male product representatives for nondomestic products.”
The media definitely has a huge affect on the socialization of gender and can affect people’s attitudes and behaviors toward the opposite sex. I am Serbian, formerly known as Yugoslavian though we never quite referred to ourselves as Yugoslavian in the first place. Everyone has heard about the war in the Balkans since it has been an ongoing issue since the early 90’s. Though the war has been over for quite some time now, Serbian men are experiencing an intense amount of prejudice in the United States. Serbs are referred to as “rapists,” “savage,” and “killers.” Though this may be true for certain soldiers who fought in the war, it is not true for all Serbian soldiers and it is certainly not true for all Serbian men. I predominantly blame the American media for this impolite and ignorant behavior on the part of the Americans. Surely, rape and murder are not one sided in a war. The Muslims raped Serbian women and they killed Serbian children too, but the media hasn’t addressed this issue. During the war with the Croatians, Croat soldiers cut the fingers of Serbian men and women and wore them around their necks on a piece of string as a necklace. They took Serbian babies and jabbed them onto pitchforks. The media hasn’t addressed these issues. But CNN has exaggerated the Serbian offenses so much that Americans are convinced all Serbs are evil. This has caused many American women to fear dating men of Serbian descent, and American men to feel as if they need to be on defense-mode when being approached by the big bad Serb. And if tomorrow the news pronounced my country to be heroic and announced that Serbs are the best people in the world, the Americans would then praise my existence and they would be more than friendly. This is further evidence for Robert Bartsch that the media does in fact affect people’s behavior and attitudes. How sad it is that we, as the most intelligent being on earth, can so easily be lead by our television sets and our radios.
I don’t watch TV too often because I’m usually busy doing other things, but I find that whenever I flip through the channels there is always a lady on the Home Shopping Network selling jewelry or clothing or some unnecessary kitchen appliance people see and think they can’t live without. In the contemporary American society, shopping is the lady’s sport. Women like to “shop ‘til they drop” as many advertisements have said. But there is something even deeper than this. Since the media distinguishes between specific male and female roles by using only males for male roles and only females for female roles, we tend to find it disturbing when a man does something considered to be a woman’s task, or a woman does something we are familiar with seeing men do. Often, when we see a man hosting the Home Shopping Network, for example, we question his sexuality. I have personally witnessed this happen many times, and in fact, I find myself making this judgment more and more often. Remember Richard Simmons and his funny work out videos? I don’t know one person who doesn’t think Richard Simmons is homosexual. And those big, beefy, muscular women that compete in body building championships, how do people comment about them?
As these images become increasingly prevalent in the media, men become afraid of Richard Simmons workouts and his short shorts, and women become afraid of bodybuilding and continue to starve themselves to fit Wolf’s “Beauty Myth.” More than ever, people in America are coming out while others are doing everything they can to prove they are heterosexual. So, is the media trying to tell us it’s okay to be gay and paving the way for the homosexuality boom that is taking place, or is this just an attempt to finally loosen us up and help us realize that men don’t have to be Rambo and women don’t have to be supermodels? We have yet to find out through further advertisements.