The Mass Media and Advertising: Stereotyping young men and women into abuse

The marketing industry spends billions of dollars every year studying and researching what teenagers want and are consuming. There is a symbiotic relationship between the mass media and youth culture and the former has to be nominated as one of the biggest educators of youth today. Education happens in every area of life and the mass media has been identified as a strong driving force in prompting, producing and reproducing female stereotypes as well as male stereotypes – making violence, self objectification, abuse and self-abuse normal on a large scale.

In the media, and in pretty much all areas of visual imaging and communication, such as advertising, the film industry, music industry and gaming world, women’s bodies are sexualized and made out to be men’s toys and entertainment, to be consumed just like alcohol and cars. The objectification of the female body is rife in our society and it is frequently portrayed with the intention of evoking a male’s desire in society to dominate and use it.

But even men’s bodies, which are not the main focus of abuse and domination, are portrayed in an over-sexualized way. The way men are reduced to certain stereotypes, which mostly relate to the dominant masculine identity, creates great harm amongst boys. Boys are forced to disconnect from their body from a very early age to create outer features and abilities that are supposed to represent their identity. In order to fit into these societal roles, boys/men have to give up on their feelings, their sensitivity and tenderness to function in a certain way. This way of functioning as a male expands into acquiring external commodities as a source of identification such as money, sport, work, sex, cars, intellectual prowess, success, power, and women. This way of operating confirms the men in this version of masculinity and has become a source of recognition and how they define who they are.

The common version of masculinity generally identifies with a set of ideals around domination, toughness, violent behaviour and abuse to name a few. The female counterpart to this identifies with ideals around the body, sexuality and beauty, male dependency, being a wife, mothering, and generally with a more marginal position in society. Women frequently identify with the role of being a male commodity.

Masculine and feminine identities are promoted and harmfully stereotyped through the mass media, advertising and specifically the global teen-driven economy, which makes huge profits with the constant rehashing and regurgitating of female and male stereotypes.  Specifically, commercials are a powerful tool used for creating and shaping people’s perception of themselves and others. Stereotypes are used as one of the most popular techniques of persuasion, adapted to the specific, either male or female target, and are the supposed ‘reflection of the recipient’.

The mass media created a “Giant Feedback Loop” watching kids and then selling them an image of themselves. The kids then watch those images and aspire to conform to the image that they have been sold back. This proliferation of promoting non-loving and harmful ways encourages and fosters the normalization of violence in relationships across the globe. It is a big machinery ready to abuse them and profiteer from the lack of connection in our society and the loneliness and emptiness most teenagers feel, pretending to understand them, just to exploit them as customers of their products.

Kids feel frustrated and lonely today because they are encouraged to feel that way . . . advertising has always sold anxiety and it certainly sells anxiety to the young. It’s always telling them that they are not thin enough, they’re not pretty enough, they don’t have the right friends, or they have no friends…they’re losers unless they’re cool. But I don’t think anybody, deep down, really feels cool enough, ever.”[1]

Today youth are growing up with an incomplete and distorted reflection of reality and even though some might be aware of this, it is hard to remain objective and insensitive to its influence. The brutal reality is that we have accepted abuse as our standard and if we don’t start making it about love we will see more and more extreme behaviours popping up in our young.

Where is society heading to if we keep on exposing the young to this role modelling industry – the mass media, one of the biggest educators in our system, teaching them only empty ideals, sex and abuse?

 

By Rachel Andras

 

[1] “Merchants of cool” Frontline. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/view/#rest

 

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