First published on www.huffingtonpost.com
Media plays a large role in creating social norms, because various forms of media, including advertisements, television, and film, are present almost everywhere in current culture. Gender roles, as an example, exist solely because society as a whole chooses to accept them, but they are perpetuated by the media. Conspicuous viewers must be aware of what the media is presenting to them, and make sure they’re not actively participating in a culture of oppression.
Even on young children, gender roles are being pushed through advertisements. My search for American advertisements with girls playing with action figures and boys using easy-bake ovens was fruitless, and even when I moved to a gender neutral product, sidewalk chalk, the advertisement was sending different messages towards boys versus girls. The girls were all coloring on the sidewalk, as the one young boy rapped, ending in a short dance routine where it was clear that the only male in the advertisement was the main character. Are consumers of sidewalk chalk actively trying to send this message of submission to their 9-year-old girls? Likely not, but the media is sending them the message without being stopped. However, Tide, a Proctor and Gamble laundry detergent, has taken its advertisement in a better direction, recently showing a clip where the leading male actor proudly proclaims “I’m a stay-at-home dad,” and later goes on to braid his daughter’s hair. By showing a man playing out typically “feminine” behaviors, Tide is promoting a more equal society.
Television is the most pervasive form of media, with 96.7 percent of American families owning a TV, according to The Nielsen Company, which takes TV set ownership into account when it produces ratings. This, of course, means that viewers must carefully examine the content of the programs they choose to watch, and decide if they can ethically support and promote said content.