Recently, women have begun to see changes in their role in society. Although girls and women are starting to receive messages about being strong, independent women, too often they are also still receiving messages indicating women should be fragile and domestic. In an article titled Leader stereotypes match men more than women, Catherine Kleiman quotes Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University who says that it's bound to be challenging for women because there's a built-in role conflict" (1998). The contradicting ideas are conveyed in the media as well as in early childhood.
Women s new role in society is focused on independence. Society has found that women are able to thrive without set limitations and expectations despite earlier notions. The media no longer focuses primarily on superficial aspects of women but also on a more profound basis. In Ever After, a modern version of Cinderella, Danielle is respected not only for her beauty but also for her intelligence and distinct personality. She shares her knowledge of democracy, education, and equality with Henry, the prince. Danielle s actions represent the new forms of empowerment modern women strive for. Women are now encouraged to educate themselves beyond the domestic elements. Advertisements share this idea of a new woman. Hamburger Helper ads typically present working women who are also able to make dinner for the family. In Beauty and the Beast of Advertising, Jean Kilbourne recognizes that it is somewhat common to see a liberated woman with independence and self esteem (2000, p. 239). Similar ideas of independence are portrayed in the business world. New positions are shaped for strong-willed women who are able to take on more responsibility. These new roles for women are continuing to gain acceptance.
Despite the modern views of women, the traditional concepts of what it means to be a woman are still being taught in the early stages of development. Parents encourage outdated roles in the way little girls are dressed, the toys they play with, and the books that are read to them. The overall attitude of the parents is projected onto the child, as well. As pointed out in X: A Fabulous Child s Story by Lois Gould, girls are treated a distinct way. Usually cuddled and kissed, girls are treated as if they are dainty and almost breakable. When a young girl is commented on, the comments usually describe the girl as cute (1978, p. 383). As children, girls are typically offered girl toys, which usually have to do with a domestic behavior such as baking or cleaning. For example it is common for a young girl to have an Easy Bake Oven. Once girls are old enough to attend school, the outdated ideas of women are taught in the institution. Girls are often separated from boys in order to complete the girls skills such as baking or painting flowers (Gould, 2000, p. 386). As a girl grows up, she is inspired by the actions of those around her, her parents and teachers especially. If a girl s mother demonstrates the traditional role, more than likely the girl will proceed in the same traditional manner. The archaic ideals of conforming women are clinging to the minds of young girls.
As young girls develop into young women they are bombarded by stereotypes on television primarily in advertising. Jean Kilbourne states in Beauty and the Beast of Advertising that women are shown almost exclusively as housewives or sex objects (2000, p. 238). It is uncommon to see an average woman advertising a product. For a product with a male audience, models are typically used that range in sizes from 0 to 4 to portray the average American woman. However, the average woman of 5'4" and 142 pounds is a size 12, this representation socializes women to believe that they should look like these models in order to attain their goals (Perkins, 1997). Actresses in the media are also airbrushed and covered up with make-up to give the perception of perfect beauty (Kilbourne, 1989, p. 238). Since the advertisements are for a male audience, women tend to think that men will not notice average women. In an article by Catherine Weiskopf discussing women in television, Jerry M. Lewis, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Kent State University, is quoted stating, "TV is an intimate medium. It shapes their concept of who is beautiful" (1997). These false images give women the impression that perfection is a goal to achieve and that it may even be feasible. Since these looks are unattainable, it is common for a woman to feel dissatisfied with and ashamed of herself, whether she tries to achieve the look or not (Kilbourne, 1989, p. 238).
In childhood, families and schools are demonstrating the traditional, domestic roles. However, later in life women see society expand their expectations to include fewer limitations. As a result the life of a woman is not easy, especially with these common mixed messages being sent out in every direction. In order for the reformed ideals to be recognized, the old ideals must be dismantled. Only then can society realize that family life is an interest not the interest for women.
Gould, L. (2000). X: A fabulous child's story. In K. Ackley, Perspectives on Contemporary issues: Reading across the disciplines (2nd ed.)(p. 381-389). Ft. Worth: Harcourt College Publishers.
Kilbourne, J. (1989). Beauty and the beast of advertising. In K. Ackley, Perspectives on Contemporary issues: Reading across the disciplines (2nd ed.)(p. 237-240). Ft. Worth: Harcourt College Publishers.
Kleiman, C. (1998). Leader stereotypes match men more than women. The Kansas City Star.
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Weiskopf, C. (1997). How do females on the screen affect your life. Current Health 2, 24(3), 13-15. Retrieved December 4, 1999 from GALILEO, Periodical Abstracts.