Women Presentation in the Media

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One of the most powerful cultural and economic forces in the world today is the influence of the media. The media decide who talks, who drives debates, what is important to report and even who writes. The media shape our own understanding and perception of who we are and what and who we can become. The following research underscores the position of women as the media portrays and clarifies the need to have the media accountable for equal participation and voice.

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This report is a summary of recent available data on the women who determine literature, news content, and TV entertainment. The report will also show the depiction of women in film and television. The paper seeks to discuss a clear guide of the nature and position of American women over the last several years. Results from the data show that, in the last decade, women have consistently been under represented in the media. The depiction of female characters in television and the film is usually stereotyped. Young women are more likely to be hyper sexualized in films than their male counterparts are.

Research shows that negative depictions and underrepresentation of women in the media have far-reaching societal effects. It is thus of great importance to establish the reasons of this trend. This will include assessing the responsibility the media in determining the proportion of female news experts and newsmakers, and understanding the role the media plays in influencing gender equity in newsmakers and experts. It will also call for getting the exact reason why there is an inverse relationship between the proportion of women in the media, and those having degrees in mass communication and journalism. An understanding of gender equality reports is also necessary before coming up with working approaches for increasing the percentage of female film and television characters. For all this to become a reality, it shall call for the participation of stakeholders such as media organizations, university and college media departments, and women advocacy groups. The groups have to prioritize gender equity in the media and come up with a practical and clear ways of achieving this.

Methods and Theoretical Framework

This research report is a summary of available data touching on:

  • Women representation in occupation that determine news content;
  • Women representation in occupations of the media dealing with determination of film and television entertainment;
  • Women depiction in film and television;
  • The data used in this research was compiled from leading sources of analytic and analytic data on women representation in the media, and from recent media articles on gender equity.

To examine the topic further, the research uses two sociological theories namely, cultivation and the social expectation theory.

George Gerbner developed the cultivation theory in 1979. The basic principle underlying the theory is that the media affects the perceptions of the audience outside their immediate environment. As a matter of fact, the theory also points that continuous exposure to consistent media portrayals affects perceptions of social reality including objects, people and environments. For the purpose of this report, the theory will aid in explaining how the media causes inaccurate perceptions of the world outside the immediate environment of the viewer.

The social expectation theory explains the creation of social expectations through portrayals of roles, norms, sanctions and ranking of media content. It suggests that though media portrays may or might not be accurate the audience assimilate the patterns of social behavior then develops expectations of social groups. The theory will provide a framework for establishing how women perceive the values vital to their fellow women. These perceptions influence the values that women hold important for themselves.

Literature Review

The data used in the research was compiled from significant sources of information on women in the media. The data also comes from articles on gender equity in the media.


This section will give data on equity in entertainment and news media. This includes data on the proportion on position of influence in the determination of media content and those having speaking roles in the industry.

Women in News Media (Newspapers, Television, and Radio)

  1. Newspapers
    Between 1999 and 2010, women represented 37% of newsroom employees. This is according to a research by American Society of News Editors. By the same report, in the year 2011, women comprised of 40,5% of employees in the newsroom. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 37% of newspaper photographers, reporters, supervisors and editors.
  2. Television
    The Bureau of Statistics records the proportion of women television news force at 40% and news directors at 28% in 2011. Women are the minority for the positions of photographers (7%) graphic specialists (32%), art directors (35%), Internet specialists (45%), news director (29%), tape editors (32%), sport anchors (8%), sport reporters (18,7), and weathercasters (22%). They form half of assignment editors and news directors. They form the majority of news producers (65%), executive producers (55,2%), news reporters (57%), news writers (63,4%), and news anchors (57%). Between 2004 and 2011, women represented 40% of total TV news force.
  3. Radio
    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprised of 29,2% of the total employees in the radio industry in 2011. In the same year, women formed 18,4% of general managers and 18,05% of radio news directors.
  4. Newsmakers
    Women are less likely to be subject of stories on the news than men are. Worldwide, only 24% of news stories are about women (Media and Gender Monitor, 2011), and this figure has been increasing gradually. In 2000, women formed 18% of news stories and 21% in 2005. For political stories, women took 12% of the stories in 2000, 14% in 2005 and 19% in 2010. Women represent 23% of news websites that the Global Media Monitoring Project monitors (Macharia, 2010). Women guests for morning television shows on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox are only 21% for 2011, a decrease of 3,6 from the 24,8% figure in 2010. Only 14% of representatives and senator guests are women (Macharia, 2010). This is perhaps, because most women politicians reject any invites for television invites.
  5. Sport News
    Lapchick et al (2011) states that women are a minority in sport news occupations probably, because men are sportier than women are. In addition, men are more knowledgeable on sports than women are.
  6. Graduates
    Despite women being the minority in media professions, they have outnumbered men by 70% among college and university mass communication and journalism graduates (Becker et al., 2010). In addition, women graduates have been having higher employment rates than male graduates. According to Berker (2010), women usually specialize in public relations and advertising, which offer higher job prospects.
  7. Literature
    Weiner (2012) reports that of the books that New York Times reviewed between 2008 and 2010 women only wrote 38%. Moreover, 40,1% of fiction stories reviewed by the New York Times were from women. A review of 2010 catalogs of 13 publishing houses shows that 55% of the published books were the work of men. Weiner also found out that women were inferior in numbers of reviewers of literary journals. Therefore, males are primarily the publishers of literary magazines.
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Women in Film and Television

The following result section describes the role of women in films and television shows and their depictions in the same.

  1. Behind the Scene Role in Films
    Women make up 18% of persons in key behind the scene roles for top 250 grossing films of 2011. Key roles here refer to writers, directors, executive producers, editors, producers and cinematographers. Only 5% of 2011 directors were women compared to 7% in 2009 and 9% in 1999 (Lauren, 2012). Their roles also differ with women most likely to work in comedy, romantic and documentary genres rather than horror and action.
  2. Television Behind the Scenes
    In 2011, women represented 25% of professionals in behind the scenes roles on television, 27% in 2010 and consequently, 21% in 1998. These roles include editors, photography directors, producers, executive producers, creators and editors. In the 2010-2011 season women, only 12% of TV series directors were women and 12% in 2009-2010.
  3. Female Characters in Television
    Female formed 41% of fictional characters in 2010-2011 characters compared to 43% in 2007-2008 seasons (Lauzen, 2011). These characters were younger than their male counterparts were; also, they were also white and with an undefined employment status.
  4. Female Characters in Film
    For the top grossing films of 2007, 2008 and 2008, women formed only 34% of all the speaking characters. Only 16% of the movies showed gender equality, with women showing 15-52% of the speaking roles. When the writer or director of a film is female, the number of female speaking characters is high (Smith, 2012).

Most of women in films are hyper-sexualized. For the three years studied, women characters had a high likelihood of scanty dressing, nude depiction or being referred to as sexy and attractive. In 2009, 4,7% of males and 26% of females were in sexy attires, 7,4% of males and 24% of females were partially nude and 2,5% of males and 11% of females were referred to as being attractive. The proportions of females depicted either as partially nude, in sexy attire and referrals to attractiveness changed insignificantly over the three years. Women aged between 14 and 20 are more likely to be termed as attractive (22%) than 21-30 years (13,8%). In addition, women characters rarely assume leadership roles in movies and never achieve their goals in comparison to male characters. In 2010, three of top ten grossing films and twenty of top one hundred grossing films was woman centric. However, despite these negative depictions, films that feature female protagonists heavily generate as much films that feature male protagonists. The determining factor is the budget; therefore, films with a heavy budget gross large revenues regardless of the sex of the protagonist.

Theoretical Framework

1. Cultivation Theory

As stated in the methods section, Cultivation Theory alludes that the media influence the perceptions of the audience of their non-immediate environment and that repeated exposure affects our perceptions of objects, people and the environment. George Gerbner states that television is responsible for a chief acculturating and cultivating process, which exposes people systematically to a certain societal view on all aspects of human life. This view then shapes their values and beliefs (Mcquail, 1994).

For example, women living as homemakers may develop a feeling that they know the characteristics and values of women pursuing professional careers; they may thus perceive their lives differently from their own. The fact is that the homemakers do not socialize with the professional women as they are not in their immediate environment, but they end up forming these perceptions through media representations.

The theory provides researchers with a strong social framework to link contents of the media to their effect on society. However, the theory explains too much, about what is happening to the society in the modern times. In addition, nobody can test the theory, except mentally. However, it does shed some light on the mediation experience. The theory has another disadvantage that it tends to focus on television and radio media and rarely on written sources. Nevertheless, the effect of this drawback is not felt in this research as written media is also analyzed.

2. Social Expectation Theory

This is the second theory that this research uses. Moreover, the theory tries to explain how media portrayals of roles, norms, sanctions and roles create social expectations. The theory also proposes that media portrayals dictate how individuals develop social expectations of groups in society (Severin, 1979).

The society theory will thus guide a researcher to examine the attributes and characteristics that they see vital to women worldwide. The viewing public links certain personality characteristics and traits to a certain group using their perceptions that they have on the characteristics and values of women arising from media portrayals (Severin, 1979). Assumptions are the base of perceptions. The assumptions of Americans on the society, specifically women arise from informational and statistical media content on the society that is presented in news and media portrayals.

There have been numerous researches on the shifting domestic homemaker to independent women. The media and workforce statistics is daily noting and portraying this shift. The Social Expectation theory helps in explaining that societal perceptions on this shift have a direct correlation to the way that the media portrays this shift across the globe.

This theory may be difficult to apply to this research as not all members of the society have heavy exposure to the media, because the theory relies on constant, frequent and continuous exposure to media content. However, the fact the research also relies on Cultivation theory above will aid in portraying a complete research project.

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Discussion and Conclusion

Although, there have been recent success of women forming the majority in television occupations, women have been consistently underrepresented in professions that regulate the content of entertainment and news media, with little change in the course of the last decade. In addition, they have been highly underrepresented in screen roles. Television and films featuring women characters always show gender stereotypes; as a matter of fact, the women are in most cases hyper-sexualized. These misrepresentations and negative depiction have broad effects in the society. The media acts as a source of vital information on social groups and their legitimate status. Thus, what the media presents for viewing can either change or confirm perceptions and stereotypes.

Because of this reason, it is vital to identify the causes of this stereotypical depiction and misrepresentation, and then develop effective measures to solve this debacle. All stakeholders that are involved in the media industry should be at the front in ensuring that this becomes a success. From the high graduation rates of female journalism and mass communication students, it is clear that there is a missing link between school and employment. Measures to ensure that a majority of the graduates find jobs in their chosen field should be in place. Governments across the globe and different women rights movements should be at the forefront in ensuring that there is gender equity in the media.

In conclusion, the paper employs two theoretical theories to explain the widespread negative depictions and misrepresentations of women in the media. By combining the knowledge of the two theories, and the research results, any user of this research can clearly understand and pinpoint the place of women as the media depicts. Lastly, gender equality in the media calls for an affirmative action by every man and woman in position of influence.

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