The presence of women in the media continues to be an important field of study. The way in which women are portrayed is also an issue of great concern. I would like to discuss two studies which question the influence of certain material regarding women.
In the first article – Positive female role-models eliminate negative effects of sexually violent media, Ferguson, C.J., “Journal of Communication” 62 (2012), pg 888-899- the author examines the impact of sexually violent media. Ferguson analysed the negative attitudes in relation to male and female relationships and the female responses in relation to this material. The study was entirely carried out in the US, the participants were asked to vision three types of material: neutral media contents, sexually violent media contents with weak, subordinate, female characters and lastly, sexually violent material with strong independent female characters.
The women who assisted the negative (sexually violent) media were more anxious. However, the men who watched sexually violent media had more negative attitudes towards women but only when female characters were weak and subordinate. Sexual and violent content had no influence on viewer attitudes when strong female characters were present. Ferguson observed that “it is possible that negative representations of women give rise to negative stereotypes which some men have on women whereas positive images challenge them.” When women “watch negatives images of women it often reminds them of sexism and stereotypes which can threaten their expectations in terms of esteem and treatment.” In addition, further results show “ that women depicted in sexually violent scenes in the media promotes a sense of feminine solidarity against sexist or misogynous scenes”. These results would seem that the effects regard the form of the scenes rather than the sexually violent content in itself.
In Understanding sexual objectification: a comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls’ internalization of beauty ideals, self objectification and body surveillance, Vandenbosch, L and Eggermont, S “Journal of Communication”, 62, pg 869-887- the authors examined the exposure to musical videos with sexual content in prime time TV programmes, in fashion magazines and in social networks. The authors examined in each woman the internalization of beauty models in these programmes, the self-objectification and body surveillance among adolescents as a consequence of watching such material.
Vandenbosch and Eggermont support the theory that the exposure of media is a means of sexual objectification and internalization of beauty ideals, particularly in those of females. It is fair to note however, that the effects seem to differ according to the type of media which were used to show this material.
According to Vandenbosch and Eggermont the internalization of beauty ideals and the formation of the personality are directly linked to almost all types of media exposure and “seem to act as a mainstay between media exposure, on one part there is self-objectification and on the other part there is body surveillance”. As a result, adolescents place more importance on their physical appearance.
Limits of both studies
One could establish a series of substantial limits in both studies. Firstly, the size of the sample was not large enough to establish conclusive results, that is to say that these studies do not have a significant number of participants in either cases- in the first there were only 150 and in the second there were 538. Secondly, there is a geographical limit, the results are based on data from a limited area and therefore can be influenced by cultural conditions. Furthermore, there are not enough elements to compare with or to make an ulterior analysis on.
Despite the abovementioned limits one can reach an important conclusion: the negative contents present in media – especially those with sexual violent connotations towards women have a direct and long-term negative influence. The design and content of audiovisuals, the press and Internet and other media should pay closer attention to the images associated with women in regard to the meaning to which it is attributed.
The results of the two studies show the importance of media as transmitters of beauty ideals and the canons of beauty which women adopt above all in adolescence. The media show unreal or even negative models of women as if they were universally recognised even if these ideals in actual fact do not contribute to a full development and respectful attitude towards women.