Gender Depictions in Media

by Priscilla Warrendopey-vector_624513

If I asked you who your favorite cartoon characters were when you grew up, I’m sure you could list at least three off the top of your head. We all have our own favourite cartoons and Disney/DreamWorks movies growing up. But if we look deeper into the hidden messages embedded in these ‘fun adventures’, I wonder if you would look at your past and current top 3 ‘must watch’ children’s movies the same way.

People often regard the word ‘stereotype’ in a negative way, attributing it to bias of race, gender, age, location and power. However, stereotyping is merely one of the necessities of human survival – we group plants, people, occurrences and even stars to help us avoid dangers and assist us through life. Using a semiotic approach, Hall explains that similar conceptual maps and linguistic meanings, compiled in a held belief or stereotype, are indeed necessary so that people can “reference the world” (Hall, 1997, p.22).

But, although a necessary tool for our survival, in media these ‘selective’ representations “raises difficult questions about ideologies and values” (UNESCO, 2006, p.28). UNESCO continue to caution viewers to “avoid the facile conclusion that stereotypes can simply be replaced with ‘accurate’ representations” (p.28). Instead audiences are encouraged to ‘read’ logically and critically, to come to their own conclusions about “how far they can be trusted” (p.27).

princessesThis mis-representation of “real women and their roles in contemporary society” is a cause for concern (McQueen, 1998, p.146), particularly in its role in upholding uneven power relations. In a world where ‘the mass’ have now been given the opportunity to voice their own views of what is ‘true’, these power imbalances have now been exposed. Many have joined the bandwagon in exposing these disempowering ideologies and values that permeate media.

Clip 1: Celebrities encourage critical thinking. “Watch what you watch”. Viewing time 1:01

Clip 2: PSA for Viewing time 1:23

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media is drawing attention to both the imbalance in male-female ratios in films (both behind and in front of the camera), hypersexualization of female characters, lack of goals in life and their under-representation in high-profile occupations. Although females make up half the population, “We are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half of the space” (Geena Davis, 2013). It is through film (movies, television shows, live-action and animated) that this under-representation can be ‘fixed’ Ms Davis asserts. In her catch phrase for, ‘If they can see it, they can be it’.

Education has become a focal point in demystifying the hidden messages behind popular media. Critical media analysis has been used effectively both with young and older students in ways that encourage them to speak out, using media as their platform, to express their ‘own’ views on what they believe.

Tiger at the zoo.

Clip 3: Year 5 media response to unit on ‘Endangered Species’ viewed at Viewing time 1:40

Clip 4: Critical media analysis of ‘The Road to El Dorado’. Viewing time 6:31

We should remember though that the socialization of future generations is not held entirely in the hands of media. It is also shaped through experiences with family, friends, culture and social networking to name a few. Ensuring each child has the ability to believe in and realize their potential is the responsibility of us all.

No doubt the images, ideas and mis-representations will continue to follow you online after you finish reading this. To escape it you would need to escape the world. But if your mind’s eye now looks at media through a critical lens, then you can empower others to see the seed of potential within each young mind and body. What can you do to inspire a young child’s dreams today?

Clip 5: ‘Inspire her mind’ advertisement. Viewing time 1:02


Davis, G. (2013, December 11). Geena Davis’ two easy steps to make Hollywood less sexist (Guest Column) in Pret-a-Reporter. Retrieved from

Hall, S. (1997). The work of representation. In S. Hall (Ed.), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 15-27). London: Sage

McQueen, D. (1998). Representation and stereotyping. In D. McQueen, Television: A media student’s guide (pp. 139-160). London: Arnold.

UNESCO. (2006). Media Education: A toolkit for teachers, students, parents and professionals. Paris: UNESCO.

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Picture 2 attributed to cartoons&page=1&position=10

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Picture 4 attributed to


One thought on “Gender Depictions in Media

  1. Gender depictions is something that I have thought about but never really questioned. Thank you for your blog! I would hope that things will start to change in not only children’s media but media in general. Clip 5 is really inspiring.


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