He Is the Boss, She Is Bossy: The Role of the Media

How important is television and media in shaping our views about men and women?

Posted Oct 01, 2017

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Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide and her organization of the same name is now stirring up more controversy about the negative stereotypes women continue to face with its "Ban Bossy" campaign, which contends that girls are called "bossy" for the same behaviors that signal leadership qualities in boys. Men are the boss, she is bossy! We have seen the Pantene commercial highlighting this and other popular stereotypes of women.

Male bosses and co-workers sometimes don’t know what to do with ambitious, goal-oriented women who want leadership positions. These women are acting outside the stereotypes that the men may be comfortable with. Sometimes you can show men where to help. We don’t mean baby-sit them, but some are open to learning how to be the best boss, regardless of who their employee might be.

We are bombarded by daily messages from the media, parents, teachers, bosses, and co-workers on what it means to be a boy or girl. No one is immune to these messages.

You can’t overlook the influence of mass media. The average American child watches six hours of television every day, not to mention video games and the Internet. By age 6, our kids have already watched an average of 5,000 hours of television. By age 18, the number soars to 19,000 hours.

How important is television and other media in shaping our views about men and women?

First, we have to consider the extent of the media in American life. The statistics are staggering. In 1950, only 9 percent of households had a television, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. Today 98 percent of homes have TVs and two-thirds have more than one television. More than 70 percent have cable, which suggests that people also watch a lot of movies at home.

Try this. Turn on your TV with a discriminating eye. Don’t watch only the programming. Also notice what the commercials are saying about women and men. What gender themes are prevalent? Is it only our imagination that all we see are babes in bras and lingerie, women acting helpless and still cleaning the toilet bowl?

Generally, older men are perceived as handsome and distinguished. Older women are seen as past their prime and not particularly attractive.

Advertising has apparently decided that the benefit of crudely impressing men trumps the disadvantages of dishonoring women. How many times do fathers across America sit down with their sons for the ritual of an afternoon watching football? Now they both get to share the stereotypical images of women! And don’t forget, they are also sharing the ultimate image of masculinity played out in football.

Alas, media gender stereotyping is an equal opportunity field. Men also get their fair share. Children’s TV shows typically show men as the aggressor and engaged in exciting adventures. And the rewards are predictable: luxury cars, beautiful women, mansions in the suburbs, and vacations in the Caribbean.

Take a look at prime-time television. It reveals men as independent, aggressive, and in charge. We are all familiar with Donald Trump’s “You’re fired!” the signature line from the TV show The Apprentice comes to mind. Beyond cartoons, TV for all ages depicts men more as independent, powerful, capable males in high-status positions. Once again, the media reinforces stereotypical roles of men as in control, aggressive, unafraid, and, more important, in no way feminine. He is the boss!