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The media plays an important role in race, gender and class relations because it is the agent which transmits concepts through which existence in the society is interpreted and understood. The information disseminated by the media plays a major role in forming ideologies and societal expectations. The modern citizenry cares about the symbols, narratives and images transmitted through film, television radio, music and other forms of popular media. The public understands what is expected of a female, male, white, Asian, African American, Latino, rich or poor based on media productions which tend to categorize audiences based on social stratification.

Differences in outward physical and sexual appearances stem from biology but gender roles are based on cultural practices. Culture is the process by which people understand societal roles based on experiences and relations in the society.Gender is the social construct upon which masculinity or femininity is based. So is race a social construct and characteristics such as hair type and the colour of the skin are usually used to categorize people into various racial groups. It must be noted that the media has had a profound impact in differentiating racial groups to meet the economic, social and political expectations of society.

Race, gender and class are therefore social constructs that are central to the socialization process of human beings. This paper explores the critical role played by a gender biased and racially impartial media. It discusses the various ways through which the media creates and propagates racial, class and gender stereotypes in society. The paper reviews the concepts of masculinity and femininity that the media have created. It also discusses the media coverage and representation given by the media to white people and people of colour. This is especially in view of the fact that in developed countries social stratification is based on race, class and gender.

Discussion

The media is a powerful agent in constructing and disseminating gender roles and gender expectations in society. The media has been accused of debasing and degrading women in its coverage. A racial angle of the treatment accorded by the media to women, studies show that the media privileges and portrays white women in a better light than it portrays African American women. The media teaches us what is expected in terms of our behaviour, thought and feelings .The media teaches the society the expected dress code, consumption trends, how to treat members from the different groups in the society; how to be successful and popular; how to avoid failure; and how to act in conformity with the prevailing cultural practices, norms and values.

Studies conducted by the British Cultural Studies illustrate how culture has progressively constructed distinct forms of membership to cultural groups. In the modern world, the media has the ammunition to construct world views. People who follow media trends conform to the dominant behaviour, values and fashion. The media also creates sub-cultures for rebel groups in society for instance punk culture which involves departing from the popular culture propagated by the media.

The study of the impact of media culture on society is tied to the study of economics, society and politics. Media mediums such as film, music, newspapers, television and recently social media and the internet are either conservative or liberal creating radical distinct views that create differences in society (Hotzman, 2007). When it comes to female fashion, the media emphasizes on slimness and thinness. The propagation of this notion has led women and girls worldwide to become obsessed with slenderness. The media has created a world where the only objective girls and women have is to outdo other women and look better than them. Thin women are hero-worshipped in advertisements and it seems that the only way to make it in this world as a woman is to be thin. By putting the thin models on advertisements and fashion show run-aways, the media silently communicates the society’s expectations of a woman’s body. Women who don’t fit in consequently suffer from self-esteem issues and end up falling victim to disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

This current scenario is to be contrasted with the trend in the 1970s when models looked healthier, had more muscles and larger hips. The ideal woman during that era was a round woman and thin women had a rough time. The image being propagated currently is of underweight and fragile individuals. This is particularly rough for teenage girls in their adolescence. They are at a stage when they are starting to acquire a sense of femininity and to understand their individual identities. The media and advertising industry create a difficult environment for teenage girls to thrive since at such an age want to look like their celebrity idols. Unfortunately female celebrities are portrayed as thin and slim sending adolescent girls into an unhealthy slimming frenzy. Anorexia and bulimia blossom at such a stage and the disorders can be fatal enough to cause death.

Only 5% of women are born with the natural ideal body portrayed by the media. The other 95% are therefore subjected to images of these other women and aspire to defeat nature and look like them. They feel insecure and inadequate and suffer mental and psychological anguish. Those who are overweight suffer the most since fat women are portrayed by the media as unattractive. Being overweight is almost like a disability. The models portrayed in the media are not naturally perfect. Technology has been incorporated into the fashion models to make the models look more glorious and vibrant.

Techniques such as air-brushing, use of doubles, photo-shopping, artificial organs, make-up and an array of other technologies are used on the models before the images are released to the public. There is therefore nothing like a perfect or an ideal woman in real life. The media however only shows the perfect parts to the public and hides the flaws (Hotzman, 2007).

All magazines and female blogs usually have a specific section dedicated to dieting. It is already bad enough that women have to subscribe to the media’s perception of what they should like, but it is worse that they have to go ahead and try out the suggestions and tips offered by the media as they chase towards the illusion of the perfect body. Dieting involves denying the body important nutrients and monitoring the appetite. The process of losing weight is therefore an arduous task that requires a lot of will-power from a woman who is already suffering from mental anguish and self-esteem. Losing weight for health reasons is commendable since obesity has chronic side-effects but losing weight to confirm to the society’s expectations of an ideal body is tragic.

The portrayal of women in movies, popular TV programs and music videos is also another key area of concern. Women are portrayed as sexual objects whose only purpose is to gratify the desires of men. They appear half or fully naked when men are fully clothed. They are also shown engaging in socially unacceptable acts. This portrayal leads to moral decay in the society and has been cited as one of the leading causes of the rising cases of violence against women, murder, adultery, rape and drug abuse. When socially unacceptable behaviour such as violence is routinely shown on television and films, people become liberal towards it. The moral level of society goes down and people become lax in condemnation of such acts. Negative portrayal of women may for instance justify rape since a woman who is skimpily dressed will be said to have been deliberately looking for the rape.

Children are the worst affected by negative portrayal of women and racial groups in the media. Since their brains are still developing, they are likely to engage in the acts that they see displayed in the media. They end up imitating these acts and little boys develop harmful chauvinistic tendencies early. A study reported that the violence shown on films and televisions lead to acts of aggression in children. Graphic pornographic movies which are popular with the public always debase and degrade women. They increase the level of rape and other harmful sexual practices that are committed to women. Long straight hair and light skin are the yardsticks against which the beauty of an African-American woman is measured.

When it comes to racial issues, several scholars have studied the role that the media has played in constructing the meaning of a “black” person. The critical race theory has also focussed on society’s perception and the meaning that society attaches to “whiteness”. Black people have always been portrayed to be inferior to white people. For instance in Hollywood movies where the cast is entirely white, a black person is usually given one slot where he or she plays a very minor role. Hispanic and Asian women are shown in the media as sexualized seductresses who cannot control their emotions.

 Asian women are portrayed in popular media as submissive and passive women whose only role is to obey their men. In Hollywood movies they are either trivialized or made to look like submissive puppets or dolls waiting for sexual favours from men or they are demonized and shown to be scheming cunning queens who will do anything to seduce a man. Stereotypes of marginalized and minority people are often interpreted by mainstream television audiences as the gospel truth. Latino women including the famous Jennifer Lopez in “Maid in Manhattan” are often portrayed buy the media as house-helps or domestic workers. In music videos their bodies particularly the hips, buttocks and breasts are often over-emphasized.

Masculinity is defined as the set of characteristics, features, values, and images that are attributed to a man in society. White men are often portrayed in the media as being invincible while black men are portrayed as deviant social rebels. In most comedies, black men are shown to be valueless and to hold society’s cultural norms in contempt. Action movies and crime programmes portray African-American males very negatively to the extent that it amounts to dehumanization of The African-American man. They are depicted as villains in crime movies who will resort to violence at the slightest provocation in turn resulting into character assassination of the worst kind possible.

Black detectives are usually shown as assured and smart while white detectives often appear to be undecided and foundering in their role. Black men are also shown to be very sexually aggressive and to have no respect for the female body (Christine et al, 2002).The depiction of African-American men indicates that they are the cause of the breakdown of the social and economic fabric of society. They are also shown to be obsessed about the size of their penises, a portrayal to the larger society that they have bodies but no brains. Black men are further characterized as violent, sexually aggressive and permanently angry.

Lower-class white men are also often ridiculed in the media as not being aggressive or ambitious enough. They are not interested in money as a status symbol as hustling African-American men are. In a Hustler magazine cartoon, low-class white men were depicted to be sexually impotent and to have low sexual drive. Upper-class white men are painted in a more lenient colour as privileged ambitious elegant well-mannered and cultured gentlemen. Eminem’s music for instance is more widely accepted than that of his African-American counterparts even though the message and language used is the same.

White men reign supreme in all racial, gender and class relations. They hold a privileged position and they can dictate their interests to women, and the other racial minority groups.Sports remain another key area in which the media reinforces the inequalities in society. The coverage accorded by the media to male and female sports is quite different. Female athletes receive relatively less airtime, almost one-eighth of the coverage that male athletes enjoy. Coverage of female athletes and sports is centred on mainstream fashion values such as beauty, motherhood and fashion.

The Women National Basketball Association is thus keen to portray that female basket-ball players are not social rebels and that they are just like any other heterosexual female. Male players in the NBA on the other hand are depicted as powerful glamorous “bad-boys”, the ultimate desire of every woman. Media coverage of The NBA exposes black-men as being sexually aggressive and not the type to commit to a stable relationship.

Stereotypical displays are also quite rampant in advertising. The members of the gender group, racial group or social class featured speak volumes about the role members of that particular group are expected to play in society. Asians often play the role of the computer whiz kid in technology advertisements while black people are featured in low-end products commercials. Slim women advertise cars, lingerie, cosmetics and fashion items. Latino women feature in highly sexualized roles requiring extreme seduction (Goodman, 2010).

Asian men have been depicted by the media in action and martial arts movies that have been epitomized by the success of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. They have been portrayed as dangerous foreigners who are up to no good other than spying and as corrupt and shrewd businessman. They lack the masculine aspects of sexual prowess and sexual dominance (Goodman, 2010). The desexualized Asian man is therefore not as powerful as his white or African-American counterpart.

Conclusion

Race, gender and class are better understood when they are intertwined together rather than when they are studied separately. The gender issue particularly cannot be understood without considering the race and class issues. The experiences of upper-class women are different from those of middle-class women and quite distinct from those of lower-class women. The experience s of white women, African-American women, Asian women, Hispanic women and Native- American women are not similar. So are the experiences of men in different racial and class categories.

On social classes, the media often portrays poor people as being stupid, lazy, complacent and uneducated. The media never focuses on the underlying factors in society that prevent mobility from one social class to another such as educational and economic issues. The media plays a critical role in building perceptions and creating trend in cultural relations. It creates the background against which society’s political perspectives and societal practices are anchored. The media needs to moderate its content to stop creation and propagation of negative stereotypes and biases against the respective social groups in society. Individuals must also be empowered to resist manipulation from the media and to stop subscribing to the dominant ideologies perpetuated by the media.

Code: Sample20

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