The Psychological Power of the Media to Trap Women in A Role. The power of advertising to change, shape and mold the public's opinion has had a major impact on the lives of women. Women are the main target for many advertisements and are used in many forms of advertising. The media has historically used propaganda to define who women are and what they should be. The time period following WWII maybe one of the greatest examples of how completely media can control the ideas of the society on a specific group of people.
During WWII women were encouraged to go out to factories and work to
support the war effort. This gave women a sense of need and belonging
that many had been left out of before they had the opportunity to
persue any type of career in an acceptable manner. With the men away at
war, women were encouraged to find work outside the home due to a lack
of factory workers who could produce war goods. Once the war ended,
however, this propaganda not only stopped- it abruptly changed.
Once the men were back in the states there was an excess of workers.
Men came back form war to find that there were no jobs or that their
wives were occupying them. With production plummeting after war time
highs there were few jobs to offer the men returning home. This
started a media blitz on women. Women were encouraged to return to the
home and take care of their families. Women's magazines were
overflowing with ideas on how to make a perfect wife and mother. It was
obvious that if you weren't happy making your family your job, there
was something wrong with you as a woman.
The problem was that women were unhappy; President Kennedy commissioned a report on the he status of the American Woman
due to the magnitude of this problem (Schneir 38-47). The report
basically said that women were unhappy with the idea that they were
fundamentally only responsible for being wives, mothers and homemakers;
they had nothing they could associate as their own accomplishments.
Another study came out in 1963; it was called The Feminine Mystique by
Betty Friedan. "What she detected was a concerted campaign since the
end of WWII to convince American women they could achieve happiness in
life only through marriage and motherhood-an ideology she labeled "the
feminine mystique"" (Schneir 48-9). Friedan's research also lead her to
find an enormous amount of articles in women's magazines by supposed
experts devoted to telling women that they should seek their
fulfillment in being a wife and a mother. The fact that more women were
going to college and becoming better educated only lead to more
discontent and the idea of having courses on marriage and motherhood in
college was brought up. If a woman was unhappy with her status she knew
from what everything she read told her that something was wrong with
her; she was not fulfilling her duty as a woman.
The Influence of the Media on Women's View of Beauty and Self-Worth
Another way in which the media has had a great influence over women is
by controlling the image of what is beautiful for a woman in our
society. The more technology that is created, the more unrealistic our
ideas of the "perfect" woman become. "The body beautiful is a woman's
responsibility and authority. She will be valued and rewarded on the
basis of how close she comes to embodying the ideal. Whatever the
current borders of beauty, they will always be well defined and
exceedingly narrow, and it will be a woman's task to conform to them-for
as long as humanly possible" (Chapkis 14). This leaves little room for
interpretation to the idea of beauty. There is no flexibility in it;
the media creates an image and women try to live up to it.
Women are forced to live within the constraints that the media puts on
them because these constraints become societies "ideal." The media can
even go so far as to pick a hair color that society will adopt as more
desirable for themseles. One study showed that from 1950-1980's there
was an inordinate amount of blondes in advertisements and in magazines.
Even Playboy portrays blondes as sexier. The study also showed that
84% of women think that men prefer blonde haired women, in reality only
35% of the men interviewed preferred blondes. This kind of distortion
is something that the media perpetuates in the minds of women. It is
important that women start to differentiate myth from fact when the
media is concerned. Many disorders that women have when image is
concerned come from trying to perpetuate a beauty myth inflected by the
media. Media needs to be held accountable for the societal ideas that
they are perpetuating. Until larger perameters are made for beauty, no
one, not even the models can fit the "ideal."
Cash, Thomas F.. Sex Roles. "The American Image of Beauty :Media
Representations of Hair Color for Four Decades." vol.29, 113-23, 1993.
Chapkis, Wendy. beauty secrets. Southend Press, USA. copyright, 1986.
Covell, Katherine and Kyra Lanis. Sex Roles. "Images of Women in
Advertisements: Effects on Attitudes Related to Sexual Aggression."
vol.32, 639-49, 1993.
Schneir, Miriam. Feminism In Our Time. Vintage Original Press, N.Y.. 1994.