Scholarly article on topic 'Gender Representations and Digital Media'

Gender Representations and Digital Media Academic research paper on "Media and communications"

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Abstract of research paper on Media and communications, author of scientific article — Dorin Popa, Delia Gavriliu

Abstract The construction of gender goes on today through various technologies of gender (e.g. cinema) and individual discourses (e.g. theory) with the power to control the field of social meaning and thus produce, promote, and ‘implant’ representations of gender. Digital media had and has even now an immense growing through the media consumption. The need to study ‘whose voices are being heard in digital media’ passes from typically portrayed media (especially advertising and television) gender-specific items– men with alcohol, vehicles, or business products, women associated with domestic products to the position of women as media professionals or news actors. Our research tries to identify some of the new gender images in online media, by news content analysis. Being aware of the impact of the news industries on our cultural, political, and social lives, we have chosen to focus our study on how texts operate to produce meanings which reproduce dominant ideologies of gender in digital media news.

Academic research paper on topic "Gender Representations and Digital Media"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 180 (2015) 1199 - 1206

The 6th International Conference Edu World 2014 "Education Facing Contemporary World

Issues", 7th - 9th November 2014

Gender Representations and Digital Media

Dorin Popaa, Delia Gavriliub*

Journalism & Communication Sciences, Faculty of Letters, "Al. I. Cuza", University, Iasi, Romania _b"Al.I Cuza University ", Iasi, Romania_


The construction of gender goes on today through various technologies of gender (e.g. cinema) and individual discourses (e.g. theory) with the power to control the field of social meaning and thus produce, promote, and 'implant' representations of gen der. Digital media had and has even now an immense growing through the media consumption. The need to study 'whose voices are being heard in digital media' passes from typically portrayed media (especially advertising and television) gender-specific items - men with alcohol, vehicles, or business products, women associated with domestic products to the position of women as media professionals or news actors. Our research tries to identify some of the new gender images in online media, by news content analysis. Being aware of the impact of the news industries on our cultural, political, and social lives, we have chosen to focus our study on how texts operate to produce meanings which reproduce dominant ideologies of gender in digital media news.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-reviewunderresponsibility of TheAssociation "Educationfor tomorrow"/[Asociatia"Educatiepentrumaine"].

Keywords: media gender, identity, online media, news._

1. Examine Gender and Media

In order to educate the public and to have an educated public, the news authors and the media representatives has to have a holistic imagine of what discrimination is, what gender equality is, and further how they have to represent the gender in media. Initially, a problem of consciousness, gender equality and gender representations in media, as a general way of getting the information in our days, have become so important in the public sphere, that it is

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 0040722369654 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The Association "Education for tomorrow" / [Asociatia "Educatie pentru maine"]. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.02.244

necessary to point out some aspects regarding women, men and their public imagine. This public image "transported" by the media content and significances to the readers, viewers, and listeners contribute to educate the public in the sense of observing, trace some inequalities perpetuated by the media. In this direction goes our study, trying to identify some of the roles given by media to men and to women, in order to establish how media should react when speaking of gender equality and discrimination.

When asking what gender is, the answer should contain the difference between sex and gender. The sex, whether male or female, is biologically determined. Gender is not biological but it refers to a socially constructed set of behaviour patterns. Therefore, femininity and masculinity are culturally determined and matter of choice - they refer to pattern of behaviour and qualities of behaviour that we normally associate with being female or being male.

Sex, whether male or female, is essentially a question of biology and genetic. Gender is the cultural and social codes and conventions which are associated with either sex. One way to consider this aspect is to think in the following terms: 'Biology says 'It's a Boy!', and Gender says 'We'll buy the blue outfits, the train sets and the Action Men!'. The distinction between 'Sex' and 'Gender' has become increasingly important as feminist and masculinist criticism have sought to question the orthodox and established conventional ways in which we are brought up to think of 'Men' and Women', arguing that the ideas and associations which surround, say, femininity are not issues of Biological determination, but rather of social and cultural convention. One might be born a woman or a man, but that need not mean necessarily that one is therefore born to be either a housewife/homemaker or a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood. Gender is perhaps the basic category we use for sorting human beings, and it is a key issue when discussing representation. The concepts of gender - what does it mean to be a boy or a girl? - are composed of elements of our own identity and the identities we assume other people to have.

Media seems to be a very important way of establishing these "identities", to modify or even to define them. Through his visibility, media makes us grow up with an awareness of what constitutes 'appropriate' characteristics for objects and for humans. It is very easy to recognize that typically masculine means tough, hard, sweaty and typically feminine suppose fragility, softness, fragrant.

1.1 Measuring Gender Representations in Media. Methodology

The way gender is represented in the media does have an influence on how we perceive gender roles. Certain gender specific features can strengthen the image of what a man and a woman are, and how they should behave in relation to each other. The analysis of women's and men representations in media usually refers exclusively to news reporting, headlines, radio or television news when it comes to prime-time newspapers (with a high impact / rating of visualisations).

A wide range of different methods have been used in this field of study, however, the most common ones are quantitative content analysis and discourse analysis (Carter & Steiner 2004, Collins 2011,Gauntlett 2008, Rudy et al 2010). If the women's stance in politics and advertising is well represented in national and international well-documented studies (even doctoral dissertations), it's difficult to analyze the digital environment because of its fickle character and of the changes that may rapidly incur, but mostly because of the speed with which news comes and goes. The temporary aspect of the digital content makes difficult for us to establish, classify the image of the woman in neat and distinct categories. We have a rather different image depending on the topic discussed in the article - social, political, economic, lifestyle, home care.

Others researches concerning gender and media are quite extensive and cover many different forms of media, for example: prime-time television, movies, cartoons/Disney, music, games and much more recently the internet where new forms of media are being produced. Quite a lot of research has been carried out concerning media's representation of female politicians, but most of the research is from the US, Western Europe and the Nordic countries.

The methodology of our study takes into account the digital media which gives us a round image, completing the other studies made on traditional media. Such an overview outlines if another aspects, such as the perpetuation of the stereotypes or a broking line, giving maybe more credit to women, or making them more active, can change the gender representations. It is already well known the fact that the Internet has changed the readers' habits to lecture newspapers; therefore we will notice some approach differences at the level of the discourse too. Media educates, guides, manipulates. The more we are aware of its strength, the better we can protect and be less manipulated.

More specifically, the methodology approached in the present study is limited to the identification and interpretation of the meaning indicated by a series of headlines of some general articles, on subjects of general interest published between July-August 2014 on Romanian news portals. We name here,,,,,

Therefore, if aware of the gender differences, they can be integrated into our way of life not only through education, culture, but also through media. We cannot hope to have parity when representing genders in media, as this parity isn't to be found in other fields, but knowing how these gender differences are identified and transmitted this would mean a better placement of genders in the context.

The way media reflects the constitutive elements of the society, the human experiences, actions, opinions, daily concerns can be analyzed by a number of indicators, such as: (a) the percentage of women and men evoked (in our case, also seen or heard for television or radio) in a randomly selected sample content (for one week, for example), (b) the percentage of women and men quoted as source of information or/and opinion in topical articles, (c) the percentage of women and men considered speaking persons, professionals or common citizens, (d) the percentage of women and men evoked, interviewed or quoted as source of information on different subjects: politics, economics and business, war and conflict, science and technology, sports or other fields, (e) the percentage of time, space and importance given to information which evoked women as source of information /opinions or dedicated to women or subjects for women (The Report of the United Nations Organisation on Education, 2012).

1.2. Women versus Men in the Studies

The rapid changes of the phenomena involved in the gender studies determined a constant adaptation of the way the journalistic text answered when it had to adapt its resources. The changes interposed in the relationships woman - man (gender relations), the technological transformation in the media field, the content, the patronage and the control of the media, as well as the globalization generate evolutions in the theories concerning the gender representations. The way media builds the pictures of masculinity and femininity, as well as their relationship could be an important issue in our study, but the constraints related to the means required for such monitoring allow us only an outline of a short freeze-frame on the journalistic text which presents the genders by their titles. For this task we will use a relatively new theoretical background related to the study of genders in media and the identification of some expressions used in Romanian online news for genders.

The idea of feminism became quite common, and the year 2000 brought for the gender literature in Romania an unprecedented development. Nowadays, no war of sexes foresee, but in everything we do we find gender differences as natural (Greer, G. 1999). motivates that the present popular culture is significantly less feminist than it was 30 years ago. David Gauntlett (Gauntlett, 2002) states that: "the traditional view of a woman as a housewife or low status worker has been kick-boxed out of the picture by the feisty, successful 'girl power' icons" (Gauntlett, 2002: 247).

The figure of the slim woman as a symbol (physically but not only), the fact that the older women are sent away from the media (except for the advertisings which have as target market this age group), the shows where the nudity appears as normal (became as common sense), all these facts appear as something normal. To this paradox and complex image, another aspect is added: as well as media, the relationships between genders and feminist ideas change. There is no stable or fixed perspective to be applied in all times and geographic areas. And thus, we speak of stereotypes, images well ingrained in the collective mentality whereof everyone could tell you a thing or two, more or less real, but at least at the level of perception they are identically shaped, following the same path: the compliant woman, taking care of the housemaking and of the child's fever, the well dressed man, present in a higher position or representing images of physical and psychical force (Women's Media Center Report, 2014).

The world we are building from representations is divided in gender, race, ethnic, class, age, disability, sex or origin area, where advantages, disadvantages, exclusions are mostly associated with these categories. But this world is equally saturated by media, information and communication technologies. Starting from the idea that the analysis of feminism in media was vivified by the wish to understand the way the images and cultural constructions refer to inequality, oppression and domination, we have found different work perspectives: examination of images, text,

various methodologies of observing the gender differences in media, distinct ways of understanding how media put into relation concepts of subjectivity and gender identity to create the image.

Media should be an active partner in promoting equality between sexes. An elimination of stereotypes would be possible in time, though this situation is at present a desideratum and it can't be fully accomplished nor performed in all geographic areas. In fact, an important step would be the awareness when producing news (here including media production) the issue of gender differences may lead to a reduction of gender disparities. Codes of conduct were suggested, codes foreseeing a compulsory respect of the principle of equality between women and men. As example we can mention a code from Luxembourg which promoted in the public services the avoidance of discrimination for any reason in the governmental companies (Portail de l'égalité entre femmes et hommes, 2014). Theoretically, this type of document is issued in several governmental agencies, but in order to apply them, there is a lack of means and instruments.

1.3. Online Identity

Internet identity or Internet persona is in fact the social identity which a user establishes in online communities and on websites. It can be considered (according to Wikipedia) a presentation of a person built-up actively and continuously. There are people who appear in the digital environment under their real identity (using real names, real personal data such as their city, work place, and studies, hobbies, read books, etc.) or there are people who prefer an anonymous presentation, identifying themselves with a false name and who give false information about their life, age, preoccupations. This type of identity can even be built differently depending on the social group with which they relate. In this case, the models of education that should be given to beginners in the digital environment must include this aspect which isn't to be neglected. This led to the first or among the first, "online check" agencies, agency used primarily by employers who did not trust online profiles, using the services of an agency specialized in tracking and establishing the real identity of some potential employees: studies, previous jobs, responsibilities, exchanges on social networks, even hobbies. Thus, we can easily see that this online representation has become extremely important. Media takes part in the creation of these 'characters', influencing the image of men and women in popular culture.

The emergence of the concept of digital identity has generated many questions in the academic world. Social networking services and online avatars have made the notion of identity far more complex. The academic world has responded to these emerging trends with the development of domains of scholarly research such as technoself studies, which focuses on all aspects of human identity in technological societies.

Under these conditions, we come to the concept of 'masking identity', every surfer having the possibility to mask his identity, even hiding his gender. We find this situation in digital media when watching the comments on different topics, most often we find false names, addresses, exactly to diminish the responsibility of the ideas presented in the comment.

Wiszniewski and Coyne state "Education can be seen as the change process by which identity is realized, how one finds one's place. Education implicates the transformation of identity. Education, among other things, is a process of building up a sense of identity, generalized as a process of edification". People interacting in a digital community must reveal something about themselves and have others respond to this contribution. In this manner, the mask is constantly being formulated in dialogue with others and thereby people will gain a richer and deeper sense of who they are. There will be a process of edification that will help everybody come to understand their strengths and weaknesses (Wiszniewski, Coyne, 2002).

2. Popular Culture and Digital Media

In many ways, popular culture can be the news snapshot (title, picture, text, author) or Facebook photo page that documents our lives in the social world; it is a backdrop of day-to-day life. Media content through his agenda setting function is a drop of our lives. And their power is both diffuse and indisputable. From Disney to Barbie to MySpace, from local to international news websites, everyone having access to the internet navigate daily on Internet for different reasons. By interacting with a vast amount of media—books, toys, video games,

advertisements, etc.- requires us to become aware of and fluent with the diverse popular cultural materials people read, view, and consume (Marshall, Sensoy, 2014).

What exactly is popular culture? Actually a permanent definition is not a valid proposition because 'Popular culture' is a challenging term to define: culture is constantly changing and renders what was once popular soon to be outdated and perhaps quaint. Popular culture has a variety of expressions: can describe texts like Michael Jackson's Thriller album, it can refer to things that are less sophisticated or considered 'low' culture (for instance, popular series books), popular culture is often synonymous with a consumer culture that is produced for mass consumption (Disney's animated films; McDonald's Happy Meal toys). And the media popular culture might also be defined as a place for creating new forms of expression as well as a vehicle for critique. In particular, media offers a space where new meanings are made through tactics such as culture jamming.

The media culture has become more rough and populist. These tendencies are generally disadvantageous for women. It is also undeniable that the media shapes our conceptions of what it means to be male or female. We encounter many different male and female role models. Following the table below, we can see some ways of describing man or women when taking into account their activities.

Table l.How might the following actions be 'gendered' through online media, given that both sexes can do these actions?

Action described in online media article Feminine Masculine

Drive a car x x

Swim x x

Eat healthy/ make sport x x

Cook x x

Watch movies x x

Shop x x

Work x x

Play games x x

Use watches x x

Fly with an airplane x x

In order to see how these representations can make a false image of what a men or a woman can do in their life, we've tried to identify actions which are very well presented in media like men's actions or women's actions, but, in real life, these activities can be 'interpreted' by both. We just identified in brief view over the online general media/press.

Amanda Simmons (2013) brings in the foreground a chart, as seen below, searching thus reference points in the gender theories on which to build patterns associated with the texts of online news (Simmons, 2013). From traditional ideologies - which mean that men have held power in our society, and women being related to the specific domestic situations, such as housewives, mothers or a sexual objectification, found in advertising and magazines to stereotypes it was only one step to take. "The stereotypes we are offered create a false sense of ourselves, who we are and how we should live - false consciousness" (Simmons, 2013). From the 1960s onwards, women seek to gain equality. They gained opportunities, and legislation having now the chance (not all the women, but those that try) to step into what had once been men's shoes. In modern representations, femininity has also become associated with a stronger, independent and confident woman. Women are less passive, and they have key roles.

Table 2_

Femininity and Masculinity - labels

Competitive - male or female?

Domesticated - women?

Rational - men

Independent - male or female? Ruthless - male or female?! Aggressive - male or female? Professional - male or female?

Strong - men

Sportive- women Sensitive - women Passive - women

Weak -women

Emotional - women

3. What Can Titles Tell us About the Role and Status of Women/Men in Online Romanian Media News

With the Internet increasingly serving as a forum for public debate, social interaction, and commerce, new web-based arenas have also opened up for the spread of hate speech, sexualized harassment and human trafficking. This development has offered new challenges to researchers, politicians and law-enforcement agencies.

Media have their own capacity of empowering this public and open space of debate. Thus, as the space became more open, the more these gender differences could be uttered and highlighted through comments, language, video posts, photos or quotes which broaden in the virtual media the means to express feelings- not always positive, in reference to gender identities or inequalities. "From a global perspective, it seems that things are getting worse, both in mainstream media and, particularly, on the internet. Newspapers such as the English Daily Mail have become more extreme lately. The media are constantly competing to gain people's attention and in order to make money they commercialise and popularize", says the professor (Bergstram, 2013). We have tried to extract from some examples of titles concerning women or men representation in online Romanian news the imagine that can be transferred to the public by some titles in online news. This not a quantitative research, because our goal was not to have a numeric imagine of the gender representation, but to identify how a men or a women is presented and represented by his actions through media headlines. In order to identify some of these representations, we have outline in here 6 representative titles. We have chosen alternative gender representations, trying to bring into attention titles involving men's actions, women's actions and common actions. It is well known that a single title cannot give us a hole imagine of the gender representation, but for us is important to see if these titles reinforce stereotypes or try to fight stereotypes. We have chosen these titles in order to involve gender representations: men, women and their relation.

(a) Ciolos : Romania will be represented with Corina Cretu holding the regional development commissioner's portfolio (

(b) Rovana Plumb (PSD): At EU level, Romania is as an example for integrating young people in the labour market (

(c) They paid 100.00 Euros for an apartment but the developer entered into insolvency proceedings before finishing the apartment house. What is the sponsor's answer given to the injured after four years. (

(d) Teachers will receive 150 Euros for professional development (

(e) A man involved in an illegal hunting found shot in the chest. Police is looking for his friend wherewith the man went hunting. (

(f) Goal: Rio. Simona Halep aims for Olympic medal for Romania, but she is aware that it will be difficult: 'Bringing a medal for Romania in the Olympics is more than I do' (

Corina Cretu is a Romanian politician woman, known for her very focused on profession life. Taking into account the Romanian social and political context, it's easy to draw a conclusion on how the two genders are presented: the future elections impose an agenda for public messages, and there are both present, images of men and women, as presidential candidates. We have noticed in the headlines proposed both categories. The name of the campaigner and the name of the woman, who now has a commission of high degree at international level, obviously a criticized woman at this time when she has been appointed in this position, a former politician who evinced discretion and professionalism. Along with the nomination, this position requires lots of responsibilities, but also gainings, the debates on her preparation became antagonistic (her physical appearance did not help her to achieve

this position, Corina Cretu didn't put more emphasis on her public image), the public opinion being misled. Having little personal control of the individual and professional Corina Cretu, it's obvious that the talk shows on TV, especially the news websites, highlighted the fact that we still live in a segregated society.

On the other hand, a continuous suspicion hanging over the media control renders difficult the attempt to establish concretely the manner used for media to convey identities and gender stereotypes. For example, the second headline brings into focus Rovana Plumb. She makes a positive statement, very important for her activity as she rules the Ministry of Labour. As our intention isn't to engage in political polemics, we shall stop to the interpretation conveyed by such headline: a woman at the top of an important political structure (Ministry of Labour), a woman who has a political affiliation and who is part of a special category, namely the female politicians being differently represented than an ordinary woman. It's the image of a strong woman, which makes a positive declaration, waited for by the Romanian voters and acclaimed by the party colleagues. Here is a slight discrepancy image known as stereotypical of women in the media. The discrepancy comes from our different categorization of Rovana Plumb in female politician in power, so in full professional practice.

The fields suggested in the headlines are easily identifiable: politics (a), politics (b), economics (c), education (d), social (e), sports (f). According to these fields, the image captures the following two types: a man offers an opinion on Corina Cretu's abilities to be in this position (former professional in domestic and foreign policy), a female politician makes a statement about the results of his work and the structure which she leads. The third news brings to the fore an economic issue; the headline does not say much, but the content of the article came into our notice, there are listed as victims of the economic crisis and real estate - only women. It's true that it's about celebrities, names that call the readers' attention, but they are female celebrities and then it could mislead the reader suggesting that only women can be naive, as it was an advance for an apartment house to be built and let uncompleted.

The social news concerns both men and women, it is a neutral headline, knowing that only the minister of Education is a man. In fact, his name appears in the first sentence of the article following a quite long statement. The next two headlines focus on masculine gender (e) and after that the feminine gender (f-Simona Halep). The first headline tells an unhappy story, its context being a typical masculine context (hunting with friends), the second is a statement of Simona Halep, the Romanian tennis player who lately had successful results. For the latter news, the fields seem reversed: the social news usually presents women (as caregiver, victim, careful mother, old age support), and sports news men features. In fact, I have intentionally searched for such representations, concluding that the exception strengthens the rule. By the 80 headlines viewed, most kept the stereotypes already known and which we have mentioned (certainly not exhaustively) above. The exceptions (searched and highlighted through these headlines) strengthen our believes that media inoculates and maintains the gender differences, all the more so during the Internet era, when everyone is free to express himself by taking a false name and the control of the messages is randomly performed.

4. Conclusions

The subject of how infrastructures and technology relate to gender studies is a question that remains to be raised in the research area, but also in the sociological, civil and political arena. The possibility of making ICT available to all citizens, regardless of gender, disability, etc. is another topic of research and debate.

The more people are free to express themselves, and the digital environment offers this possibility the more we would expect for these differences to be appeased/not deleted, diminished through media. As we can notice the evolution of this phenomenon in other regions isn't exactly a positive one, thus signals could be for us a sort of guide, a long-term vision. Internationally, there are several organizations which fight to sustain the feminine cause (Fight for Women's Voice, National Organization for Women, Equality now, National Women's Studies Association, The European Association for Gender Research, Education and Documentation, Nordic Information on Gender, Institute on Gender Equality and Women's History, etc) so as to become open and balanced societies, but the engine of the society merges all these standpoints and changes their meaning according to the cultural, economic and general political background.

The results of our little focus on online headlines from online general media news are trying to outline that new media don't work like traditional media. The free access to the Internet and the liberty of writing any comments you want to write, force online news makers to be pay more attention to the way of representing gender, and moderate such discussions. Starting with the manner of making a news, the picture attached, and continuing with the title and the discourse strategies used, anyone who make news or deliver content in a free way (like in Romania) to the public, must be careful to the misunderstood right of everybody to spread any words they like even if it can violate someone's right to dignity, to image. The new Internet age can change the communication paradigm, the freedom of speech must be in other ways controlled, and the news makers and the public must be aware of their rights and their limits in presenting and responding to public information. Even if the major changes are not visible, the new media must be more careful to the way of treating the gender problem and the way the news transmit information to the young public or even to the specifics publics like women, children, gypsies, no matter their occupation or they jobs.


This work was supported by the strategic grant POSDRU/159/1.5/S/133652, co-financed by the European Social Funds within the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources Development 2007 - 2013.


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