06 June 2024

Addressing gender stereotypes in media: a step towards equality | EFIVOS Articles


Author: Hortea Denis

With the rising of right-wing parties that often degrade the images of women and not only, the image of women in the media is tarnished with stereotypes. Such parties thrive on misogynistic ideologies, inciting violence against women, doubling with the promotion of traditional gender roles, which limit women’s opportunities, and conclude to a society where the voice and perspectives of women are underrepresented, thus threatening the core values of democracy and human rights. 

A key factor that allows these radical parties to propel their propaganda is the media. It is highly likely that when we open social media apps, like Facebook or Instagram, we see right-wing extremists express their unfounded opinions regarding women’s rights. Especially Facebook, which research shows has an unparalleled algorithm that, when indicating certain traits, like political interest and traditional parenting, recommends groups and other social accounts that incite hate speech and disinformation, that violates Facebook’s own rules.

In this article, we are going to delve into the stereotyping of women in the media, how it works, and its effects on the population. Consequently, we are going to address the inciters and the third-party inciters that add to the rolling snowball, but also ways in which this prolonged issue can be tackled. 

Defining Stereotypes: The Origins 

To understand this issue, we have to define what a stereotype is and what its implications are against women. Rashida Manjoo, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women defined stereotypes in a report commissioned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):

"A generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by members of a particular social group or the roles that are or should be performed by, members of a particular social group." ~ Rashida Manjoo, OHCHR, September 2014

In other words, gender stereotypes have at their core the belief to make assumptions about members of a subject group, women and/or men. Additionally, gender stereotyping is the practice of applying that stereotypical belief to a person. 

Having this definition in mind, let’s delve into the origins of gender stereotyping. Gender stereotypes have their roots in centuries-old societal structures that assign distinct roles to men and women. These traditional gender roles were shaped by historical factors such as agricultural practices, division of labor, and notions of power. In many societies, men were expected to be providers and protectors, while women were confined to domestic duties and child-bearing. These historical norms laid the foundation for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and the expectations associated with femininity.

The goddess Athena, for example, was seen as the embodiment of wisdom, but she was also depicted as masculine, with no mother or feminine qualities. This dichotomy between intellect and femininity set a precedent for centuries to come, in which women were expected to be intellectually inferior to men.

The Effects of Gender Stereotypes on Women & Men:

Now that we have a better understanding of what gender stereotypes are we can address the effects of it. It is without a doubt that the historic degradation of women’s image has led to severe mental health issues.

Low Self-Confidence, especially in the fields where men are stereotypically believed to have better performance, leads to the underrepresentation of women in these fields, STEM for example. Another case in which women’s self-confidence has a severe ending is in the case of victims of any kind of violence, especially domestic violence, because of society’s stigma on victim blaming, which builds up to the toxic environment of shame and guilt, with many women still being considered guilty of attracting violence against themselves through their behavior. 
In cases of domestic violence, the gender stereotypes addressed to women, who are the most affected in this case, can lead to mental health stigma, which can be associated with the normalization of such kind of abuse. Consequently, this stigma created by gender stereotypes is part of the main cause of the underreporting of cases of domestic violence. For these reasons, gender stereotypes have altered the perception of violence. 

On the other hand, gender stereotypes have become an important factor in legal procedures. For instance, men are less likely to report violence perpetrated against them, than women, which can lead to bias in legal proceedings.  

Another culture influenced by gender stereotypes in the media is “victim blaming.” If being a victim of gender-based violence was not enough, victims, especially women, are being considered guilty of attracting violence against themselves. One example could be the moment in which women, at any age, express their sentiment on social media about being a victim of gender-motivated violence, rape for example, and the response of many users are questions such as “What where you wearing?” or “You asked for it!”, instead of trying to comfort and help the victim. In other words, a moderate number of users tend to excuse the predator, mostly male, because of the toxic stereotypes within the culture or religion, rather than understanding that a victim of gender violence is never responsible for the predator’s actions. 

On the other side of the parallel, it can also be observed the same culture of blaming victims in the case of men who were affected by GBV. When a male addresses the same situation in the media, it is mostly overlooked by the fact that men are considered more “sexually driven”, in the belief that males will always want to maintain sexual intercourse with another person, which is not the case. It has also been observed how people who badly represent the feminist movement often overlook this situation, which results in the double standardization of the credibility of male victims.

The intersectionality causes of gender stereotypes:

When we are talking about gender stereotypes we are talking about an umbrella of prejudice. Gender stereotypes intersect with other forms of oppression, such as race, class, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Intersectional analysis is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of how stereotypes operate and impact different groups of men and women differently. 

Research conducted by professionals at the Council of Europe has separated the causes of gender stereotypes into four main factors: Cultural, Legal, Economic, and Political. 

Cultural factors: Patriarchal and sexist beliefs justify violence to uphold male dominance. Cultural factors like gender stereotypes, norms of femininity and masculinity, and acceptance of violence in public spaces contribute to this. Historical and religious traditions sanction violence against women, seeing them as possessions. Sexuality is tied to family honor, leading to violence against those who defy societal norms, including LGBT+ individuals, and contributing to mass sexual violence against women.

Legal factors: The Istanbul Convention protects everyone, especially women, from violence in any setting. Although most European countries outlaw gender-based violence, the police often side with the offenders, which erodes public trust and reporting. 

Some laws used to ignore domestic violence as a private matter, exposing women to more risk. Additionally, homosexuality was illegal in many places until recently. Some states have legalized same-sex marriage, but others have reacted by promoting traditional family values or banning “homosexual propaganda”.

Economic factors: Women and LGBT+ people are more likely to face violence when they have low income. This leads to a cycle of violence and poverty that traps the victims. Men who are poor and jobless may also use violence to show their manhood.

Political factors: The under-representation of women and LGBT+ people in power and politics means that they have fewer opportunities to shape the discussion and to affect changes in policy, or to adopt measures to combat gender-based violence and support equality. The topic of gender-based violence is in some cases deemed not to be important, with domestic violence also being given insufficient resources and attention. Women’s and LGBT+ movements have raised questions and increased public awareness around traditional gender norms, highlighting aspects of inequality. For some, this threat to the status quo has been used as a justification for violence.

Addressing gender stereotypes requires comprehensive approaches that dismantle systemic biases and empower marginalized communities. By challenging societal norms and advocating for inclusivity, we can strive towards a more equitable society for all genders.

How can we tackle Gender Stereotypes: 

Now that we know what gender stereotypes are, their causes, and their effects, we get to the part where we are going to find solutions to this myriad of problems. An umbrella term that can be used as a solution is education. 

The first step to bring positive change to these imminent issues is bringing awareness and understanding. Education can increase awareness about gender stereotypes and their harmful effects, helping students understand the social constructions that often pass as normal. Alongside challenging stereotypes, education can stimulate the intellect of students to challenge gender stereotypes, by questioning them.  

An additional step to tackle this issue would be promoting equality. It is pivotal, especially these days, to educate people on the importance of gender equality and opportunities for all genders. One way to address that could be diverse curriculums that would include the contributions of people of all genders can help break down stereotypes. 

Last but not least, the training of teachers and the contributions of parents play an equally defining role in tackling gender stereotypes.Teacher training is pivotal in combating gender stereotypes. Educators shape young minds, and their understanding of gender biases influences their teaching. Training can equip teachers with strategies to promote equality, challenge stereotypes, and foster an inclusive environment. By using gender-neutral language and diverse curricula, teachers can encourage students to question societal norms, thereby playing a crucial role in dismantling gender stereotypes. 

Parental involvement is key in addressing gender stereotypes. Parents are children’s first teachers, and their attitudes towards gender can significantly influence their children’s perceptions. By actively challenging stereotypes, promoting equality, and encouraging diverse interests, parents can foster an environment that allows children to explore beyond traditional gender norms. This early intervention can be instrumental in dismantling societal gender stereotypes.


In summary, the widespread depiction of gender stereotypes in media presents obstacles to achieving gender equality and reinforces damaging conventions that degrade the value and rights of people. Dealing with these stereotypes necessitates a varied strategy involving education, policy adjustments and shifts in attitudes. By increasing awareness, questioning beliefs and promoting inclusiveness we can start to dismantle the rooted stereotypes that fuel inequality. Education plays a role in empowering individuals to challenge gender norms and cultivate empathy and understanding.

Ultimately addressing gender stereotypes in media is not a matter of ethics but a crucial step towards establishing a more just and sustainable society. Through challenging seated prejudices and advocating for systemic changes we can forge a world where everyone is treated with dignity, respect and equal opportunities. Through efforts and unwavering dedication can we bring to life the vision of an all encompassing and egalitarian society.


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