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Women in the Media

The indirect effects

  • 2 min to read
Meda Chesney-Lind

Through media, ideologies pertaining to gender performance and race have become socially acceptable and normalized, leading to negative connotations that may restrict one’s role in society. Gender discrimination is a recurring theme in video games as many female characters are constantly marginalized and sexually objectified for the male audience. By consuming this type of media, young men and women may get the idea that in order to be socially accepted by their peers and society, they must appear hypermasculine or overtly sexual. Professor and Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies, Meda Chesney-Lind provided her academic insight on how gender representation in video games affects our society and what efforts can be made to change the video game industry.

According to Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), 24 out of 669 video games surveyed, or 3 percent, had a female protagonist. In video games, there is a significant amount of underrepresentation of female characters, many of whom are limited to playing the “damsel in distress” or portraying “eroticized aggression.” Lind proclaims that women are not given a range in appearance and age compared to straight white males.

“People only appear in a way that reinforces the power and the invisibility of the power of the dominant culture. And women, if they appear at all, are much more likely to be young, thin and to be sexualized, whereas male characters can age and have different body types. With people of color, the media can be even more toxic,” Lind said.

Lind agrees that visual media participates in a form of symbolic annihilation.This is where women and racial minorities are purposely underrepresented to lower their social status. When they are represented, their characters portray negative stereotypes. Even when women are given a protagonist role, many are accompanied by a male guide or appear in an oversexualized manner that satisfies the male gaze.

The normalization of stereotypes surrounding women in visual media is known by many scholars to result in eating disorders, low self-esteem and a negative body image. Lind presumes that in one way or another, we are all affected by the media we consume and may be accumulating negative biases pertaining to gender or race. Lind recalled a study that observed how racial portrayal in the media can affect children.  

“... When we ask these little kids to choose the doll that they like best, whether it’s a black doll or a white doll, and they pick the white doll, we know how it's affecting them … It's heartbreaking to hear why they picked the white doll.”

She concluded that to change the video game industry, consumers can start purchasing media that encourages the diversity of characters and game developers. More discussion and education are also needed to further understand how the media reinforces negative stereotypes and how we as a society can positively uplift our community.

“Until we have a terrain that rewards the participation of people of color and welcomes them into that industry, it will continue to produce what it's producing.”