Monday, September 15, 2008

Media, Gender and Identity - David Gauntlett


In the introduction of this book, David Gauntlett explains that media has played an important role in influencing gender identity. However, Gauntlett also emphasizes that media has had a “direct and straightforward effect on its audiences” (Gauntlett, 1). In his book, Gauntlett sets out to analyze the messages that media are sending regarding how men and women view their specific roles, and the impact those messages have made in society. In the introduction, Gauntlett describes how gender roles have developed throughout history and how media has encouraged those specific roles designated towards males and females. For women, Gauntlett uses the example that the view of women staying at home and “running the house” is almost extinct, whereas now women are expected to be active in society through a full time job or some position of prestige and power. Men, however, are placed in an awkward situation because now women are taking over the traditional male roles; the main monetary supporter of the family, masculinity, etc. Gauntlett proposes, however, that mass media is helping to shape this new identity that men must learn to play in the household, as well as the new identity that women are engaging in. Throughout the introduction, Gauntlett gives an outline of his entire book, what the goal is, etc. Gauntlett also mentions some things that are “wrong” with this book.

Chapter 1 – Some Background Debates

In this chapter, Gauntlett brings up the following question: “Does the mass media have a significant amount of power over its audience, or does this audience ultimately have more power than the media?” (19) Gauntlett introduces two theorists who represent both positions: Adorno and Fiske. Theodor Adorno, who fled from Germany in the 1930’s when the Nazis rose to power and who was also a member of the Frankfurt School for Social Research was a theorist who supported the idea that media has a significant amount of power over its audiences. Adorno and his colleague Max Horkheimer proposed that anything “new” introduced into mass media simply becomes a part of the “whole” of media. And, that as consumers, we must accept whatever it is that the “culture industry” is producing. So, things may relate to us, and we may think that those products are distinct, or make us distinct, but in reality, those products are nothing new and nothing different because they are a result of a “culture industry” that makes those products seem unique (21). John Fiske, however, argues that the audience holds the power over media. The audience has the power to interpret media texts and to determine how popular or unpopular those specific products or texts are or will become. Fiske argues that this power that the audience holds “…far outweighs the ability of media institutions to send a particular message or ideology to audiences within their texts” (23). This chapter continues in criticizing the ‘media effects’ theory of research, stating several reasons as to why this theory is faulty.

Gauntlett, David. Media, Gender and Identity. London: Routledge, 2002. 1-42.

One point that Gauntlett brings up in his Introduction is that regarding marriage and the values of marriage. Gauntlett writes that because gender roles have been changing, men and women have become equals in terms of relationships with one another. Relationships are centered around an emotional or "trusting bond" rather than "external laws, regulations or social expectations" (3). Gauntlett writes that when that emotional bond loosens, or 'ceases to exist,' society accepts a break up or an end to that particular relationship. However, is marriage solely based on the emotional? What roles is media emphasizing in today's marriages? And, if roles are changing, what does that look like in a marriage? What about cultures where marriage is based on necessity rather than feelings or the emotion of love?

Although a joke, this picture is titled the International Sign for Marriage. What does this tell viewers that marriage has become, or how the stereotypical roles have switched in marriages in today's society? I'm not quite sure what or how I feel about this image and what it might mean...but I do know that it makes me feel uncomfortable because this image has come from somewhere. Someone, through media or today's culture, someone came up with this image as a stereotypical relationship between a man and a woman.

(I found this image at:

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