Gender Identity Essay Sample

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Who are we? Who do we want to be? These are questions that have plagued people globally since the beginning of time. Our whole life is dedicated to developing our identity- one that we are happy with and feel reflects whom we are inside. But what influences our identity? And to what extent? We are constantly interacting with media. Subsequently we are continuously absorbing meaning and information whether we realise it or not. This essay focuses on gender identity and the impact the media can have on it. As individuals grow and seek to cultivate and define their identity, is media influencing their thoughts and views? This essay seeks to show that whilst media does in fact play a vital role in how individuals and society view gender the final decision regarding ones gender identity, is something that comes from within. Media both presents ideas and reflects societies already held values. Media does impact on what we view as acceptable for each gender, and what an individual may feel is the norm for their gender, but only to a certain extent. Ultimately gender is something that is felt within the individual and cannot be manipulated by outside things.

Media plays a significant role in contemporary societies everyday life. The rapid technological developments that have taken place during the twentieth century has resulted in media becoming prevalent in almost all daily aspects of life. (Cinque, 2012, p 8) In the past media was easily defined, consisting of four key media industries including print, broadcasting, music and cinema. Developments in technology have seen an insurgence of new forms of media, identified as ‘new media’. Cinque (2012, p 13) identifies new media as content that is created, stored or retrieved in digital form. New media consists of forms such as the Internet, video games, blogs, and social networking sites. New media can be quickly accessed from various locations all over the world. It is fast and efficient and has been a major driving for of globalisation. New media forms are instantaneous and globally accessible allowing news and information to circulate in an effective manner. New media allows individuals to move from their role of simply viewers or audiences of media, and become participators.

It allows users to express ideas and emotions and to share them with the world. Media is full of information whether intended or not. Audiences pull information rom the languages, sound and images used and create their own meaning or interpretation. Media assists viewers in making sense of that world and construct what they see to be as ‘reality’ and a result. (Cinque, 2012, 10) What individuals tend to forget is that all media is constructed. All the information given in media is formed and represented in a particular way by a human. This means that each media piece is, to an extent, biased as it the creator has decided on how and what is presented. Even realistic media is a construct. Media offers a recreation of the world. (Cinque, 2012, p11) In light of this we can see how media plays an important role in society and can impact on the way people interpret and develop their gender identity.

Identity is often characterised in terms of ones interpersonal characteristics and image. As individuals grow and develop there are certain roles that one

is expected to assume as part of their gender identity as well as roles associated with interacting

with the opposite sex. Identity can basically be defined as who we are. Gender can be defined as “the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of the sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organising principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution” (FAO, 2004). Despite this definition, many within society misunderstand gender. It is important to understand that gender is not something determined by the body parts you are born with. Gender identity is a psychological experience and is based on how you perceive yourself to be. Individuals can identify as male or female, or even neither. This is a concept not understood by all. Media has generally reflected gender as containing to binaries, one or the other.

It is hard for some individuals to let go of this black and white notion. It can be hard to understand that gender is not a strict science of strictly male or female, some individuals feel that they are both or neither. Whilst this is reflected to a certain extent in media, it is still majority of male or female characters. This can affect an individual experiencing identity crisis. We begin creating our identity at a young age, taking in what is around us and developing our inner being. Throughout life we are soaking in media images and messages, which can shape and alter our perceptions. This is true of gender. We take meaning from how different genders are presented. Gender roles are masculine or feminine roles as defined by ones culture (Green, 2012). Culture is reflected and influenced by media. In this way we can see how media can have affect on gender identity. The media portray perceptions of how each gender should behave which in turn can affect how an individual feels about their own gender identity, based on how they act.

The presentation of genders over time has reflected societies changing views. Whilst the two genders are seemingly equal in today’s society, this was not always the case, and media reflected that. Gender roles are the ‘social definition’ of women and men. (FAO, 2004) They have varied over time and continue to vary across different societies and cultures. In the past, media was extremely gendered presenting stereotypes of men and women. Women were presented (and expected to be) the perfect housewives, and men to be macho and the breadwinner. In 1992-93 a study found a startling small number of the major characters were female- just 18%- and of this meagre group, more that two-thirds were stars of domestic situation comedies. However, the 1995-96 study found that 43% of major characters were female- a much greater proportion, although still less than half. (Gauntlett, 2008)These studies show a growth in gender equality on screen, which continued to develop.

The stereotypes evident in the past are still evident to a certain extent today. This is seen in magazines. Men magazines are focused on being fit and healthy, still presenting man’s role as the protector or the ‘rock’. Women’s magazines are also concerned with image, but are also sexual containing articles on ‘how to pleasure your man’ which puts women’s main role as keeping their partner pleased.

Children are very susceptible to media influence. In terms of gender, one could note the different shows targeted at boys and girls. Action shows for boys, fairies for girls. In toys it is cars and action figures targeted at boys, and barbies for girls. This sends a message to kids that this is what they should like. At such a young ach a child will generally identify with the gender they are assigned based on their physical attributes. The media plays part in making it confusing for those whom identify differently to their given sex as they have been given an idea of what they should be like. Not fitting in to these stereotypes and moulds can be quite traumatic for some.

Media plays a central role in modern life and gender identity continues to be at the core of how we see ourselves. The media portrays countless images and messages about gender which impact on our own sense of identity and how others should see their selves. Whilst media has developed past strict roles and has evolved in showing different types of genders it still presents gendered stereotypes that are often overlooked. Some of this media can affect ones gender identity journey or how they perceive others. However ultimately, we as human make our own choices especially on issues as important as gender identity. In that sense media has a limited impact on gender identity.


Chalkley, T., Brown, A., Cinque, T., Warren, B., Hobbs. M. & Finn, M. (2012). Communication , New Media and Everyday Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

FAO. (2004) What is Gender? In Building on Gender, Agrobiodiversity and Local Knowledge. Retrieved from

Gauntlett, D. (2008) Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction. Routledge: Oxon

Green, F. (2012, October). Week 10-14: Sex and Culture Definitions. [PowerPoint slides].

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