Women and Mass Media

Building egalitarian societies is one of the priorities of modern democratic states. Mass media play a unique and important role in the shaping of a society where men and women enjoy equal rights. Raising women’s legal awareness is important for the creation of an egalitarian society. This is reached through several means, including psychological, social, economic, philosophical, awareness of human rights, political and so on. The role of media is important for being successful in all the mentioned spheres. The media can promote and speed up the reforms in progress, or, on the contrary, it can hamper their implementation.

A number of international conferences and conventions have voiced and publicized the need to break public stereotypes through change in the media policy. Mass media, however, continue to reproduce discriminatory stereotypes about women and portray them in sexist ways. As a rule, women are portrayed in a narrow range of characters in mass media. If we were to divide mass media into two categories, such as fictional and news-reporting, then in the former, women are often associated with the household or sex-objects, and in the latter category, they lack roles.

Only in a limited number of news programs do women appear as main actors or experts. One of the reasons for this situation is the smaller number of women in these spheres, but even the existing number of women are underrepresented compared to their male counterparts.

In advertising and magazines, women are usually portrayed as young, slim and with beauty that meets the accepted standards. Women with this kind of appearance are often associated with sex objects.

Why do social scientists attribute importance to study of images and stereotypes of women in media? Femininity, as well as masculinity, are not biological, but rather, cultural constructs. Representations and manifestations of femininity differ across cultures, time and societies. Femininity is culturally and socially constructed by the family, education, the public, and to a larger extent, the media. In this respect, the long-term change in women’s images in media could help change the perceptions and stereotypes women face in a society.

In the initial stage of its history, media were managed exclusively by men. The media images of men and women were tailored to men’s preferences. In other words, men were creating media images of men and women they wished to see in reality.

Media images of women have become a subject of criticism in Feminist Media Studies since 1960s, when Betty Friedan in her book entitled The Feminine Mystique (1963) revealed and criticized the image of an ideal woman in post-war America. Friedan calls this image "the happy housewife heroine."[1] Following her, numerous organizations, feminist groups and journals researched and revealed the discriminatory nature of women’s images in advertisements and films. The troublesome findings of their research were behind the reason of UNESCO’s statement on Mass Media in 1979, namely:

"Taking into consideration that TV programs give information and reflect on gender roles in real life, it must be stated that women’s images are distorted and unrealistic in these programs. All kind of entertainment programs portray women in a dual image. On one hand, they are decorative objects. Yet, at the same time, they are passive individuals in the household and in marriage who are dependent on men for financial, emotional and physical support.” [2]

Despite the fact that today media increasingly associate femininity with independent and powerful women, qualities informed by sexuality continue to play a dominant role in the shaping of femininity.

Fragmental display of the female body and fragmentation of women’s body in advertisements promote the objectification of women’s bodies. When the TV screen or a commercial poster displays only slender long legs, prominent breasts or thighs, it is difficult to perceive that body holistically and as possessing personality.

In addition, the portrayed female characters are largely influenced by the beauty myth. They have flawless skin, slender stature and embody all components of beauty as perceived in society. As a result of globalization this myth is increasingly generalized across cultures and societies. The standards of beauty as portrayed in media, however, are impossible to achieve, since the models have been transformed into these images through a number of technical means.

One of the reasons of discriminatory images of women in media is the fact that media products, as a rule, are created by men, in men’s tastes and for men. In 2012 The International Women's Media Foundation carried out a study of world news agencies and corporations to determine the status of women in the news media. This first large-scale study illustrated that in all areas of media women were still facing problems in achieving equality.

The survey conducted in 59 countries, revealed that women make up only 33.3 percent of full time employees in 522 organizations that participated in the survey. [3] In almost all countries men occupy higher positions. Interestingly, Uganda and Russia are among the top countries where men and women almost equally appear in leading positions. Unfortunately, this has not changed the images of women in media. Social scientists and their research results illustrate that women’s involvement in media work is not sufficient for bringing about change in how women are portrayed in media. Not only should women be represented in top management and have major impact on the decision-making process, but they should also undergo professional training. Otherwise, the female journalists and media executives, who have been educated with the media rules of patriarchal system, also often reproduces the sexist images of women.

With this in mind, a number of international organizations have concluded conventions and treaties with states through which they support the training of media employees by giving them the necessary tools and know-how to develop gender-sensitive policies.

Despite the tremendous change that has taken place in the sphere of media thanks to feminist criticism, the contemporary media are nowhere close to the standards they claim. Even in US and Europe, where feminist ideas are widely spread, and women have legally reached equal rights with men, media continue to have discriminatory attitudes towards women and rely on male worldview when portraying women. Many researchers and analysts have documented the fact that in these countries women are also poorly represented in media which in turn has had a negative impact on the formation of value system.

The image of women and the voicing of women’s concern underwent a revolutionary change due to modern technology and emergence of new types of media. Today, all of us, in fact, are part of the media not only as consumers, but also as producers. And anyone, woman or man, can cover their problems and story by themselves, make it public, and turn it into media for consumption. These new possibilities, however, also bring about new challenges. In case of traditional media, it is possible to work with the leadership and staff to undergo training and achieve some results. In case of social media, not only groups in need of support voice their opinion, and publicize their perceptions freely, but also those people who threaten these groups and spread discriminatory and offensive comments about them. Thus, the quality of information disseminated in social media and the comments on these pieces of information are much more sexist and patriarchal. Change in this sphere can be achieved only through indirect impact.

In other words, the sexist traditional media educates sexist citizens who spread their sexist perceptions through social media. Change in the gender policy of traditional media and its compliance with international norms remain to be the most effective way for breaking this vicious circle.



According to the Constitution of Republic of Armenia (RA), all citizens are equal and gender-based discrimination is reprehensible.[4] Rendering the change in the legal sphere and in public as important for gender equality, as well as in an effort to implement international and national treaty obligations, the Armenian Government has adopted a strategic plan for gender policy which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.[5]

This strategic program underlines the core activities which will help improve the issue of women’s and men’s equality, reduce gender stereotyping and promote gender equality in mass media. In particular, provisions 47 to 49 in section on "Strategy of Gender Policy Implementation in the Spheres of Culture and Public Information" include the following actions:

  • To strengthen cooperation between public authorities and media to achieve social equality between women and men;
  • To raise gender-sensitivity of media and continue gender-awareness training for journalist;
  • To support and encourage media that covers issues of gender equality.

Among the solutions the program mentions the following steps:

  • Coverage of all efforts undertaken by the State aimed at ensuring equal rights and opportunities of women and men in the public, political and socio-economic spheres;
  • Increased gender-sensitivity of mass media;
  • Coverage of gender issues, and elimination of gender-based and gender-stereotype-informed discriminatory practices.

Thus, the RA Government has undertaken the obligation to implement all these measures and achieve gender equality in media. The program is nearing its end, and the results are evident from a number of studies conducted in the sphere of media.

Several important studies have been conducted aimed at analyzing women's role and images in media. These studies concerned themselves with women’s images in advertising, television, and women’s inclusion in news. All studies confirm that women’s images are stereotyped.

The study by Lilit Grigoryan, Arevik Ghalumyan and Mane Adamyan entitled “Women’s Image in Armenian Advertisements” and funded by Open Society Foundation illustrates that

  • 78 % of images of women in advertisements belong to the “young” age group (under 30)
  • Only 10 % of women portrayed in magazines are medium-structured;
  • Only 6 % of women in advertisement are portrayed at workplace.
  • Women in advertisements tend to be cut off from real life and appear next to the product that is being advertised, with no real environment. In 50 % of 680 advertisements analyzed for the study, women are located in an unclear environment, and only in one case the woman is portrayed in an office, working.
  • TV advertisements tend to include more middle-aged women than the magazines. However, their number is still quite small, with only 20 %.
  • In Armenian TV advertisements 15 % of protagonists are portrayed at home, and only 12 % in the office.
  • In 81 % of advertisements included in the study, the narrator is a male, and 81 % of protagonists do not talk at all.[6]

Ani Kojoyan’s and Anna Gevorgyan’s study on “Masculinity and Gender Violence in Armenian Soap Operas” funded by YSU Center for Gender and Leadership Studies (CGLS) indicates that almost all female characters in soap operas are housewives. They are almost always unhappy, they continuously cry and complain, their families are in quarrel, they are often subjected to humiliation (publicly or privately), as well as to physical violence[7]։

Again funded by CGLS, Lilit Sakaryan’s study on "Image of Armenian Women in Mass Media (TV): From Gender Sensitivity to Gender Stereotypes" reveals that

  • In addition to women’s underrepresentation on TV, women are present only in 10 % of themes concerning women’s issues, and the number of female experts on TV is very low (25%);
  • TV circulates stereotypes peculiar to the patriarchal system, and women are portrayed as marginalized, and often immoral and materialist;
  • 70 % of TV staff is men (directors, sound engineers, editors, camera people, producers, light engineers, computer designers, etc.) and only 30 % is female (apparel design, makeup, administrator, script writer) even in shows dedicated to women.[8]

Thus, similar to the situation with international media, the Armenian media continue to reproduce stereotypical and sexist images of women. By assigning passive, secondary, and unimportant roles to women, media conveys incomplete picture of the Armenian reality. The objectification and fragmentation of the female body, as well as the scenes of violence against women, render discriminatory attitudes and gender-based violence against women as normative.




[1] Sue Thornham, Women, Feminism and Media (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p.  23.

[2] Margaret Gallagher, The Portrayal and Participation of Women in the Media (Paris: UNESCO, 1979), http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0003/000372/037267EB.pdf, (08.07.2015).

[5]  “Strategic Gender Program of 2011-2015, Republic of Armenia, ” http://www.gov.am/u_files/file/kananc-xorh/gender-strategic%20programm%202011-2015.pdf, (07.06.2015)

[6] Lilit Grigoryan, Arevik Ghalumyan, Mane Adamyan, “The Image of Women in Armenian Advertisements,” http://www.osf.am/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Advertising_research.pdf (01.06.2015)

[7] Ani Kojoyan, “Masculinity and Gender Violence in Armenian Soap Operas,” http://www.ysu.am/files/Reserch%20paper%2003.09.2014..pdf, (10.06.2015)

[8] Lilit Shakaryan, "Image of Armenian Women in Mass Media (TV): From Gender Sensitivity to Gender Stereotypes," http://www.ysu.am/files/Lilit%20Shakaryan%20_%20ARM.ENG%20Report.pdf, ( 06.06.2015).