9 years. In the span of an average 65 year old American, 9 years of their life is spent watching live television. This amount of time doesn’t even include the newly developed phenomenon of video streaming called Netflix or time spent on media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Within those 9 years, there is no slot allotted for the countless magazines, newspapers, and websites the person browsed or the countless amount of billboards they drove by. My point? We as humans are exposed to an unfathomable amount of media in our lifetime and within all the different forms of media lie gender roles and stereotypes that are ingrained in our way of life. Due to the inevitable fact of harmful gender stereotypes being everywhere, it is severely important to educate yourself on media literacy so you are able to fully understand the impact just a glance at a magazine cover or the flip of a tv channel can have on your views of gender.
For my capstone project this year I decided to keep track of all the different gender stereotypes in the MTV series Teen Wolf. What I found truly shocked me. I grew up endlessly waiting for a new episode of the series to air on TV because I was convinced that it had amazing representation for strong, smart, and powerful females. Looking back on my childhood, I realized I took many ideas and values from the show and made them fact in my own life. For example, the theme of “being your own anchor” was a very powerful message that I kept near to my heart. However, I also made sure to dumb down my answers in class so a fellow classmate could help me find the correct one in order to be liked. While I have changed my ways after realizing that is not necessary or okay to do to myself, it was still an ideology that I adopted from female characters I idolized in the show. I also found many other stereotypes in just the first episode of every season like how only the brave men were seen and introduced with their shirts off. This could lead boys to believe that they can’t be respected without having a certain body type.
I became aware of how dangerous these tropes can be to young kids and teens after taking part in my (Me)dia class. I was taught to always question things and never take anything at face value, but more importantly, I was taught the importance of always being critical of things even if they are entertaining.
So, do I regret watching Teen Wolf? No. Do I regret not having the background knowledge of media literacy to make me aware of the harmful stereotypes I was being shown on a regular basis in order to avoid adopting them as rules for me to follow? Yes.
Now, while being well versed in media literacy is important, the road to a more responsible media is not a one way street. It is equally as important, if not more, to hold the companies who make shows with such harmful stereotypes accountable for their product production. You should take action by emailing, writing, or even tweeting to the big corporations and producers who develop and execute all different types of media.
For more information on media literacy and the effect gender stereotypes have on teens in society today, visit the twitter page @rolegender or the website commonsensemedia.org!
Submitted by Erin Loehmann