Children learn about the image of themselves and society´s expectations through media. Today, traditional images of the behaviour of men and women are imposed on children from an early age. Girls are supposed to be dressed in pink and play with dolls whilst boys are clothed in blue and play with toy cars. The division of male and female characteristics, symbols and labour are based on gender norms. This is constantly reproduced by, among other, media.
The language also reflects and reproduces these structures. In the Slovak and Czech language rules are based on the generic masculine. By using the masculine form of students, for an example, we make the female students in class and society invisible. Even though both female and masculine form exist, the masculine form is the norm and therefore the one being used.
The gendered power structures are also expressed in the labour market all over the world. In Slovakia & Czechia there are clear unconscious social barriers caused by prejudices and negative images of women. Together with the perception of women as primarily engaged in the private sector (as mothers, grandmothers, nurses and caregivers to the family) this lead to employers not viewing middle and older aged women as hireable and effective workers. Hence, women in age 45+ are severely marginalised on the labour market.
The Slovak and Czech media produce an oversimplified images of masculinity and femininity. In its societal influence, it acts as a social supervisor in determining acceptable behaviour for women and men. Further more, it continues to reproduce the dichotomy of the public and private sphere, where men are portrayed as key players in the public life while women are described as consumers, mothers or idols of beauty myths.
During 2009-2011 a comprehensive content analysis of Slovak social weekly magazine ‘Zivot/Life’ was conducted by Dr. Markovic Baluchova. Significant differences in portrayal of women and men in this media (and similarly in many other Central European media too) were identified. Among others, in journalistic genres – interviews: interviewers to a large extent focus on the interviewee’s gender role and emphasise it in the questions. On the cover pages of the magazine women are overrepresented, even if the leading interview was with a man. Unfortunately, the majority of female journalists were using stereotypes and gender insensitive language in their journalistic work. Often the gender role was imposed on the females in articles, mentioning physical appearance, age, partnership and family life. Compared to the articles about men focusing on their connection with the public life, and very rarely touching upon family and appearance.
There are different tools to attract the male target group to a product in commercials, mostly it involves sexist speech and portrays of women. The “sexist pig” is a competition in Czechia, awarding the most sexist commercial of the year. It’s getting worse every year with more and more nominations from public.
To summarise, media and marketing agencies, PR and advertising studios are highly relevant producers of gender inequality and gender based stereotypes. Significant changes can not be expected without recognising this and their important role they play. Focus must be put on transforming the current ethical code into a more gender-sensitive one, to create neutral (or more positive) images of women and their role in society. This is, among other, done by educating journalist students and further cooperation between media and NGOs.
Mrs Bozena Markovic Baluchova is originally from Slovakia but has recent years been working as a lecturer at Palacky University in the Czech Republic. As a journalist and trainer at the same time she’s been providing global education and media trainings for several NGOs and universities in Slovakia and Czechia. Her research is focused on community development programs, media coverage of global issues and vulnerable people (women among them). Few years ago she conducted a research and several trainings on how journalism and marketing reproduces gender stereotypes and how they contribute to gender equality or inequality. Participants of the conference on gender perspectives in Europe, organized in July 2017 by Armenian progressive youth NGO, could see and read small part of it in Yerevan.
Written by: Edith Permen, Boba Markovic Baluchova, Photo: Armenian progressive youth