SUNY Oneonta Graduate Interns Discuss Media’s Impact on Developing Gender Roles

Monica Dore, Staff Writer

MacDuff Hall hosted a discussion on the media’s portrayal of gender roles last Tuesday night. The talk was led by two of SUNY Oneonta’s graduate interns, Sydney Erickson and Leigh Sturn, who both work in the on-campus counseling center. Erickson and Sturn both want to go on to become clinical psychologists, and are both interested in how the media effects the development of gender roles in boys and girls.

The program started with Sturn and Erickson having the audience, a small group of mostly women, create a list of expected male and female characteristics. On the list of male characteristics, adjectives like, “strong,” “financially stable,” “handy” and “ambitious” were offered, while for females the list read “emotional,” “obedient,” “wholesome” and “catty.”

The program continued with videos that Sturn had compiled–commercials, movie clips and documentary trailers–mainly about how society pushes boys to, “be a man” from a very young age. Because of this, boys are often reluctant to express themselves or seek help. A documentary trailer for “The Mask You Live In” demonstrated that men must always prove their masculinity, be strong and be tough. Males accounted for 81 percent of suicides within the 10 to 24 age group, a high number that would likely be helped by therapy and outreach. Less than 50 percent of boys who suffer from mental illnesses will reach out for help. Instead, many take their frustration out with violence and other aggressive behaviors.

Women, too, struggle with meeting age-old gender expectations. It can be difficult for women to take on the role of an ambitious leader at work without coming off as too dominant. Women are expected to be good homemakers and look just sexy enough while remaining wholesome. Erickson noted the long history of the sexual objectification of women, and pointed out that sexuality is often about what a man wants in a woman. However, Erickson said, “Men have only a certain way to be. Women have a little more wiggle room, in the way they dress and the way they behave. Women can do male things but if a male tries that, he’s either gay or he’s a sissy.”

Something that Sturn and Erickson stressed is that men and women both suffer from similar issues: unrealistic body expectations, stereotypes at home and in the workforce, and unfair media portrayals. The issues feed off of one another. Change can come slowly, with effort. Erickson and Sturn both agreed that raising awareness of the problem through discussion and media advocacy can help the problems that both men and women face.

“The goal,” said Erickson, “is that this sort of outreach will help people to become happy and healthy, regardless of their race, sexuality, or gender.”

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