Last Updated 21 Nov 2022

The Portrayal of Gender Roles through the Media in the 1950s

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The typical gender roles found within the 1950's time era were the epitome of the stereotype that are commonly associated with the roles of men and women in both the home and society. From dutiful housewives and submissive actresses to bread-winning husbands and the male dominated work force, the 1950's were filled with sexist gender roles that affected society's views in a biased way. Sometimes, however, there were those who aimed to break the mold of the accepted roles and displayed characterisitcs that were uncommon for that time, such as a strong independent woman. The gender roles that were portrayed through the media at this time sent a variety of messages to the audience that could affect them in a negative way. In terms of how beauty pageants sent harmful messages to young women, they promoted prejudiced and unrealistic standards to the audience.

Although the organizers tried to clarify that the pageant highlights several areas of a contestant's skills and even put a focus on scholarship, it is clear that the intention of the event is to objectify women based on their bodies and overall appearance. While even the contract mentions that this is an unbiased contest, the specifications for the contestants include having charm, beauty, and being white. This gives the message that in order to be considered beautiful, you must act a particular way, have specific features, and be of a certain race. This suggests that women with any variance from these specifications is unattractive and not worthy of being in a beauty pageant.

Similarly, the Barbie doll has promoted messages about a very unachievable body image and suppressive gender roles to young girls since its introduction. Barbie has impossible body measurements, is predominantly white, and is limited to certain roles as a woman. Although there have been attempts at providing ethnic and occupational diversity in these dolls, they continue to reflect the same idealistic form that influences girls in a detrimental way. This could make young girls feel the need to look a certain way to be attractive or limit what they can do in terms of their career later on in life.

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Then, movie and beauty icons during the 1950's, such as Marilyn Monroe, contributed to messages of unrealistic beauty and sexuality expectations of women during that time. Although Monroe was intelligent and talented, she was continually typecast in roles as a ditzy blonde. She was always dressed and behaved in a way to exude sexual appeal, which was uncommon during this time as women were usually expected to be modest and opposed to having sex. Monroe's work sent the message that women are generally unintelligent and incapable of filling more meaningful roles in life. Her appearance also made it seem as though women should dress and wear makeup to attract men, while also taking on a more sexual aura to appease men's desires.

While beauty pageants, Barbie, and Monroe all portray similar messages about how women should appear or behave during this time era, they were able to remain popular even during conservative times due to the social constructs of society. Consumers respond to sex, beautiful people, and gender based roles because they enjoy these things and are unaware of the negative effects that could come along with them. Setting such unattainable standards of beauty and a preference for the white race can be damaging in the way that females view themselves and their self worth.

The ideals set by 1950's media, dolls, and beauty pageants basically says that if you are not a white, thin, middle class woman with some kind of sex appeal, then you are unattractive and will generally not be successful in society. The way men viewed women also held a very significant role in that if men did not approve of a woman or find her desirable for whatever reason, then she was devalued and harshly judged. This time period had an unfair gender and sexual dynamic that was damaging to women at several stages in their life, from playing with Barbie dolls to watching/entering beauty pageants and viewing other women in the media.

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