What George Mason Experts Are Saying about…Women’s Roles in Society

Posted: March 26, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Ellen Fagenson Eland
Ellen Fagenson Eland
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Many Americans have been riveted by the TV show The Apprentice, which shows a team of women consistently beating a team of men in the game of business. This show reflects reality, says Ellen Fagenson Eland, management professor and author of Women in Management: Trends, Issues and Challenges in Managerial Diversity.

“Women are top performers and much more cooperative than men,” says Eland. “They demonstrate a leadership style that most people prefer–democracy.” Yet, she notes, women are still discriminated against in business and in the boardroom “despite or because of their greater abilities.” Instead, she says, women “should be welcomed with open arms and thanked for tolerating injustices in the workplace and contributing to American business despite their undeserved second-class treatment.”

Over the past two decades, the role of women in the media has not changed as much as people believe it has–especially in television and newspapers, says Cynthia Lont, communication professor. Although the portrayal of women has expanded beyond the typical mother/wife depiction, “males have more diverse roles than females in every media outlet.” And women still appear in fewer than 18 percent of the photos, bylines, and expert references on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.

In television news, the data are the same. With studies that show heavy viewers of television have a skewed sense of reality, “it is important to question how the portrayal of women in the media affects us.” Females’ roles in the media should extend past their portrayal on television, she believes.

Women and men receive messages from popular culture, especially movies, computer games and music, that define rigid, sex-role stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, says Cheryl Bartholomew, a women’s studies professor and expert on gender stereotypes.

“The messages to men are about dominance, power, size, and strength (suck it up–don’t be a wimp),” she says. Images like the Marlboro Man, which convey that a male should make it on his own, and messages that suggest gaining respect as a male means intimidating and controlling another person have a negative impact on society. “Images that negatively affect men can hurt men, women, and the culture at large.”

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