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Media needs more character variety

TJ Parks

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Women should have the right to unabashedly pursue whatever occupations and character traits they desire and should be rewarded in the same measure as men for the vigor of their pursuits. The existence of this right is seemingly contradicted by a surplus of cookie-cutter characters in the media, including both stereotypically “traditional” female characters and “strong” female characters. These two stereotypes enforce our ideas of what a woman should be, rather than providing the freedom for women to choose what they could be. To encourage women to pursue whatever they desire, the media must 
present a diverse range of characters.

Although there is nothing wrong with the existence of stereotypically traditional or stereotypically strong female characters, the overuse of these stereotypes enforces the notion that women are either strong and progressive or they are traditional and weak. All four of these terms possess separate meanings from each other, and many people in real life practice traits from all four of these categories.

When set as a stereotype, the characters become one-dimensional. One myth that seems to accompany the “traditional” against “strong” stereotype battle is that it is not “strong” for a woman to be unemployed and that it is not “womanly” for a woman to be employed in a STEM occupation. This notion, caused in part by the polarity of female characters in the media discussed previously, often leads to a great deal of 
internal conflict in women.

According to the Working Mother Research Institute, 55 percent of stay-at-home mothers “worry about not making a contribution to the family finances,” while 51 percent of working mothers feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids. Furthermore, 71 percent of women “equate work with something done only to pick up a paycheck.” Meanwhile, although the Pew Research Center reports 71 percent of women are going to college, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate most women entering the work force are still clinging to traditionally female jobs. Elementary and middle school teachers are 81.7 percent women and 64.4 percent of desk clerks are women, but only 13.4 percent of engineers are women, and only 4.3 percent of pilots and aircraft engineers are women. Society is screaming at women to be breadwinners, telling them that it is unacceptable to focus their efforts on raising children, while also telling them to remain in traditionally 
female-dominated fields.

The key to women’s equality is not to push for them to develop a set of traits defined as “masculine” or “feminine.” The key is to present them with a diversity of roles and traits and allow them to decide for themselves which individual traits they wish to choose. They might choose a broad variety of characteristics, ranging from traditionally masculine to traditionally feminine sets of traits. But that diversity of traits is what makes them people. And real people are what today’s media really need.

TJ Parks is a freshman majoring in history, journalism and anthropology. His column runs biweekly.

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Media needs more character variety