How Culture Influences Social Perceptions & Expectations

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

A large portion of our children's lives are spent consumed with media images. In some cases, the impressions that children develop about what is normal may be skewed by media sources. Let's look at the impact media has on our children.


Does media really impact our societal norms? Media is comprised of television, radio, newspapers, social media, the internet, and video games. Any means of communication that broadcasts to the masses is media. People now spend more time connected to televisions, smart phones, and personal computers than they do sleeping, learning, or conversing with others. In this lesson, we will look at the influence these sources of communication have on how children view themselves and others.

Gender and Race

Consider the last movie, news broadcast, or television program you watched. Who were the main characters? Whether it was children's programming, prime-time television, a major motion picture or the news, men are many times more likely to be in a featured role than women. The underrepresentation of women implies to viewers that men play more important roles in society than women. What's worse is that minorities and people over sixty play even smaller roles. When cast, minorities are usually placed in stereotypical roles. Black men are cast as either lazy or as athletes. Hispanics and Asians are typically cast as treacherous villains. Older people are portrayed as dependent or ill. Women are portrayed as dependent sex objects. Although some roles for women are for 'good girls' and others are for 'bad girls,' women's characters are typically two-dimensional and subordinate. However, men are typically portrayed as accomplished, powerful, and dominant. The relationships between men and women are typically categorized as female dependent, sexualized, and violent. Music videos and video games in particular serve to desensitize children to accept sexual violence as an acceptable part of human relationships.

Body Image

Who is your favorite female cartoon character? Does she look like anyone you know? Even cartoons and children's programs teach girls that success comes from being thin, young, beautiful, and sexualized. There is a clear link between the types of images that girls view in media and the level of dissatisfaction in their own bodies that can lead to eating disorders. The same desire exists in young men who wish to look athletic and muscular, but to a much lesser degree than with young women. While the typical movie star or model wears a size two to four, the average woman wears a size twelve to fourteen. In addition to the discrepancy in what is considered a normal size, photographs of these very thin, young ladies are further touched-up so that they will appear even more perfect. In reality, not even the models look as good in reality as young girls begin to believe they have to look in order to be considered beautiful and successful.

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