gender in the media

When a woman assumes a leadership role, our unconscious stereotypes about leadership come into conflict with our unconscious stereotypes about women… Our hidden brain makes women leaders appear ruthless and dislikeable for no better reason than that they happen to be women leaders.
— Shankar Verdantum
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Check your figure faults for real figure beauty...

Kay Goodson, operated from a shop in Auckland offering professional corsetiere and figure specialist services. This advertising sign was found in a cupboard at Auckland Museum by a curator. Women's bodies are like icons, representing what society judges to be the standard beauty of the day. Kay's sign identifies all the "faults" that she claimed her corsets could address.

Advertising is designed to be persuasive, so it is no surprise that it influences our ideas of reality. Plus, its pervasiveness plays a big role in constructing identities, particularly in relation to gender. Despite wider gains in equality, intensified or stereotyped gender portrayals in advertising have survived – thanks, perhaps, to the simplicity of the message they represent.

This has helped to sustain old-fashioned gender interaction and sex roles in society. Both women and men, girls and boys, need to see better and more complex gender role models, which more closely match what they see in their daily experience.

How the media copes with the fact our Prime Minister is a woman?

Last August, within 24 hours of Jacinda Ardern being appointed leader of the Labour Party, she was asked about her plans to have children. Many people pointed out, no one asks this question of male politicians and that there was a clear double standard at play. Spinoff journalist Madeline Holden wrote " in case it’s not obvious, asking Ardern about her plans to have children implicitly reinforces the sexist notion that a woman’s primary role is motherhood, no matter how accomplished she is in other areas." Since then Ms Ardern has become Prime Minister AND had a baby - becoming only the second woman in the world to do so. The media world is obsessed with her but also with the existing obsession with the personal lives of female politicians – "remember how often Helen Clark’s childlessness was used as a barb against her, supposedly rendering her unfit for everything from legislating about child welfare to understanding the plight of “ordinary” (read: parenting) New Zealanders?" 


Take a look at some different ways to analyse gender stereotyping in the media.  Investigate the background of your Draw a Scientist test (contained in your kit), The Bechdel Test for film and then view a collection of New Zealand TV advertisements and think about how they might have reinforced old-fashioned gender interaction and sex roles in society.

Read about the Draw a Scientist Experiment

But DON'T read this article until you've completed the Draw a Scientist Experiment yourself. In 1983, a social scientist named David Chambers published a landmark study on children's drawings. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, teachers asked nearly 5,000 children to draw a scientist...

Apply the Bechdel Test to films you know

Make a class playlist of films you know and love. The Bechdel Test is one easy way to measure if a work of fiction meets three very basic gender standards.  Read about the test and then apply the test to your playlist. How many pass?  Which movies are your surprised about?

Analyse Gender Stereotyping in New Zealand Ads

As part of the #Unstereotype campaign, Unilever undertook research on gender in advertising. It found that only 3 percent of advertising shows women as leaders and just 2 percent conveys them as intelligent. In ads, women come off as interesting people just 1 percent of the time. How do their findings stack up on a selection of iconic New Zealand ads?

nz tv ads for reviewing gender stereotypes

WATCH Miss New Zealand 1973

she's wearing 'Bonds illusions'

Max factor maxi moist 1977

beehive matches 1976

cadbury flake


Toyota starlet



vogels bread


cadbury continental chocolates 2000

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the data

Data is power. The power to tell stories. The power to understand the world. Access to data can tell you about your place in the world, how you measure up, what's available to you and what's happening to you. Take a look at how things stack up


tell the story

We've come up with three very different ways to examine gender stereotyping in the world around you. 


Conduct the Draw a Scientist Test on younger group of children.

How much have you and your fellow classmates been influenced by the world around you when it comes to gender stereotypes?  Miller and his colleagues found that kids younger than six drew male and female scientists in almost equal measure. It was only upon reaching elementary and middle school that students began to draw significantly more male scientists, a “developmental shift that we think likely reflects children’s greater exposure to male scientists as they age,” Miller says. “Women are still underrepresented in some fields, so it makes sense that children exposed to that environment are still reproducing those stereotypes,” Miller says. “What’s important to consider is making sure those stereotypes don’t unfairly limit girls’ interest in science — that girls who are really interested in science can pursue it.”

Download a new set of cards here and conduct the experiment again with a younger group of students.  


Examine the world around you - what messages are you exposed to about gender roles?

"This little girl is holding a LEGO set. The LEGO is not pink or "made for girls." She isn't even wearing pink. The copy is about "younger children" who "build for fun." Not just "girls" who build. ALL KIDS." It was an iconic ad in 1981 - read about it resurfacing a few years ago here. 

Advertising is designed to be persuasive, so it is no surprise that it influences our ideas of reality. Plus, its pervasiveness plays a big role in constructing identities, particularly in relation to gender. What messages were you exposed to as a small child? Look at children’s books, yesterday’s news, a selection of TV ads from 2.30pm-6pm. Decide on a theme - it could be adverts for children's toys, TV ads for food or even the way children's clothes are arranged in a department store.


Analyse news articles, headlines, tweets and instagrams about our Prime Minister - Jacinda Ardern

Collect together as many headlines, news articles, tweets and media coverage about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her rise to power, her style of leadership, her political achievements, her looks, her pregnancy, her background and her influences. We've put together a collection of our own. Collect a similar collection for the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges or for former Prime Minister John Key or Bill English. How are the leaders described?  What words do journalists use? Is there any difference or gender stereotyping between the focus or themes of the articles?