Feminist Media Studies

Despite the growth and expansion of the feminist movement throughout the twentieth century, Feminist Media Studies did not become a known paradigm until the late 1970s. Feminist Media Studies uses feminist ideals and principles in researching and analyzing media, focusing on stereotypes, socialization, and ideologies of gender.

emily 1Feminist media arguably began with the start of the twentieth century and the women’s suffrage movement. Early feminists such as Alice Paul and Lucy Stone published magazines, including the Suffragist and the Woman Citizen to spread and advocate for the women’s rights movement of the 1910s and 1920s. (Kitch, 200, p.76). Media, primarily in the form of these magazines, played a crucial part in the women’s suffrage movement, using rhetorical techniques to gather support.

Opposite feminist media, many media throughout the twentieth century, specifically the 1940s-50s, portrayed sexism and gender stereotypes that patronized women. Most advertisements from this time emphasized a woman’s role as a traditional house wife and used this concept in marketing items like soap, food, and beauty products. This gender stereotype was not constructed by media, but by society, which then impacted media.

Both feminist media and Feminist Media Studies have risen rapidly throughout the 2000s with a revival of the feminist movement aemily 2nd increased awareness of women in leadership roles coming to be reflected in media. Film, television, and books now portray women as badass warriors and confident intellectuals. Characters like Black Widow and Katniss Everdeen “…demonstrate how action heroines question notions of conventional gender roles…” (Inness, 2004, p.8).

Although attention is being brought to feminist media in recent years, the presence of women in media does not define the film or television show to be feminist. Additionally, female characters who do function as strong women often “…do not entirely escape traditional gender role expectations…the characters are predominantly white, upper or middle class, attractive, feminine, and heterosexually appealing.” (Inness, 2004, p.8). Additionally, men outnumber women not only onscreen, but off screen as well. (Van Zoonan,, 1994, p.17). Women account for less than 30% of producers, directors, editors and cinematographers. (Lauzen, 2017).

Today, only 57.5% of films pass the Bechdel test. Created by Alison Bechdel in 1985, the test requires that a movie has at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men. (2017). Despite the surge in popularity of Feminist Media Studies and feminist media, this percentage has decreased over the past five years.

Feminist Media Studies is a new and growing paradigm, now “carried all over the world, using primarily quantitative content analysis and social experimental methods” (Van Zoonan, 1994, p.17), allowing for the spread and expansion of the feminist movement.


Bechdeltest.com. (2017). Bechdel Test Movie List [Data File]. Retrieved from: https://bechdeltest.com

Inness, Sherrie A. (Eds.). (2004). Action Chicks. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kitch, Carolyn. (2001). The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Lauzen, Martha. (2017). Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television. Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, San Diego State University. Retrieved from: http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2016-17_Boxed_In_Report.pdf

Steiner, Linda. (2014). Feminist Media Theory. The Handbook of Media and Mass Communication Theory, First Edition, 360-375. Retrieved from: https://washcoll.instructure.com/courses/2168091/files/folder/Readings?preview=110719381

Van Zoonan, Liesbet. (1994). Feminist Media Studies. London, UK: SAGE Publications.

Image Attribution: The images used in this post are in the Public Domain

Written by Emily Alcaraz, 2017