Gender and Sexuality in Popular Media


Understanding the issues connected to expressions of gender identity is a significant topic of scientific discussion. Manifestations of sex, gender, and sexuality are closely linked to various popular media sources, such as music, films, and advertising campaigns. Defining the contrasts between the terms of sex and gender is a valuable part of knowledge regarding different communities and countries (Bosson et al., 2018). The topic of gender fluidity and sexual representation, while highly lucrative, is still subject to investigation. Popular media has vastly impacted the main strategies of self-expression, allowing for the implementation of new approaches to gender and sexuality display.

Defining the Research Topic

The theme is chosen for this paper envelopes the terms of gender performance, popular media, and changes in self-expression. The rising admiration for social media has been an essential research topic for various scientists, and a significant body of knowledge was accumulated during the past decade (Bosson et al., 2018; Grau & Zotos, 2016). However, most studies seem to concentrate on the popular representations of gender and sexuality prevalent in media resources, analyzing the most common stereotypes related to this topic (Milestone & Meyer, 2020). The importance of gender manifestations in media platforms has already been established by Milestone and Meyer (2020), but an additional investigation into this issue is required for a thorough understanding of underlying phenomena. The present research will focus on identifying the main theoretical principles necessary for this theme, such as sex and gender differences, globalization, and anthropological theory. Detailed corroboration for the statement that popular media has vastly impacted the main strategies of self-expression, allowing for the implementation of new gender and sexuality display approaches, will be provided.

Understanding Sex and Gender

Clarifying the meaning behind the principal terms used is an imperative part of scientific work. The definitions implemented in this paper are sex and gender, which are often confused or described incorrectly (Bosson et al., 2018). Modern researchers understand sex as a description of anatomical features of certain individuals, generally utilized for proper classification (Bosson et al., 2018). Even though gender is intimately linked with the understanding of a person’s anatomical traits, it is a more inclusive term that highlights the differences between male and female populations caused by environmental and biological conditions (Bosson et al., 2018). Most commonly, sex categories include male, female, and intersex, while gender groups are much more variable, including such details as a person’s interests and social roles. Thus, sex is a biological category, while gender is a social construct that represents both anatomical and personal characteristics of an individual.

Multiple population groups present contrasting attitudes in regard to gender. As a social phenomenon, gender differentiates exceptionally between various communities, manifesting in specific ways in every given environment. The population’s cultural aspects greatly influence the development of gender norms, occasionally constraining specific sex to particular expressions that are considered normal for this group (Song, 2019). For example, contemporary gender identities in the USA are drastically different from those evident in Saudi Arabia’s populations. Saudi gender norms have been shown to be dictated by the tenets of Islam, compelling females to behave in compliance with these expectations and restraining their ability of gender expression (Song, 2019). Women are often presumed to be shy and cautious of other people’s judgment, while, in contrast, in the USA, females are more frequently expected to be more open and attractive than the male population (Song, 2019). The distinctions described supporting the idea that gender expressions in various communities vary significantly according to cultural features.

Representation of gender identity is a pertinent issue in social media. Individuals from multiple communities and gender groups are often presented in popular entertainment units, especially pertaining to the film industry. For instance, women involved in scientific research are often portrayed in a very typical way: as a Caucasian member of a particular team, who is especially attractive, does not have children, and identifies as female (Steinke & Tavarez, 2018). In contrast, men are usually represented as physically strong and less talkative, supposedly affirming their gender identity through actions that require strength and active thinking (Sap et al., 2017). However, a positive trend appears to present itself, as researchers state that various gender minorities are now more frequently depicted in popular media, especially in songs and movies, validating different types of gender identities (Mayo Jr., 2017). For example, internationally famous cartoons from the Disney company are reported to have evolved over time, depicting a more comprehensive range of gender identities (Hine et al., 2018). Even though such occurrences are still small in number, they broaden the characters’ potential characteristics, allowing the outnumbered individuals to connect to famous media works.

A strikingly different picture is evident in the field of advertising. Advertisement campaigns have been shown to follow the most conservative patterns, describing gender through anatomical features and including only two gender identities (Grau & Zotos, 2016). Moreover, such illustrations often refer to multiple gender stereotypes and negative attitudes, negating the possibility of openness and variety (Grau & Zotos, 2016). The issues with female representations in advertising have been addressed by Grau and Zotos (2016), who state that these misconceptions might drastically impact the younger generations, fueling the continuity of such beliefs. The promotion strategies regarding merchandise are still in need of future reformation.

Globalization and Changes in Gender and Sexuality Manifestations

The effects of globalization have vastly contributed to the localization of gender-related knowledge, altering multiple populations’ lifestyles. The international influence of large-scale corporations and the support of trade between different nations have vastly increased the information flow, allowing various communities and individuals to obtain data regarding gender identification (London, 2016). In many countries, attitudes towards the female gender usually encompass fragile character traits, limiting women’s ability to express themselves freely (Song, 2019). However, the spread of globalization and the rising popularity of the feministic movement has largely impacted the primary strategies of gender manifestations, promoting strong female personalities (London, 2016). Additionally, including transgender people as film protagonists further strengthens globalization’s positive effect, supporting gender minorities and enabling them to present their own identities (Cavalcante, 2017). Nevertheless, it is still necessary to note that these changes should be much more significant in numbers to achieve a positive effect across nations.

A tremendous transformation occurred in the field of sexuality representations within the last decade. Numerous movies involving LGBTQ+ characters were distributed through globalization methods, encouraging the expression of a person’s sexual orientation (Mayo Jr., 2017). Examples of varying sexuality in media sources have changed over the last years, including more individuals of non-traditional and rare orientations (McInroy & Craig, 2017). If several years ago lesbian or bisexual protagonists were an exception, in the current age, more directors introduce characters of contrasting sexual orientations, stating that any person should be able to express their gender identity (McInroy & Craig, 2017). In the musical industry, such instances occur more often as well, as more songs and music videos regarding the subject of self-expression and gender discovery (Dhaenens & Burgess, 2019). Overall, even though gender identities and sexuality depictions are yet small in numbers, a significant increase in their quantity can be already observed.

Implementing the Anthropological Theory in Gender Discourse

Numerous theoretical instruments were previously utilized to ascertain the main characteristics of gender. A highly beneficial approach was suggested by anthropologists, providing a framework necessary for the detailed discussion of gender. From the anthropological perspective, gender is a social construct that enables various community members to define the differences and similarities between males and females (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). This information provides them with an understanding of how to act and think in connection to this topic. By interpreting the person’s gender, another individual chooses the behavioral strategy that would be most beneficial when interacting with the person in question (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). Investigating the issues of gender identity is an exceptionally valuable task in this field as it directly analyzes the contrast between human societies and proposes a scientific explanation.

The anthropological theory also presents detailed reasoning behind the large numbers of gender groups. It appears that cultural interpretations of physical differences are prone to change as society evolves, implying that wide acceptance of multiple gender identities and sexualities is highly possible (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). Difficulties encountered by people of distinct sex and genders are noticed by the culture, which is eventually altered to benefit all of the individuals involved. A society’s existence requires inclusion from all its members, which is impossible if these members’ beliefs and desires are being disregarded (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). Altogether, the anthropological theory suggests that the meaning of gender arose due to the cultural necessity to involve people of different genders in the lives of their communities.

The theoretical framework supplied by anthropology states that the phenomenon discussed should be thoroughly researched. As such, it is imperative to explore attitudes constructed by various societies which regard gender allocation according to the person’s sex (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). Furthermore, it is essential to consider that the impact of globalization is highly uneven, impacting some populations more than others (Mascia-Lees & Black, 2016). While some countries promote gender fluidity and openness, others remain unaffected or even further advance gender and sexuality restricting laws (Buyantueva, 2018). The origins of such contrasts are assessed by anthropological theories in order to provide possible resolutions in future investigations.


To conclude, the role of popular media in gender expressions was explored in the present research. Theoretical and practical findings from recent studies propose that gender manifests differently depending on the cultural and environmental context. Even though some communities promote a variety of gender representations, for others such endeavor is yet impossible due to various factors. Difficulties were observed in the field of advertising, which still follows rather conservative and stereotypical marketing patterns. Globalization developments have significantly impacted the spread of knowledge on this topic, representing characters of contrasting genders and sexualities. Moreover, the anthropological theory appears to be a pertinent contributor to this discussion, providing a framework suitable for future research. Altogether, the primary approaches to the expression of gender have indeed been affected by popular media, broadening the displays of individuals’ gender and sexuality attributes.


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