Stereotyping is a device that is often used by the media to evoke humor or some other emotional response. The question of the ethics of using such devices is raised by the following essays. Each essay has its own page and begins after the list. These essays are taken from:Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media
Paul Martin Lester, editor
California State University, Fullerton
Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. Westport, CT
Permission is granted by the editor to use the following essays on this WEB site.
- Moral Requirements and Picture Choice / Deni Elliott, University of Montana
- Media Victims / James W. Brown, Indiana University School of Journalism at IUPUI
- Newspaper Stereotypes of African Americans / Carolyn Martindale, Youngstown State University
- Women as Mothers/ Dona Schwartz, University of Minnesota
- Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Lesbian and Gay People and the Media/ Larry Gross, University of Pennsylvania
- Stereotyping of Media Personnel / Walter B. Jaehnig, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
- Common Ground and Future Hopes/ Clifford G. Christians, University of Illinois
Women as Mothers Dona Schwartz University of Minnesota At the conclusion of my first prenatal checkup twelve years ago, the obstetrician's receptionist offered me copies of two different magazines for expectant mothers, American Baby and Expecting. Each time I came in for a checkup I would pick up the new issue, free of charge. Reading these publications produced a mixed response: I was eager to read whatever I could find that promised to prepare me for the upcoming birth of my first child, yet at the same time, reading American Baby and Expecting was somewhat unsettling, rather like morning sickness. The smiling faces of happy women, men, and babies overwhelmed me. I resolved to save my growing collection for future research so that I might examine the image of mothering they presented. For years my mommy magazines lay untouched, awaiting the analysis I'd promised. They moved with me from house to house. In the intervening years the academic literature devoted to the subject of mothering has grown1 and at the same time, the number of publications targeting the so-called "childbirth market" has mushroomed, coincident with the "echo boom" of the late 1980s. These changes and another pregnancy provided me with the impetus to collect a new set of magazines and investigate the images they offer parents, especially women, the majority of their readership. My discussion here focuses on childbirth and parenting magazines available on the newsstand: Parents, Working Mother, Child, and Parenting and several magazines distributed free to expectant and new parents. Among the subscription-based magazines, Parents is the eldest and most traditional of the magazines, emerging in 1926. Working Mother first appeared in 1977 to capitalize upon the increasing presence of mothers in the labor force. Child in 1986 and Parenting in 1987 were positioned to exploit baby boomers on the nest. Cahners Publishing Company, a division of Reed Publishing USA, produces American Baby (in publication since 1938) one of the complimentary magazines available in the waiting rooms of obstetricians. At childbirth education classes Cahners distributes Childbirth as part of a prenatal "sampling and couponing package," they call the American Baby Basket for Expectant Parents. And American Baby's First Year of Life arrives via the American Baby Basket for New Mothers, delivered to the hospital room. In 1991 Time Warner purchased Baby Talk, a magazine published since 1935. The recently formed Parenting Group of Time Publishing Ventures includes its free publications, Baby Talk and Baby on the Way, along with Parenting, mentioned above. Baby Talk appears monthly, making its way to new and expectant mothers at doctors' offices, in diaper service bundles, and in the baby departments of stores like Sears, Macy's, JCPenney, Best, Target, Walmart, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Marshall Fields. Baby on the Way, an annual, also appears in a version called Baby on the Way: Basics, targeting women who "read at a grade school level or are just learning English." The editorial content of the two magazines is similar even though Basics is written at a fifth grade level.2 Although the editorial copy is not updated, Baby on the Way is issued in March and September to allow for the insertion of new advertising. The Basics edition is slimmer, with shorter, less detailed articles, and significantly fewer ads. Baby on the Way is available in doctor's offices, while Basics is primarily distributed through clinics, state health departments, WIC programs, schools, and literacy programs. The sample described here (with the exception of Baby on the Way: Basics) represents the range of childbirth and parenting magazines middle class women typically encounter in their doctors' waiting rooms. These publications provide an authoritative resource for contemporary mothers seeking reliable information. While female kin may once have served this function, industrialization's dispersal of the extended family makes such expertise inaccessible to many women. Even when such first-hand knowledge is available, it is often devalued and treated as lore or "old wives' tales," inferior to the printed word or the wisdom of the medical establishment. Stuart Ewen traces the displacement of familial authority during the early twentieth century.3 He argues that the growth of consumer capitalism in the 1920s and 1930s depended on investing patriarchal authority in industrialists, enabling them to instruct families in "proper living," including appropriate patterns of consumption. Thus, consumer capitalism transformed the family from a unit of production into a unit of consumption. This transfer of authority created a need for new sources of information, a role that could be assumed in part by mass circulation magazines. As Time Warner explains to potential advertisers, New mothers rely on a host of information resources-- pediatricians, friends and relatives, childcare books and childcare magazines. Magazines play a vital role in their passionate search for information. Childbirth and parenting magazines exemplify corporate capitalism's penetration of the domestic sphere. Their pages affirm a consumerist view of family life. The range of the topics covered varies little from publication to publication, although a distinctive style may create an illusion of difference among them. The annuals, Childbirth, Baby on the Way, and First Year of Life, focus their stories on pregnancy and prenatal care, labor and delivery, and infants' growth, development, care and feeding, along with articles advising prospective and new parents on "essential" purchases: maternity clothes, the layette, furnishings, toys, car safety seats and the like. The remaining magazines present the same topics as the annuals with these additions to the mix: fashions for mothers and babies; exercise; home management advice, including recipes, laundry tips, housework strategies, activities to keep kids (and their mothers) busy; childcare options; marital relations; fathers and fathering; child discipline; infant, child, and maternal health; employment and employment-related issues. Working Mother, targeting women who work both inside and outside the home, presents a nearly identical lineup, complete with articles on such topics as bathroom cleaning. Only its heavier emphasis on employment-related issues distinguishes Working Mother from the pack. Magazines compete for their share of readers by offering an impressive slate of expert consultants and columnists representing the medical establishment. Baby on the Way takes this strategy furthest, placing the seal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the cover. The smiling face of its president greets the reader on page one and his message to the "mother-to-be," placed where the editor's column typically appears, suggests he plays an important role in the magazine's production. While the editorial copy found in these magazines acknowledges, at least superficially, the changes affecting contemporary mothering, the visual messages present hollow stereotypes. The images of mothers illustrating both editorial and advertising copy evoke a world of blissful, predominantly Anglo, dual-parent childrearing. On these pages everyone smiles broad toothy grins (except for the infants). With remarkable uniformity women appear well rested, well dressed, well groomed, and in control of both baby and domestic surround. Even in childbirth, women maintain their composure and their polish. They are shown at each stage of labor and delivery, absorbed in the task at hand, exerting genuine effort while keeping every hair in place. The babies and children who appear solo or with their mothers (or, on occasion, with their fathers) reflect the same well being and contentment. Nestled in their mothers' arms, they offer no resistance to being fed; they show no evidence of colic or fussiness of any kind. They attentively listen to the books their loving mothers read. Their faces beam as they sit ensconced in their swings and strollers, or play with their toys. Their cute clothes never suggest that babies regularly spit up and mash food on themselves. These kids don't get dirty. Despite claims that they address contemporary parents, the magazines show mothers almost exclusively. Fathers occasionally join mothers in the admiration of their offspring, play with them, or tenderly administer to their needs. But more often men appear in illustrations accompanying articles about pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum sexual relations. In this way, men are primarily shown as husbands not fathers, associated with their wives instead of their children. Men fade from view altogether as magazines embrace topics concerning childrearing practices, household maintenance, and self preservation (that is, articles about fashion, exercise, cosmetics, or domestic survival skills). The world of childbirth and parenting magazines is overwhelmingly white. Fair-haired Anglo babies gambol across the pages of article after article, ad after ad. A sprinkling of Asian, African American, and Latino children signals the existence of a non- Anglo middle class population. When children of color do appear they symbolize multiple races and ethnicities simultaneously through their ambiguous identity. All of the babies and children on these pages have extremely light skin; they can interchangeably represent African American, Latino, Mediterranean, Native American or Middle Eastern populations. This polysemy accomplishes two tasks: First, magazines require fewer images of children of color to simultaneously represent a variety of communities, and second, the light skinned children presented in these pages more easily blend into the white terrain, diminishing their claim on the reader's attention. Non-Anglo mothers are seldom seen. When they do appear, in almost all cases they too have light brown skin; non-Anglo fathers are virtually non-existent. In these pages, mothers and children pose and do little more. Pictures that show women working rarely appear. Articles instructing women on bathing their infants or breastfeeding show them engaged in a task. Ads for strollers may show women pushing them (or they may simply stand alongside them, posing like a man with his new car, a genre found in many family photo albums). Women occasionally appear reading to their children or playing with them. Women themselves are depicted reading while their infants sit pacified in a mechanical swing. No one tires, no one sweats, no one frets. Motherhood is presented as a series of appealing snapshots. Images of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering presented to women through mass circulation magazines offer a mythological representation far removed from everyday life. They depict a narrowly circumscribed world of Anglo nuclear families aglow with happiness and plenty. Framed as informative resources for women, they serve most effectively as training manuals in the practice of purchasing goods and services. Heeded well, they offer the promise of fulfillment they so relentlessly represent. Ewen persuasively argues that industrialization wrested the wife's productive role from her and transformed her into a domestic manager whose primary responsibility was to marshal family consumption of mass produced goods.4 This extended to her performance as a mother: Even in the area of motherhood, women were told to rely on the guidance provided by ads and other corporate agencies of information. Motherhood had become a profession sustained by industrial production. Women were told of dangers in their homes, to their children, and told of commodity solutions.5 Contemporary publications continue to provide that guidance. Through advertising and editorial copy, mothering magazines help to inculcate an approach to domestic life that perpetuates industrial capitalism by simultaneously promoting consumerism and offering solutions to the problems it creates. Examining the media kits publishers prepare for potential advertisers corroborates the motivations suggested by these representations. The Time Warner kit for publications in its Parenting Group trumpets: More than 1.7 million women receive Baby on the Way early in their pregnancies, before all the many purchases required for baby have been made. Baby Talk reaches expectant and new mothers every month through a targeted circulation system that ensures that readers receive Baby Talk just as they're seeking information, forming brand loyalties, deciding on purchases. 52% of the magazine's circulation is via point-of-sale newsstand-type displays in the baby departments of nearly 5,000 leading retail stores....This means your audience is getting your message in the right place and at the perfect time-- when they're ready to buy. PARENTING READERS ARE AS RESPONSIVE TO ADVERTISERS AS THEY ARE TO THEIR CHILDREN! Everyone knows that parenting is a demanding job. It's also inspiring, challenging, enlightening, emotional and rewarding. Because of all those things and more, today's parents need products and services that respond to their changing needs. As their family grows, so does their need for new products and services. And those needs are growing by leaps and bounds. Likewise, competitor Cahners boasts: American Baby's circulation is concentrated in the key baby product buying cycle: the last trimester of pregnancy through the baby's first two years. Childbirth reaches expectant parents at the most critical time-- as they're about to form the brand loyalties that will influence purchases for the next two years. It's the time when the bulk of baby product purchases are made. And it's the time when parents are more receptive to new information and products than they've ever been before, and may ever be again. Our 3.2 million readers know they can trust First Year of Life. It's why First Year of Life is preferred two-to-one over other postnatal annuals. And it's why you'll find new parents remarkably receptive to the products showcased within it. That these and many other magazines targeting women (and men) promote consumption seems unremarkable. Yet several points merit further note. The strategy evinced in these representations underscores John Berger's arguments regarding the methods and consequences of advertising.6 These depictions of mothers suggest very little of the actual labor involved, or the context in which that labor takes place. They present static idealizations that fail to encompass the challenges contemporary mothers face. Berger suggests that publicity tends to be "retrospective and traditional" because it "cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims."7 The images in childbirth and parenting magazines evoke the world inhabited by Donna Reed or June Cleaver, images of perfection familiar to baby boom mothers. Berger argues further: The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his present way of life. Not with the way of life of society, but with his own within it. It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is.8 Both publicity images and editorial illustrations in mothering magazines offer readers fantasy. Images of dual-parent families, unhurried, and without want fail to ring true, yet hold out the promise of fulfillment achieved through appropriate consumption. The regular introduction of newer and better products to improve women's lives continually defers satisfaction and insures perpetual inadequacy, thus renewing the cycle. Publicity performs an important social function, according to Berger, and my analysis leads to a similar conclusion. He writes: Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world.9 Magazine images of motherhood mask the everyday realities of women's lives. A brief survey of recent U.S. statistics makes the fissure between image and reality clear. Magazine media kits emphasize the existence of an "echo boom" that has produced, according to Time Warner, a "new mother market:" Every 21 months, this market totally recycles itself, with a whole new crop of expectant and new mothers to step in and purchase more and more products, year after year. And since the birthrate is projected to remain high well into the first decade of the 21st century, the new mother market will remain a powerful and sizable purchasing force. Census data provides detail lacking in this pitch. Fertility rates reported for those from underrepresented groups were 95.2 per 1,000 Latina women and 69.2 for African American women, compared to 61.6 for Anglo women. While Latina women ages 15-44 represent 9% of all women in the United States, they accounted for 14.3% of all births. Of the 35 million families with children in 1992, nearly 30% were headed by a single parent; 86% of those single parents were mothers. In 1990 45% of female-headed families with children lived in poverty. In 1989, only 26% of custodial mothers who were awarded child support received the full amount. In 1993 57.9% of mothers with children under six worked outside of the home, an increase of about 50% since 1975. Of 59.8 million owner- occupied housing units listed in the 1991 census, just under 90% were owned by Anglos, 8% by African Americans, and 4% by Latinos. Among the homeless population, families with children are estimated at 36%. The 1992 median state AFDC grant for a family of three fell short of the monthly poverty threshold by more than $500. Reports of child abuse and child neglect have nearly tripled since 1980.10 Some of these same statistics can be found in media kits, but the magazine images presented to women readers are unresponsive to the data. Rather than deal with the real circumstances of women's lives, the publications promote allegiance to a false, if appealing ideal. Except for Baby on the Way: Basics, these magazines target a middle class readership primed and ready to make the purchases considered necessary to childrearing. The socialization middle class women undergo shapes the experience of poor women as well, as the undifferentiated imagery of Basics demonstrates. For poor women, domestic management and the consumption it dictates present greater challenges; poor women's perceptions of their own inadequacy may be more profound. Social statistics make it clear that capitalism has failed to insure the well being of women and children. The family wage system engendered by industrialization maintained the supremacy of the husband within the nuclear family, while cementing the wife's dependency.11 That social and economic contract no longer holds, and we have witnessed the "feminization of poverty." Today, the gap between those who can sufficiently provide for their families and those who cannot continues to widen. Most needy of all are women and their children. Childbirth and parenting magazines obscure these statistics and the social consequences they portend. As a representative of the primary audience for whom these messages are intended, I can testify to their seduction. Like the first time I discovered them in the obstetrician's waiting room, I eagerly paged through all of the magazines I encountered during my recent pregnancy. I marveled at the improvements in products manufactured since my first child's birth. I bought some new stuff. But the unsettling feeling I experienced twelve years ago has grown to full blown nausea. The more I have learned about motherhood the less these messages charm. The problems they mask have multiplied, their reach has extended, and I know fantasy cannot expunge reality. As the emptiness of these images becomes increasingly salient, they may provoke unexpected responses from the women whose interests they undermine. 1 See Arnup, Katherine, Andree Levesque, and Ruth Roach Pierson, eds. (1990) Delivering Motherhood: Maternal Ideologies and Practices in the 19th and 20th Centuries. London: Routledge; Bassin, Donna, Margaret Honey, and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, eds. (1994) Representations of Motherhood. New Haven: Yale University Press; Glenn, Evelyn Nakano, Grace Chang, and Linda Rennie Forcey, eds. (1994) Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency. London: Routledge; Kaplan, E. Ann (1992) Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama. London: Routledge; Kaplan, Meryle Mahrer (1992) Mothers' Images of Motherhood: Case Studies of Twelve Mothers. London: Routledge; Koven, Seth and Sonya Michel, eds. (1993) Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States. London: Routledge; O'Barr, Jean F., Deborah Pope, and Mary Wyer, eds. (1990) Ties that Bind: Essays on Mothering and Patriarchy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Phoenix, Ann, Anne Woollett, and Eva Lloyd, eds. (1991) Motherhood: Meanings, Practices and Ideologies. London: Sage; Rabuzzi, Kathryn Allen (1994) Mother with Child: Transformations through Childbirth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; Rich, Adrienne Cecile (1986) Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Norton; and Rothman, Barbara Katz (1989) Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal Society. New York: Norton. 2 It may be worth noting that of the two versions, in 1993 only Baby on the Way: Basics included an article on methods of birth control. This disparity suggests the point of view that such information is more urgently needed by economically or educationally disadvantaged women than by their middle class counterparts in order to slow the reproduction rate within underrepresented communities. 3 Ewen, Stuart (1976) Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill. 4 Op. Cit. 5 Ewen, p. 169. 6 Berger, John (1972) Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking Press. 7 Berger, p. 139. 8 Berger, p. 142. 9 Berger , p. 149. 10 These data were compiled from the following sources: The Universal Almanac, 1994 edition, and The State of America's Children, the 1994 yearbook of the Children's Defense Fund. 11 Ehrenreich, Barbara (1983) The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment. New York: Anchor.
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