To what extent is the representation of Asian women in films a reflection of female at the time?

Academic Paper, 2017
39 Pages, Grade: MA




Visual culture and mass media: the formation of the vision and the production of visual images

Creation of gender and ethnic stereotypes in the mass media and cinema

The specific role of cinema as a technology in the process of secondary gender and ethnicity socialization

The stereotypical image of Asian women in films

Reference list


Currently, particular relevance is acquired by the values and beliefs regarding the role of women and men in society, and the associated gender stereotypes and attitudes. They are regulated on a deeper mental level of social consciousness, rooted in the distant past, the most stable and transmitted from generation to generation. This layer is formed in the course of a long history of the development of society and has a variety of aspects: the historical, social, economic, cultural, religious, political.

The gender approach in social philosophy interprets gender as a social sex, and therefore socially constructed relationship can be represented as inequality based on gender. The problem of studying the phenomenon of gender identity in the context of its ethnic component is of considerable philosophical interest primarily because the development of this phenomenon reflects the rapid social changes, some common civilization trends.

The problem of mutual perception of gender groups is difficult in research, because of the fact that the perception of the same phenomena and processes by the different ethnic communities is not the same. Thus, it is rational to consider gender stereotypes in the context of ethnic stereotypes as a special case of social stereotype.

The problem of stereotypes is particularly acute in the era of the information society, when the emergence of new technologies creates a new kind of thinking and new possibilities of perception. Mass cinema forms in a sense, the epic of our time - creates a mythologized view of the world, reinforces in the minds of the audience the key media image modeled, in particular, by other means of mass communication. The paper considers the connection of gender and ethnic stereotypes with the representation of Asian women in films.

The object of this study is the representation of Asian women in films in the context of ethnic and gender stereotypes as a social phenomenon. The subject of the study is revealing of features of visualization of images of Asian women in films. The purpose of research is to identify the specifics of the visualization of images of Asian women in the film industry as a phenomenon of gender and ethnic representation.

The following tasks were set to achieve the research objectives:

- To analyze the possibility of using cinema studies in sociological research;
- To analyze the phenomenon of “gender”, “gender images,” “ethnic images”, and their correlation;
- To highlight the features of the visualization of gender images of Asian women in films.

The choice of methodology is due to feature the object and subject of study. Thus, the study is based on the basic provisions of the gender approach.

This study can be used as a complement to the theoretical research of methods of visualization of gender images in the films.


Modern society, becoming a post-industrial and information entity, turning into a society of mass culture, started speaking in the new languages and saw itself in the other visual spaces. The new reality actualizes one of the “power” systems - a symbolic, sign reality in which a crucial role is played by visual signs and images. The world plunged into the society of the spectacle, society of the performance. The industry of the images formation “produces” an organized flow of visual information with one intention - have an effect on the viewer. Now the visual phenomena appear not just the sphere of art but also a means of ideology, becoming one of the most effective mechanisms of influence on the masses. Indeed, people today more and more, as a rule, have to deal not with a real object but with its image - simulation. Images are increasingly replacing reality. This substitution occurs in all spheres of life: in today's market not the real things are sold, and created advertising images, the struggle for political power – it is also a struggle of images - political images; social institutions are also increasingly included in the ‘game of images.’.

The processes of socialization and resocialization are also beginning to take place in the context of audiovisual culture. Media, display technologies form the human desired for society, including attributing to the basic concerns, gender identities. The creation of archetypes of male and female mythology, modeling desires system, introducing images of gender roles and stereotypes represent an important function in modern gender technologies of media. Namely symbolic gender visualization strategies in society constitute the politics of women's subjective representation and not vice versa.

Very often in contemporary visual culture, an appeal to female images can be observed. As an aesthetic object, as a bearer of cultural semantics in the context of socio-cultural communication, they perform important social, economic, political, and instrumental (manipulative) functions. Visually recorded women's images not only reflect but also shape the social reality. Therefore, it is relevant and important to trace the situation with the design of senses the in the visual discourse, the dynamics of the representation of female characters in the films.

The history of cinema is closely intertwined with the development of philosophical and sociological thought. If at the time of its introduction, a new kind of art was presented as an affordable and easy entertainment, soon it got rich theoretical understanding in line with the philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies.

The cinema represents one of the newest forms of art closely interrelated with the life of society. Being created under the influence of certain social ideas and circumstances, it, because of its exceptional ability to spread, accessibility, and entertainment nature, is capable, in turn, to have a serious impact on certain social groups.

Cinema as a social institution includes a whole range of different social roles, including the viewer and the film's director, critic and producer, actor and screenwriter, TV channels administration, theater or movie studio. As an established and regular social practice that is sanctioned and supported by social norms, cinema plays an important role in the social structure of modern society, meeting the needs of different social groups, and therefore is subject to the tastes of the audience. Socio-cultural context of practices of cinema-consumption at this, obviously, has gender specifics. Thus, the study of cultural specificity of a “spectacle,” the characteristics of representative practices is of great social and cultural significance.

Visual culture and mass media: the formation of the vision and the production of visual images

The studies of gender images namely on cinematic material is due to the synthetic nature of the latter. Cinema reproduces the phenomena and images at various levels (visual, audiovisual), which allows the most complete and varied study of the phenomenon in question. The field of gender studies, as well as cinema, is a relatively young area of knowledge, however, today, when there are significant changes in aesthetic and moral standards, the concept of gender is particularly relevant in human social life, and thus falls within the scope of special scientific humanities interest.

A textual analysis of gender in the cinema is developing in two directions: a content analysis and semiotics. In the case of content analysis, there is an examination of the issues such as the role of psychological and physical qualities of women and men, appearing in a variety of genres; violence on the screen, etc. Formally, content analysis is defined as “a research technique of objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication” (Holtzman, 2000, p.22). This definition implies, first of all, that the scientist is not allowed to read between the lines because it can lead to biased conclusions. Content analysis is carried out on documentary or visual material, and the researchers formulated some categories that show aspects of the research, and then according to these categories, classify the content of the text. It is important to precisely identify the key concepts to minimize errors due to differences in the points of view of scientists. Thus, quantitative data are obtained which can be subjected to statistical processing. A typical conclusion of the content analysis of cinema can be the following: the emergence of violence on the screen is clearly exaggerated in comparison with reality. A typical derivation of feminist content analysis of cinema can be formulated like this: film production does not reflect the actual number of women in the world (51%) and their contribution to social development. For example, in the work of G.Tachman in 1978, based on the content analysis it is argued that the lack of positive images of women on television degrades the position of women in the labor market (Ceulemans, 1979).

Another method - semiology or semiotics - reveals the structure of meanings, not being limited to ascertaining the presence or absence of women in the cultural representations. The American philosopher Charles Peirce and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure laid the foundations of semiotics, and starting from the works of R. Barthes, semiology is becoming a popular method for studying the various forms of popular culture and artifacts from toys, hairstyles, and chips to the recipes, detergents, and Citroen car models (Ashmore and Del Boca, 1986). It is a fact that almost all can be considered as signs; at this, some signs and sign systems, such as words, are combined in the sign systems of language or images, which in turn, are combined into sign systems of art, photography, film, and television.

Good semiotic analysis necessarily evolves into a broader cultural criticism. Analytical problems which are solved in the study of representations of social inequality - this is, first, the definition of who is allowed and who is displaced to the periphery or outside the social acceptability. Second, the question of how in the representations gender, racial and other social differences are shaped, how boundaries are delineated, how the groups are compared to each other and are characterized relative to each other. For example, B. Gunter says about the need to read and understand the meaning of the plots, placing them in a specific social practice - who is the opposition to the protagonist, which is the function of the female character, and what is the social significance of these definitions (Gunter, 2002).

Some feminist studies (van Zoonen, 1994; Hill, 2000) rightly accuse cinema in maintaining gender roles stereotypes, suggesting that the audience falls under the influence of its sexist content. Others argue that movies, TV shows, and pornographic media, in particular, encourage men for aggressive and violent acts against women. Still, others use the logic of psychoanalytic theory and ideology, arguing that the film and the media contribute to the spread in the community and wider appreciation of the dominant ideology. In a typical research project, these arguments may be supplemented by a textual analysis of “gender roles,” “sexist constructions of femininity” (Hare-Mustin and Marecek, 1988; Burke and Stets, 2009), the theoretical assumptions about the reaction of the audience and the audience's interpretation of the text.

However, in addition to the semiotic tradition, the maintaining visual media messages is certainly affected by functioning in the public mind conceptualization about the purpose of presentation and high sense of social ontology and, accordingly, on the urgent problems that hamper their achievement and need to be addressed.

Accordingly, we can speak of two levels defining the semantic horizon analyzed visual text - value and problematic, together defining a conceptual framework of the image.

The conceptual analysis of the image actualizes the ability of visual sign to indicate the possible social problem, initiating in the author a creative impulse to the visual statement. Now signifying priority in the course of the study is shifted from iconicity to indexation - researchers should focus on the indexical nature of the sign in its relationship with the culture of everyday life, the ability to point to specific meanings in the culture and social relations. First of all, at this stage of the study, the meanings contemporary to the author are relevant, but in fact the hermeneutic task is a little deeper - to track down and fix possible synchronic relationship between the image era and the current situation, identify the association of meanings and values of the signs that establish in the minds of the interpreter a “hidden connection” with another eras, in which something immutable “shines”, relevant for today's mass audience (“eternal” values and their associated problems).

Creation of gender and ethnic stereotypes in the mass media and cinema

It is known that stereotypes in the perception of people from different countries have always existed and continue to exist. In many cases, they harm the mutual understanding and following them leads to sad consequences. Stereotypes in most cases are neutral, but when they are transferred from the individual to a group of people (social, ethnic, religious, racial, etc.), they often acquire a negative connotation.

For the first time, the term ‘stereotype’ was used by the classic of American journalism Walter Lippmann, who in 1922 published a book Public Opinion. By this word he was trying to describe the method by which society tries to categorize people. As a rule, public opinion simply puts the “stamp” based on certain characteristics. Lippmann identified four aspects of stereotypes (later many other grades appeared, which, however, largely followed the ideas of Lippmann). First, the stereotypes are always easier than the reality - stereotypes put complex characteristics in two or three sentences. Secondly, people acquire stereotypes (from friends, media and so forth) and do not formulate their own personal experience (Basow, 1992). Third, all stereotypes are false, to a greater or lesser extent. They always ascribe specific features of the person which he is obliged to have only because of his membership in a particular group. Fourth, stereotypes die hard. Even if people are convinced that the stereotype is untrue, they are not inclined to give it up and argue that the exception proves the rule. For example, meeting with high Chinese only convinces the ‘victim’ of stereotype is that all the other Chinese are of small stature.

Cuddy, Fiske and Glick, analyzing the concept of Walter Lippmann, believed that in contrast to the traditional, purely philosophical approach to consciousness, Lippmann as the main problem poses not epistemological problem (proportion in the true and false knowledge) but the functional problem of the already available impact, contained in the mind, knowledge about the subject on the perception of an object in direct contact with it. Moreover, special attention is paid to the sustainability of the knowledge fixed in the image, or, in the words of Walter Lippmann, a ‘picture in your head’. The stability of the stereotype is the main property, with which Lippmann tried to explain the problems arising in the process of shaping public opinion, which he understood as the collision of stereotypes, i.e. knowledge - ideas, each of which purports to be the only true (Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick, 2007).

Saera R. Khan, Professor of the University of San Francisco, published an article in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, which claims that trusting stereotypes is extremely dangerous. The stereotype has cognitive and motivational functions. From a cognitive point of view, the stereotype is a double-edged sword - it provides information in an easy and digestible form. However, this information is very far from reality and can mislead a person. From a motivational perspective, stereotypes are even more unreliable (Johnson, Freeman and Pauker, 2012).

According to social psychologist N.Signorielli, a stereotype is a popular concept that refers to an approximate group of people from the point of view of some easily discernible feature supported by the widespread notions concerning the properties of these people. The scientist believes that social stereotypes are formed through the distinguishing of the most prominent forms of behavior of a group of people classified in a certain way (Signorielli, 2001).

Consideration should be also given to the psychological theory of stereotype of GW Allport - a representative of the psychoanalytic school. He considers the stereotype as an integral part of the theory of prejudice. Prejudice, in the opinion of G. Allport, is a strong sympathy or antipathy, which is based on the erroneous use and is aimed at a group of people or an individual as a member of this group (Allport, 1979; Perkins, 1979).

Unlike Lippmann, Allport in his work does not relate the stereotype to rigidly fixed formations. In his view, the stereotype obediently adjusts to the prevailing nature of prejudice and the situation demands. What is important is the fact claiming on the development of an objective and universal theory of prejudice, and stereotype, GW Allport does not overlook the socio-cultural factors affecting these phenomena. He notes that “prejudices change, when their change has a social, economic, and personal meaning. Not all people are incurably blind to their illogical and harmful way of thinking” (Allport, 1979, p.55). It should be noted that Allport assigns an important role in changing the stereotypes or prejudices to the education. He believes that the education is struggling with excessive generalization and simplification, and since in the conditions of the development of society the level of education increases, the stereotyping should be reduced. Continuing the concept of Allport, it can be argued that one of the most important tools to change attitudes may be a cinema that can generate both positive and negative images of certain social groups.

On the question of the ratio of social stereotypes and attitudes, our position can be expressed in the following two provisions: firstly, social attitudes more appropriate to relate to the phenomenon of individual stereotypes, because group stereotypes are more complex phenomena of another order; secondly, the individual stereotypes, in our view, are not a component of a particular social facility or its specific form but rather appear as a special way of forming social attitudes.

Gender stereotypes are a special case of the stereotype and discover all of its properties. Gender stereotypes represent culturally and socially determined opinion about the qualities, attributes, and behaviors of both sexes and their reflection in language. Gender stereotypes are manifested in language as a judgment, in pointy simplifying and generalizing form with emotional coloring attributing a particular class of persons some properties, or, conversely, denying them these properties.

The specifics of ethnic identity are reflected in the culture, traditions, consciousness, people language. The social beliefs on ethnic groups, transmitted from generation to generation, are an integral part of an individual's identity. At the same time, even in the conditions of interethnic penetration, convergence between different ethnic groups, social representation of ethnic groups still act as one of the foundations of choosing the behavior strategies with a representative of a particular ethnic group. To a large extent, the content of ethnic contacts is destined to such a component of ethnic identity as the social representation of ethnic groups.

Over the past decade, we can be traced to a significant increase in the influence of the media on mass consciousness and the formation of stereotypes. For example N. Hunteman and M.Morgan offer three types of gender stereotypes in the media related to the activities of women (Hunteman and Morgan, 2001). These stereotypes are associated with what a woman should and should not do, but also with a certain ideal image of the multifunctional role, which linked action in all areas of a woman's life (family, career, appearance, etc.). These groups of stable simplified representations in the media generate a system of female characters which, on the one hand, reflect the existing social stereotypes about women, and on the other - form these stereotypes. Thus, it can be argued that the media influence the creation of new gender stereotypes and at the same time reflect the existing stereotypical attitudes in the society.

Cinema that arose in the late 19th century has become something more than just a new form of communication, a form a filling of which was something that already existed in the culture before. Of course, the cinema presented itself as an independent and significant phenomenon of a new era. The cinema, which in itself is a system and has a complex structure, realizes all the functions of the mass media - informational, educational, organization of behavior, entertainment, and communications.

Young wrote: “The movie belongs to the ideological struggle, culture, and art of its era. By these sides, it is connected with numerous film lying outside the text side of life, and it generates a train of values, which for the historian and contemporary times are more important than the actual aesthetic problems” (Young, 2006, p.66).

Noting the particular film narration, he said: “... in the movie all the time there is drowning a sequence of various extra-textual associations, socio-political, historical, cultural plan in a variety of quotes ... There is a story at the highest level as the installation of the diversity of cultural models” (Young, 2006, p.67).

Thus, the work of film art, as a kind of integrity, is closely related with a wide socio-cultural context that generates it. The perception of the film raises some associations, at first glance, not arising from its visual range. Apparently, such a connection with the reality of the text of the film is due to the specifics of the language, which the cinema operates. Cinematic ‘speech’ represents ‘prints’ of the visible and audible life. The spectator, captured by the screen image, is worried about the fate of the hero, as his own. He seems to be a part of the world of the film. A person ceases to be a mere observer of the events occurring on the screen. He is an active participant in them. Moreover, the plot twists and turns of the film give rise to the viewer associations, linking the artistic fabric of the picture with the reality that surrounds it.

Namely these features of cinematic - the closest connection with the real being of people, the film's ability to involve the audience in its space – cause the potential social impact of cinema, the possibility to carry out all functions of media in the complex.

Cinema is the main consumer and distributor of stereotypes. Unlike directors who likely already use existing stereotypes, promoting their further spread, journalists write what they see, and their notes can just serve as a basis for the creation of stereotypes.

However, with all the diversity of works, in one way or another affecting the problems of stereotyping, and at all the relevance of the theme of intercultural dialogue, research on the practical application of stereotypes in the popular areas such as cinema, are almost absent today.

Although stereotypes, of course, have the real ‘soil’ (e.g., “the symbolism of cities” is a reality that it is not necessary to fabricate), the result is largely determined by their qualities such as superficialism, stability, hyperbolicity, worsening the selectivity of their use in a cinema where recognition principle prevails over confidence.


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To what extent is the representation of Asian women in films a reflection of female at the time?
Yale University
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gender, women, film
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2017, To what extent is the representation of Asian women in films a reflection of female at the time?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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