Social Contracts: Media Articulation Annotated Bibliography

Pages: 10 (3049 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

174). Moreover, shifts in the popular perception of same-sex marriages will likely be reflected in the content of mainstream media coverage. For instance, Holz-Ivory et al. add that, "When these groups finally do attain visibility, their representation will reflect the biases and interests of those elites who define the public agenda" (2008, p. 174). Just as the gay and lesbian community has used high-profile events such as parades to heighten community awareness, there is a growing recognition among proponents of same-sex marriage that the mainstream media is a key strategic device to gaining support from the "straight" American public. For instance, according to Landau, "Countless communication scholars argue that visibility in mass media is an important goal of the gay and lesbian movement because some recognizable representational form of homosexuality is necessary for political power and equality of gays and lesbians and fundamental to developing their identities" (2009, p. 81). Even in the Age of Information where consumers have access to an enormous array of information sources, the mainstream media still plays a formative role in shaping American popular opinion, making the balanced and fair portrayal of homosexuals a particularly important enterprise. As Landau concludes, "Portrayals of gays and lesbians in mainstream news discourse are significant since news stories and photojournalism play a role in constructing (gay) politics in contemporary American civic life" (2009, p. 81). Since the perception of media messages is a highly subjective experience, it is important to identify what terminology and characterizations are typically used in the media to portray same-sex marriage in general and same-sex marriage compared to traditional marriage in particular and these issues are discussed further below.

Media Portrayal

Contrasting methods of portrayal of Homosexual and Heterosexual Marriage:

Annotated Bibliography on Social Contracts: Media Articulation of Assignment

While public opinion is shaped by a wide range of individual-specific factors, one of the more powerful influences, particularly in recent years, has been the mainstream media (Nitz, Ihlen, Egge & Sobolik, 2009). The different and frequently contrasting methods that are used by various media sources to portray homosexuals and heterosexual marriages therefore represent a valuable indicator of middle-of-the-road as well as the more extremes that exist concerning same-sex marriages. Researchers have used a number of different analytical methods for this purpose. A content analysis by Landau (2009) concerning the content of mainstream U.S. news stories and photographs of same-sex marriages in the United States during the period from 2004 to 2005 identified repeated "homophobic, (hetero)sexist, and heteronormative constructions" in media content during this period (p. 80). A more recent study by Li and Liu (2010) also used content analysis to examine the balance and fairness of the coverage of same-sex marriage coverage by five American newspapers to determine the extent, if any, of reporter bias. Based on their content analysis of more than 200 same-sex stories in these five newspapers, Li and Liu (2010) determined that in sharp contrast to the findings of the Landau (2009) study, generally, same-sex marriage coverage was balanced and fair.

Interestingly, the popular perceptions of same-sex marriages tend to reflect the same gender-based relationships that characterize traditional marriages, with one partner playing the role of the masculine "husband" and the other the more submissive "wife" irrespective of their sex (Holz-Ivory et al., 2008). These researchers, though, emphasize that many same-sex marriages do not fit this stereotype: "Stereotypes tend to depict same-sex couples as having both a masculine and feminine partner who performs traditional gender roles. But, in reality, this is not often the case, as links between sexual orientation and masculinity and femininity are extremely variable" (Holz-Ivory et al., 2008, p. 174).

Therefore, even to the extent to which the mainstream media depicts traditional man-woman marriage as being gendered in this fashion will likely be the extent to which perceptions about same-sex marriages that are predicated on these gender roles in traditional marriages will also be inaccurate with respect to same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, stereotypes are difficult to erase from the social consciousness, and tend to be self-reinforcing in ways that defy logic. For example, when heterosexual couples witness homosexual couples behaving in gendered roles as "husband" and "wife," such Stereotypes will not only be reinforced, they will be absolutely confirmed in the minds of the observers. Even when presented with episode after episode of contrary behavior by other gay couples, these behaviors will be ignored or discounted as being anomalous and the same process is in operation with respect to how same-sex marriages are portrayed in the media. The results of the content analysis of television programming conducted by Holz-Ivory and her associates (2008) identified gendering for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, an outcome the authors suggest can perpetuate negative gender-based stereotypes and flawed modeling of gender-typed behaviors.

Television programming is not entirely to blame for these types of gendered portrayals, with popular romance literature reflecting the same types of ingrained gender-based characterizations being used to frame romantic encounters in every permutation of human relations. For instance, Gill and Herdieckerhoff (2006) used a thematic analysis approach to examine gendered roles in Harlequin-type romance literature (so-called "chick lit") and report that, "Notions of heterosexual romance against the backdrop of significant cultural and demographic changes, including divorce [have increased] on a unprecedented scale [as well as] an increase in the number of single person households, and a diversification of family forms (including stepfamilies, lesbian and gay families, and the notion of 'friends as the new family')" (p. 490). An interesting finding to emerge from the Gill and Herdieckerhoff (2006) study was that in a "post-feminist world," modern women are expected to become sexually proficient with numerous partners irrespective of sex as reflected in numerous feminist goals. Their research indicated that this was not what many women wanted in reality, but the expectation was perpetuated in the romance literature nevertheless (Gill & Herdieckerhoff, 2006).

This finding is supported in part by a recent study that used a unique coding scheme and scripting theory in an analysis of television programming to examine how sexual messages are gendered and take place in a relational context from a feminist perspective (Kim, Sorsoli, Collins, Zylbergold, Schooler & Tolman (2007). These researchers emphasized that there was a need for these types of studies from a feminist perspective because the vast majority of previous studies have been from cultivation or social learning theoretical perspectives and the potential for researcher bias existed as a result of repeated exposure to sexually oriented content (Kim et al., 2007). Based on their innovative analysis, Kim et al. report that, "Our codes captured depictions of boys/men and girls/women thinking, feeling, and behaving in relational and sexual encounters in ways that sustain power inequalities between men and women" (2007, p. 145). These gender-based depictions included stereotypical masculine and feminine behaviors: "Male characters most frequently actively and aggressively pursued sex. Less frequently but still at high rates were depictions of female characters willingly objectifying themselves and being judged by their sexual conduct" (Kim et al., 2007, p. 145).

Finally, a study by Hetsroni (2007) took advantage of the growing body of content analyses concerning sexual content on American television programming. This researcher used a longitudinal meta-analysis of 25 content analyses studies of American prime-time network programming during the period between 1975 and 2004 to determine the frequency per hour of most of the sexual contents. Although overall frequency per hour consistently decreased during the study period, the overall decrease was only with respect to traditional heterosexual relations, illegal sexual exchanges and sexual behavior messages (Hetsroni, 2007). By contrast, Hetsroni found that, "Homosexuality is an exception, as its frequency increased considerably over the past 2 decades" (2007, p. 318).

By and large, the overall theme that emerged from the different analytical approaches to examining media portrayals of heterosexual and homosexual relations in general and same-sex marriages in particular was that researchers were able to find exactly what they were looking to support their hypotheses depending on how they analyzed the data and interpreted their findings in ways that mirror the manner in which stereotypes are perpetuated. Despite these shortcomings and constraints, these studies represent a valuable benchmark for future studies, including this one, with respect to how their methodologies were used and their findings interpolated with the existing body of knowledge.


Black's law dictionary. (1999). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co.

14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (2011). Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://

Gallagher, M. (2006, May 15). Banned in Boston. The Weekly Standard, 11(33), 3.

Gill, R. & Herdieckerhoff, E. (2006). Rewriting the romance. New femininities in chick lit?

Feminist Media Studies, 6(4), 487-508.

Hetsroni, A. (2007). Three decades of sexual content on prime-time network programming: A

longitudinal meta-analytic review. Journal of Communication, 57, 318-348.

Holz-Ivory, A., Gibson, R. & Ivory, J.D. (2008). Gendered relationships on television:

Portrayals of same-sex and heterosexual couples. Mass Communication… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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