Authored by Lindsey Leipsic

Representations of Women in Popular Culture



This wiki page deals with women in popular culture. This page explores women’s roles in fairytales such as Cinderella as well as the mainstream popular novels Twilight. It explains how women are often portrayed in a vulnerable and helpless position and the effects it has on young readers. I hope this wiki page will give my colleges ideas on how to teach popular media where there are blatant negative gender stereotypes.


Recently, author Stephanie Myer has become well known across the world because of her renowned series The Twilight Saga. Young girls, tweens, teenagers, young adults and women have become captured and obsessed with the characters in Myer’s highly acclaimed novels. I feel it is crucial to examine the ‘real’ affect it has on women, however, more importantly young girls. For centuries, feminists have argued against many issues of women’s role in the home and workplace. Despite the fact that statistics tell us that women still work the ‘double shift’ and earn less money than men, we have made great strides in recent years to women’s equality in the workforce and in the home. Men now take on more stereotypical gender roles at home ( and more women are becoming, executives, CEO’s, doctors, and lawyers. However, this is not to say, that young children, particularly girls, view their counter parts as equal. As educators, we must address these stereotypes in popular media and critically examine them with our students in hope to eradicate gender stereotypes.

From a young age ”Walt Disney’s Cinderella [is] used in elementary school…and gendered messages are understood and internalized by children…” (Baker-Sperry). Cinderella, a popular fairytale for young girls deals with explicit ideas of romantic love, mean stepsisters and a stepmother and happy endings. The implicit issues include the importance of beauty, gender roles and expectations as well as the notion of The Prince being rescuer and Cinderella being rescued.

The Definition of Popular Media:

is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred within mainstream society. Popular media is designed to reach a large audience.


What does popular media include?

  • Books
  • Films
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper
  • Advertisements
  • Internet

History and its Changes?

For centuries, females in fairytales have often been portrayed as vulnerable, helpless and passive. While fairytales may have a moral component for children and often end well, they do not always portray women in the most appropriate light. Snow White, the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are just a few examples o
f fairytales where the female characters are passive and vulnerable. For example, in the Little Mermaid, Ariel loses her voice and is therefore helpless. Belle in Beauty and the Beast is frightened of the Beast and is in constant fear of him even though she appears to be “a free thinker, stubborn and confident” ( Cinderella for example, lives with her stepmother and sisters in an awful house where she is their slave. Cinderella’s only chance of a happy life is to be saved by the prince where they then live happily every after.
Concerns that arise are how can somebody love a beast who is aggressive and emotionally abusive and why can Cinderella only be happy with the prince? Can she not run away from her abusive stepsisters and mother and start her own life?

Present day:

Unfortunately, Myer’s Twilight Saga is not much better than Disney’s fairytales in the 1930’s and 40’s. For example, in Twilight, Bella needs constant saving from her love, Edward. She is consistently in danger and needs to be rescued like Cinderella. It “seems that in Myer’s view, the world is too dangerous for Bella to navigate on her own; she needs a man…to protect her” (Siering 2). Bella needs to change her life by becoming a vampire in order to stay with Edward, just like Arial in “The Little Mermaid” had to change her life by receiving legs to be with Prince Eric.

Questions that arise are why can’t Bella fight back for herself?
Why does she always need protection?
Why does Ariel have to change her life to suite the Prince? Could he not have become a mermaid instead of she a human?

Notice here how Jacob, a character in Myer's novel is over top of Bella comforting and protecting her.
For more pictures of Bella lying in a helpless state check out this site:

What the Critics Say:

Many critics of Twilight view Bella as passive and claim she does not do anything more that go to school, cook, and clean for her dad. Carmen D Siering argues in her article “Taking a Bit Out of Twilight” that “the overriding message is that young women are incapable of understanding or controlling their own sexuality” (Siering 2). Bella is objectified in every novel as a girl who is incapable of taking care of herself. Both men in her life obsess with keeping her safe yet neither takes into consideration what she wants. One of the many discoursing messages for young girls who read Twilight is that it does not matter what you want but rather what your partner wants because ultimately, you will never come first.

For further information regarding Twilight and its critics check out this site:

Teaching Ideas and Mini Lessons

Ø As a class have students work in groups and re-read a popular fairytale such as Cinderella. Have them with high lighters or markers circle, underline, or highlight when the female character is vulnerable, helpless or passive. Give each student copies of the fairytale and have them together seek out negative stereotypes. After 10 to 15 minutes of group work, discuss as a class the negative connotations this particular fairytale has on young children.
Ø Watch part of a clip of one of Disney’s fairytales and then watch a clip of Twilight. Compare and Contrast the differences and similarities in both clips. Would work well in both small group discussion and class discussion.
Ø Have students work in small groups and act out a scene where the female character is portrayed as vulnerable.


: Have students re-write the ending to a popular fairytale of their choice. This is great way for students to practice free journal writing and it allows them to use their imagination. Give them little direction, as you want them to be as creative as possible. Allow them to draw pictures, change the story all together and present it to the class.


Have students watch this short youtube clip of Twilight. Most students have either read the series or have viewed the films. Have the class watch this clip and take another approach than the norm. Discuss the female protagonist's vocabulary. Are the other characters listening to her? Are they paying attention and do they even notice her? Discuss as a class how these mixed messages affect young readers.


The goal of this lesson is to have students think about what the media ejects to mainstream society. Not all media portrays women in a negative spotlight, however, as an audience, we must be critical when we read, view or listen to popular media. In the Ontario english language arts curriculum for grade 9, media literacy is an important aspect for students. It states that students will "reflect on and identify their strengths as media interpreters and creators, areas for improvement, etc" and students will "identify some media forms and explain how the conventions and techniques associated with them are used to create meaning" (52). Hopefully, with this lesson plan students will become critical about what the media promotes.


Baker-Sperry, Lori. (2007). "The Production of Meaning through Peer Interaction: Children and Walt Disney's Cinderella.
Women's Studies, Western Ilinois University. 56:717-727.

Baker-Sperry, L & Grauerholz, L. (2003) The persasvieness and persistence of the feminine beauty ideal in children's fairytales.
Gender and Society,17,711-726.

Clark, Kristal. (2009-2010). "Twilight's Bella Swan is a Feminist's Nightmare." Ucrave.

Disney, W. (1950). Cinderella [Film]. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios.

Siering, Carmen D. (2009) "Taking A Bite Out of Twilight." Volume 19, Issue 2

"Working Moms." (2007).

Zipes, J. (1997) Happily Ever After: New York: Routledge.