Keeping Up with Limited Options

In a new study conducted by USC Annenberg and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, researchers looked at the way women are portrayed in the media. They analyzed nearly 12,000 speaking roles on prime-time TV and in children’s TV shows and family films, studying “female characters’ occupations, attire, body size and whether they spoke or not.”

 

The results were pretty depressing:

The team’s data showed that on prime-time television, 44.3 percent of females were gainfully employed — compared with 54.5 percent of males. Women across the board were more likely to be shown wearing sexy attire or exposing some skin, and body size trends were apparent: ‘Across both prime time and family films, teenaged females are the most likely to be depicted thin.’ … Perhaps most telling are the percentages of speaking female characters in each media form: only 28.3 percent of characters in family films, 30.8 percent of characters in children’s shows, and 38.9 percent of characters on prime time television were women.

 

… [R]esearchers reported that they found a lack of aspirational female role models in all three media categories, and cited five main observations: female characters are sidelined, women are stereotyped and sexualized, a clear employment imbalance exists, women on TV come up against a glass ceiling, and there are not enough female characters working in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] fields.”

 

Media messages reinforce sexist attitudes about what women are capable of achieving. As this study shows, female characters are significantly limited in the roles they play — they’re often relegated to supporting roles, as characters less central to the plot, and as sex objects. This impacts how girls grow up feeling about their own abilities and what opportunities are open to them, and it also affects how boys learn to view girls — who gets to be the star, who gets to be the boss, and who’s supposed to just sit there and look pretty:

“Both young girls and boys should see female decision-makers, political leaders, managers, and scientists as the norm, not the exception. By increasing the number and diversity of female leaders and role models on screen, content creators may affect the ambitions and career aspirations of girls and young women domestically and internationally.”

 

Read more about the study at Huffington Post.

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