Friday, August 10, 2007

Gender Equality in Television

I wrote this paper for a recent sociology course I was in. It's somewhat narrow in scope and certainly more in depth research should be done for clarification, but it is representative. I removed my personally identifying information. If you'd like to use part of this for scholastic or educational purposes, just drop me an e-mail at drexxell@hotmail.com to get written permission.

As Assessment of
Gender Equality in Television


Abstract

Television is the primary source of information for more than eighty-five percent of the population in the United States of America. Over the past several decades, television has been the focus of many research projects designed to identify and point out differences in national representation as it relates to portrayal of characters in day-time, prime-time, and weekend television programs. Researchers have also studied content in commercials in these three viewing periods to identify portrayed gender differences and target audiences. This report is an evaluation and comparison of the work of John Condry (1989) focusing on sex and gender inequalities in television programs and commercial advertisements.

An Assessment of
Gender Equality in Television


As early as the 1950’s and 1960’s, the content of television programs and commercial advertisements has been the focus of research for many psychologists and sociologists. Hundreds of studies have been generated to measure varying effects of sex role portrayal in children viewers; differences in gender equality as it relates to traditional and non-traditional gender associations; the effects of viewing violence by children; and the effects of viewing changing attitudes of sexual permissiveness in society, to name a few. It is, however, important to continue to generate research on this topic as children are more and more involved in digital media such as television, movies, and video games. These issues should be studied further because of the influence that television programming and commercial advertising has on young children and adolescents, as well as adults.

Social Developmentalist John Condry (1989), after reviewing and performing secondary analysis on over 660 secondary sources, concluded that, “Even though women make up the majority of the audience, television is a world of men” (p.68). Television viewing behaviors (the amount of time watching television) are also important to note as television viewing “has replaced the family as a source of recreation” (Eshleman & Bulcroft, 2006, p. 69). Additionally, television is frequently used as a baby-sitting tool and claims have been made that American children spend more time watching television than they spend in school (Eshleman & Bulcroft, p. 56). These notes are especially important as parents have been replaced as role models by children’s favorite television characters allowing children to gain their moral and social attitudes from network directors, sit-com producers, or commercial marketers.

All of this information presents a sociological issue that, while it has been studied, has not been addressed in terms of resolution. The objective of this report was to evaluate current television programming and commercial advertisements and to discuss the potential impact on today’s children and adolescents.

Method

Sample

Due to the narrow scope of the assignment and the limited time allotted to complete the research, I confined my viewing periods of daytime and prime time television programs and commercial advertisements from Monday July 23rd, 2007 to Friday July 27th, 2007. All daytime viewing was done between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM Eastern Time and covered 10 half hour situation comedies in syndication and 140 commercial advertisements. All prime time viewing was done between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM Eastern Time and covered 5 one hour long night-time dramas in syndication and 190 commercial advertisements. All viewings were digitally recorded and played back for observation. The channels observed were available on local broadcast networks not requiring cable to obtain.

Qualifications for Inclusion in Analysis

Statistical data resultant of these observations was produced by only counting actors or actresses who played significant roles in the television programs or commercial advertisements. Extras and background actors or actresses were not included in this analysis. Actors and actresses were not sorted by age or race; only by gender. Thus, the resultant data include all ages and all racial/ethnic categories.

Results
For the television programs in the specified daytime viewing time frame, I found that the ratio of male to female performers was 1.2:1. Additionally, for commercial advertisements in the same time frame, the ratio was 1:1 while the ratio for voiceovers for the commercial advertisements was .7:1. Commercial advertisements were broken down into the following groups: alcohol; cellular phone service; charity; female beauty; female hygiene; finances/money; food; insurance; internet services; legal services; medical services; and real estate/timeshares. Categories where the ratio of male to female performers was significantly disproportionate in favor of men (≥ 2:1) included: alcohol; cellular phone service; food; insurance; and legal services. Categories where the ratio of male to female performers was significantly disproportionate in favor of women (≤ .5:1) included: charity; female beauty; and female hygiene. Categories where men and women were portrayed equally in number, or without significant disproportion, (> .5:1 through < 2:1) were: finances/money; internet services; medical services; and real estate/timeshares.

For the television programs in the specified primetime viewing time frame, I found that the ratio of male to female performers was 2.7:1. Additionally, for commercial advertisements in the same time frame, the ratio was 2.2:1 while the ratio for voiceovers for the commercial advertisements was 3.5:1. Commercial advertisements were broken down into the following groups: advertisements for other television programs; automobiles; cellular phone service; cleaning products; education; food; insurance; medical services; real estate/timeshares; and travel. Categories where the ratio of male to female performers was significantly disproportionate in favor of men (≥ 2:1) included: advertisements for other television programs; automobiles; cellular phone service; food; and insurance. Categories where the ratio of male to female performers was significantly disproportionate in favor of women (≤ .5:1) included education only. Categories where men and women were portrayed equally in number, or without significant disproportion, (> .5:1 through < 2:1) were: cleaning products; medical services; real estate/timeshares; and travel.

Discussion

My overall assessment of the data supports Condry’s (1989) claim that television is a man’s world. This is not only evident in the majority of the sex ratios depicted in television programs and commercial advertisements disproportionately favoring men, but also in the roles that the characters assume.

In daytime television programs, the sex ratio is only slightly imbalanced at 1.2:1. However, male characters were portrayed as having jobs such as executive; junior copywriter; doctor; psychiatrist; police detective; actor/model; and paleontologist. Female characters, on the other hand, were assigned jobs like waitress; radio station producer; fashion designer; chef; musician; and physical therapist. While categorizing jobs such as these as masculine or feminine is subjective at best, it appears that men are portrayed in higher status positions. With only a few exceptions, all characters observed were young (less than 35), in good physical shape (male), and thin and attractive (female).

In daytime commercial advertisements, the sex ratio is equally balanced at 1:1. However, subjective assessments of gender roles become concrete objective assessments as men are portrayed in positions of authority, as decision makers for financial issues, or as working in a traditionally masculine job like construction worker; tow-truck drivers or business executive. In advertisements concerning food, men were portrayed as decision makers as it relates to choice of restaurants, but women were depicted as decision makers in terms of groceries. Advertisements for services, more often than not, portrayed women in need of assistance and men as having expert knowledge or the power to provide the required assistance. In advertisements for female beauty products, women were shown as focused on personal appearance while men, if present, were depicted as inept or as only seeing a woman in terms of how she looked. In medical advertisements, characters of both sexes discussed issues from diabetes to Medicare to adhesive bandages; however, men were shown playing golf or otherwise out of the home setting and women were shown in the home in all cases. In the instances of adhesive bandages, women were shown in the home treating the skinned knees, chins, or elbows of their children. In commercial advertisements where women were shown as having the same status position as men, in terms of employment, the women were out numbered 3 to 1 and women were never depicted in supervisory roles.

In night time dramas, the sex ratio was close to Condry’s (1989) findings of 3:1 (2.7:1). Male characters were shown in positions of authority, leadership, or power; i.e. congressman; lobbyist; district attorney; police captain; college professor; business executive; and murderer. Female characters were typically shown in positions of service or weakness; i.e. waitress; cashier; victim; and police informant; however, one female character was portrayed as a medical examiner. In the instances where men and women were depicted as having the same status position, in terms of employment, women were out numbered 4 to 1. Overall, in prime time viewing, men not only out number women in terms of characters, they seem to dominate the higher status positions. The majority of characters portrayed were young, in fit physical condition (men), or were thin and attractive (women).

Commercial advertisements during the specified television programs were closer to 2:1 (2.2:1). The data indicate a slight improvement of the 1989 findings. Traditional gender role portrayal in prime time commercial advertisements is far greater than the ratio of performers indicates. Especially of note is that while advertisements for cleaning products have a sex ratio of 1.1:1, females are depicted as those who clean and males are shown as those who enjoy the cleanliness or the fresh scent of the product. Also of interest are the addition of some advertisement categories and the elimination of others between daytime and prime time viewing. Prime time advertisements did not include the categories of: alcohol; charity; female beauty; female hygiene; finances/money; internet services; or legal services. Categories included in prime time advertisements that were not included in daytime advertisements included: advertisements for other television programs; automobiles, cleaning products; education; and travel.

The inclusion of the category of automobiles in prime time viewing of commercial advertisements is incredibly important. There was an average of 5 automobile commercials for each 1 hour night time drama. There were no females shown in any of the automobile commercials. Men were depicted driving over rough terrain and in general shown as tough and masculine. This indicates that men are the dominant decision makers in terms of automobile purchases.

Also interesting is the inclusion of advertisements for other television programs. The sex ratio for these commercial advertisements was 2.2:1 and the gender inequalities were even more pronounced than in the night time drama itself. Men were depicted as tough, strong, masculine and assumed positions of power and prestige while women were shown scantily clad in short skirts, revealing tops, or as wearing bikinis in a beach setting.

It is noteworthy to point out that all advertisements for food in the prime time area were for restaurants and not for groceries. The sex ratio for these commercial advertisements in prime time was 5.4:1 compared to the 2:1 ratio for daytime commercial advertisements for food. In all cases where women were in food commercials, they were portrayed as service providers while men were shown as consumers. This solidifies the male as the decision maker in terms of choice of restaurant.

Another drastic difference in sex ratio from daytime to prime time is in the category of cellular phone service. The daytime sex ratio is 2:1 while the prime time ratio is 8:1. In those cases where women were in the advertisements, they were portrayed as needing service (asking for directions) or as fulfilling a service role (customer service representative) while men were portrayed as having expert knowledge. This also leads a viewer to believe that men are the decision makers in terms of cellular phone service.

These findings seem to support Conrdy’s (1989) claim that in situation comedies, men and women are generally portrayed as more egalitarian and equal; and that night time dramas are specifically catered to a male audience. They also support earlier findings of gender inequality in commercial advertisements, especially in prime time viewing. The significance of these findings is that as children and adolescents view the content of these television programs and commercial advertisements, they become acclimated to the ideas that men and women are not and can not be equals. As it relates to television content in daytime and prime time viewing hours, gender inequality begets itself.

References

Condry, J. (1989). The psychology of television. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Eshleman, J.R., & Bulcroft R.A. (2006). The family. Boston: Pearson



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