Think about your favourite tween TV shows. Is there a girl on them who isn’t pretty, or who doesn’t worry about how she looks?
A recent study, published in the journal Sex Roles, says that TV shows aimed at eight to 12 year olds send the message that girls should be attractive, no matter what other skills or talents they have, while boys don’t really have to worry about their appearance.
The study was done by two American researchers: Nancy Signorielle, a professor of communications, and Ashton Gerder, a graduate student.
The researchers looked at how gender roles were portrayed in 40 different popular TV shows from 2011, including iCarly, Hannah Montana, and Wizards of Waverly Place. Many of the shows feature slightly older teenage actors who tweens may look up to as role models.
The study found that male characters in the shows came in all levels of attractiveness, with most being described as “average.” The boys rarely worried about their appearance, or received comments on how they looked.
But more than half of the female characters were described as “very attractive,” and none were described as “unattractive.” The girls on the shows also worried more about how they looked, and received more comments on their appearance.
The researchers say this difference suggests (incorrectly) to young viewers that “males can be unattractive and still be a part of the story, but that, if you are a female, it is unacceptable to be unattractive.”
Tweens are at an age where they are forming ideas about who they are and how they should look and act.
According to the study, tweens watch more TV than any other age group (about four and a half hours per day). The more TV they watch, the more likely they are to be influenced by what they see.
That means tweens who are watching shows like those in the study could develop a very narrow idea about what type of behaviour is appropriate for each gender.
Some of the female characters in these shows also demonstrated technical skills or acted bravely. But the researchers said the message seemed to be that, even if girls can do everything boys can do, they still have to look pretty.
In addition, there are often more male characters than female in tween TV shows. The researchers said this could lead viewers to assume that men and boys are more important that women and girls.
The researchers suggested that parents can help reduce the possible negative impact of these shows by watching TV with their children and talking to them about what they see.
By Kathleen Tilly
The article concludes with this suggestion: “The researchers suggested that parents can help reduce the possible negative impact of these shows by watching TV with their children and talking to them about what they see.”
What else can be done to reduce the negative impact of these shows? What can parents, teachers and kids do?
Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
What is your favourite TV show? Who are the main characters? How would you describe the girls and the boys on the show? Do they have the same gender characteristics described in this article?
Extend understanding of texts by con- necting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).
Language Feature: Stereotypes
A stereotype is a widely-held belief about a type of person or thing. For example, the stereotype of girls in TV shows is that they are all pretty and they care about how they look.
What other stereotypes can you think of about girls and boys? How do these stereotypes make you feel?