Gender roles and prime-time television

By Lauren Turner

Jack Glascock, an assistant professor at Illinois State University, wrote an article called Viewer Perception of Gender Roles on Network Prime-Time Television. He studied a group of college students and their perceptions of major female and male characters in comedy and drama shows. Since adults spend such a large amount of time watching television, the author posits that the way certain genders are portrayed on TV shows has an effect on the men and women who watch them. In the 1970’s, a scale was created to measure gender orientation of characters in TV shows, called the BSRI scale. In the first study using this scale in 1979, male characters were seen by the audience as “supermasculine,” while the female roles were more normal or feminine.

Glascock hypothesized that the college students would see the male characters as less masculine in recent prime-time TV shows than they were viewed in the 70’s, that male characters would seem more masculine in drama shows than comedies, and that, because of changes in culture since the 70’s, female characters would be seen as more equal on a masculinity scale.

The test was done by asking the college students to rate the main characters in certain shows as masculine or feminine on the BSRI scale. A huge difference was found. In 1976, the original test had 81% of male characters and 19% of female characters rated masculine, but in 1997, 36% of male characters and 25% of female characters were rated masculine. And the femininity ratings changed from the old study as well, in which 0% of male characters and 24% female characters were rated as being more feminine, to 10% of male characters and 17% of female characters in the more recent study. In comedy shows, women were actually seen as more masculine and men are more feminine.

Although TV characters are seen as less stereotyped in this study than in the 1970s, Glascock says that in order to make gender roles more equal, male characters need to be shown as being more caring, giving, and sensitive.

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Facebook & Grassroots Political Mobilization

By Robin Spielberger

Many have studied the varying relationships in the online public sphere of Facebook, from how messages spread within networks and the impact of the “influencer” on the individual, to how romantic actions such as becoming “Facebook Official” have transformed social norms.

An important area of debate revolves around the role of “strong ties” and “weak ties” – a measurement of the true depth of connections between individuals – in determining the behavior of online networks and their power to influence the offline world. Robin1

A study conducted in 2012 and published in the journal Nature, entitled “A 61 Million Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization,” tested the idea that one’s voting behavior could be significantly influenced by messages found in News Feed on Facebook.

On Election Day, during the Congressional mid-terms of 2010, more than 60 million Facebook users were shown notifications on the top of their News Feeds, encouraging them to vote.

These notifications pointed to nearby polling locations, offered a places to click “I voted” and displayed icons of select friends who had already voted.

Two smaller groups of users were given messages encouraging them to vote but no data concerning which of their friends had voted, or were not given any messages concerning voting at all.

Robin3The University of California at San Diego and Facebook were able to analyze the voting behavior of approximately 6 million people using public records.  For this study, “close friends” were defined by how many times the users interacted online and were assumed to be more likely to have offline interactions.

The researchers found:


  • The data suggested that the Facebook social message increased voter turnout directly by close to 60,000 voters and indirectly by another 280,000 voters, totaling over 340,000 additional votes.
  •  “Strong ties” between Facebook friends proved to be much more influential than “weak ties.”  The “close friends” exerted at least four times more influence on the total number of voters mobilized than the generic message encouraging users to vote.  This indicates that online mobilization works because it spreads through “strong-tie” networks that have a good probability of existing offline but certainly have an online representation.
  •  “To put these results in context, it is important to note that [voter] turnout has been steadily increasing in recent U.S. midterm elections, from 36.3% of the voting-age population in 2002 to 37.2% in 2006, and to  37.8% in 2010.”
  •  The 340,000 additional votes which were attributed to Facebook notifications represent approximately “0.14% of the voting population of about 236 million in 2010.…It is possible that more of the 0.60% growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook.”

The researchers note that this study has a number of implications:

“First and foremost, online political mobilization works.  It induces political self-expression, but it also induces information gathering and real, validated voter turnout.  Although previous research suggested that online messages do not work, it is possible that conventional sample sizes may not be large enough to detect the modest effect sizes shown here.  We also show that social mobilization in online networks is significantly more effective than informational mobilization alone.  Showing familiar faces to users can dramatically improve the effectiveness of a mobilization message.”

For more information about Facebook Politics click here.


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Women in the Media: A Real Life Game of Where’s Waldo? Erm, Wilma.

By Rachel Wilhite

Most of us are familiar with the popular children’s series, Where’s Waldo?, but did you know Waldo had a girlfriend?  The relationship was short-lived, with Wilma only appearing in two books from the series.  Also clad in the infamous red-and-white-striped sweater, Wilma was no doubt as difficult to find as her male counterpart—but why weren’t we given more chances to find her?  Sadly, the search for Wilma continues into adulthood.

In her piece, “Content Analysis of Gender Roles in Media: Where Are We Now and Where Should We Go?,” Rebecca Collins (2011) weaves together the common themes from 21 content analyses that appeared in two special issues of Sex Roles.  These themes included:

  • Women are under-represented across a variety of media.
  • If women are portrayed, they are often stereotyped or subordinate.
  • Women are sexualized in roles that are not about sex, but rather “sexy women.”

While these themes should not come as a surprise, the severity of the implications might.  From 1969 to 1978, prime time television males outnumbered females almost three to one.  Producers argued that women did not serve in societal roles that would interest the average television viewer, since men also outnumbered women in the workforce.  In 2008, the ratio of working men and women was almost equal, but the rate of female television appearances has not improved.  In 2011, small screen representation of American women still reflected life in the 1950s. 

And these numbers could be affecting women’s health.  As embarrassing as it may be to admit, many of us learn about health problems through watching television featuring health-related content.  In 2010, women comprised less than 40% of roles in fictional medical programming.  The storylines in which women appeared most often discussed women’s health issues only—not broader concerns that could affect everyone.  Unfortunately, fewer storylines about women could be the equivalent to less information for women. 

Female representation on game consoles is dismal as well.  Only 70 out of 489 (1:7) characters in best-selling video games are women.  41% of these characters wore revealing clothing and an equal number were partially or totally nude.  These games also unrealistically depict female bodies.

The lack of female representation may also affect the nature and quality of political debate surrounding gay rights.  In 2010, the ratio for female coverage of gay rights in U.S. newspapers was 3 to 1.  “Male perspectives, which are more negative toward gay persons than females,’ dominated the views expressed, and may have helped to limit support for same-sex marriage,” Collins stated.

Finally, the current ratio of men to women in top-grossing, G-rated films is 2.57 to 1.  If you can’t be what you can’t see, what does this mean for young girls across the country?  Wilma can’t be found if she wasn’t there to begin with.  Collins’ work illustrates that finding women depicted positively in the media is like finding a needle in a haystack, or in this case, a woman in a red-and-white-striped sweater.

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The Ladies of Bond, James Bond

By David L. Morris II

The article Shaken and Stirred: A content analysis of women’s portrayals in James Bond films by Neuendorf, K. A., Gore, T. D., Dalessandro, A., Janstova, P.,  and  Snyder-Suhy, S. explores how the depiction of women has changed over time in a series of male-dominated action films. Specifically, it looks at 195 female characters in 20 James Bond films. Because women in films are typically portrayed in negative, stereotypical ways, there is concern that this repeated imagery is likely to have an impact on the viewers.

The first three research questions proposed by the authors dealt with the timeline of Bond films. They were curious if the physical characteristics, sexual activity, and the amount and level of violence against female characters had changed over time. The final research question had three separate subsections: an examination of whether there is a tie between the roles women play, how they look, and ultimately if these are precursors to that character being killed.

The authors of this research decided to use a research tool called content analysis. This tool is used much in the way that scientists use experiments to gather data that can then be reviewed in order to draw some conclusions relevant to the research questions. With content analysis, a group of individuals, in this case eight grad students, watched the films and recorded what they witnessed. In order for the grad students to watch and record information similarly, the authors created a codebook. This codebook was basically an instruction manual of what it is they were looking for. The grad students were looking for things such as the relevance of the female role in the film based on screen time, demographics, and physical characteristics.

After all eight coders had watched all of the 20 films, their code sheets were compiled together to form a dataset. That dataset was then processed through several statistical models in order to look for correlations and patterns that might provide insight into answering the research questions.

The data showed that as time went by there were more female characters, and that they became more sexually active in the films. Also increasing as time progressed was the female characters likelihood of being the victim of bodily harm. Physical characteristics such as hair changed progressively in accordance with time period. However, body type was consistent in all the films. This body type of course was unrealistically thin.

The authors believe that through their findings women are continuing to be portrayed as highly sexual and also as disposable. Of the young, attractive, and slender women of the Bond universe, nearly 20% end up deceased by the end of the film. It is the authors’ belief that there is a strong link between sex and violence that evokes stronger emotions in male viewers of this kind of content. This is based on the lack of changes in women’s depiction in the Bond franchise and its ongoing success.

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Motivations for using MySpace and Facebook

By Amelia Ables

Uses and gratifications theory explains the reasons people use certain media and what keeps them coming back.  Essentially, it explains the needs and wants of the users and how these needs and wants are satisfied, in this case through the use of social media.  The uses and gratifications of MySpace and Facebook are discussed in an article in Human Communication by Mark A. Urista, Qingwen Dong, and Kenneth Day, which reported the results of focus groups conducted with 50 undergraduate young adults.

The five main uses for MySpace and Facebook that were discovered were efficient communication, convenient communication, curiosity about others, popularity, and relationship information and reinforcement.

The study shows why young adults use social network sites.   It shows that through the use of social media, they are able to get the things they want quickly and are therefore satisfied.

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Real Women and Definitions of Beauty

By Jessica Rainer

The 2004 Dove Campaign was meant to “inspire women and society to think differently about what is defined as beautiful.” The campaign used models of different shapes, sizes ages and personalities. Advertisements asked consumers questions such as “wrinkled or wonderful?” “Flawed or flawless?” They didn’t use flashy clothes or high-fashioned models in the advertisements; instead, they wanted the audience “to view the products on their real selves.” Dove campaign

In the study Real Women on Real Beauty, Kimberly Bissell and Amy Rask tested whether the exposure to average-sized women in the campaign would result in short-term lower self-discrepancy (a gap between one’s self-representations) or less identification with the thin ideal.

The study found that “because of the discrepancy between what is expected and what is real, women are left with psychological dispositions which cause low self-internalization (identification) and self-esteem.”

I personally feel that the media has definitely altered our views of what “real beauty,” is, and that many women have low self-esteem because of the airbrushed, photo-shopped models and actors that they see on advertisements. I think the media has influenced young and older women’s views of their body and appearance and  caused them to get plastic surgery to change their appearance; it has also led to anorexia, bulimia etc.

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Spiraling into silence online? An evaluation of public opinion expression on the Internet

By Barry Parks

Developed in 1977, the spiral of silence is a social science and mass communication theory that has been the focus of much academic study.  Spiral of silence author Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann hypothesized that individuals who hold majority opinion on moral issues are more likely to voice their opinion in public setting.  Conversely, Noelle-Neumann speculated that individuals whose opinions were in the minority faction were less likely to speak up about their opinions, leading to isolation of that opinion.  In this process, Noelle-Neumann concluded that majority thought on a controversial issue eventually becomes a social norm.

While Noelle-Neumann’s research focused on public discourse before the development of the Internet, studies in more recent years have considered how the spiral of silence functions in the online environment.  A study by Liu and Fahmy sought to evaluate the theory within the new means of interpersonal communication offered by the internet.  Describing the online environment as a new type of community, the authors conducted survey research to determine if the spiral of silence theory is as documentable online as it is within public discourse.

To conduct their research, Liu and Fahmy surveyed 503 college undergraduates on the topic of same-sex marriage.  This issue was chosen for its controversial and moral nature.  The survey subjects were questioned as to their likely behavior in discussing this topic in three online settings (in a chat room, by commenting on a blog, and by interaction on a gay website) and in three offline settings (at a party, in a meeting with strangers, and in a gay bar). The survey evaluated the relative outspokenness of the respondents and their tendency to retain their usual public behaviors in online settings.  Behaviors were also analyzed based on the demographics of those surveyed, as well as other traits such as political efficacy and perceived sense of social benefit from participating in any kind of discourse on sensitive matters.

Results of the research survey indicated that the spiral of silence theory operates similarly online as it does in offline settings.  Those who possess minority opinion and who are less likely to be outspoken in public settings are also less likely to be vocal about their opinions online.  And conversely, those who tend to be publically outspoken and who possess majority opinion will more likely be outspoken online, corroborating Noelle-Neumann’s theory.

The authors identified several factors that contributed to these findings.  Basically, they contended that the very nature of the internet can contribute to the spiral of silence online. Even though the internet seemingly offers greater opportunity to be outspoken, survey results indicated that those holding minority opinion and who are hesitant to express it in public discourse tend to be hesitant in the online setting as well.  The authors established that the internet as a community can offer a false sense of being in the majority on an opinion, which discourages participation.  Further, the vast amount of information and opinion available on the internet can discourage users from participating in conversation at all due to feeling overwhelmed.  Finally, because many internet users will choose to remain anonymous and therefore are empowered to be more aggressive in their online communication, more timid users will sense an even greater fear of repercussion and attack for expressing minority viewpoints.

Suggestions for future research included testing whether user perceptions of online discourse are actually accurate, as well as research into how individuals actually assess public opinion in general.




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Rape Culture on Campus

By Zach Losher

Communicating/Muting Date Rape: A Co-Cultural Theoretical Analysis of Communication Factors Related to Rape Culture on a College Campus by Ann Burnett, Jody L. Mattern, Liliana L. Herakova, David H. Kahl, Jr., Cloy Tobola & Susan E. Bornsen, attempts to explain rape culture on college campuses. The researchers conducted nine focus groups (five female only, two men only, two male/female mix). These groups were prompted to discuss their attitudes, perceptions or experience of rape by co-researchers. The researchers found that throughout pre- and post-rape situations, potential rape victims are muted, or their concerns are never adequately met because they are not part of the dominant group. The findings are consistent with muted group theory. Furthermore, muted groups form co-cultures that are subordinate to the dominant culture. These co-cultures attempt to navigate their status as subordinates by accommodation, assimilation, and separation.

The nine focus groups consisted of college students attending an average sized Midwestern university. Two of these groups consisted of fraternity members and one contained sorority members. In addition, a mixed group and one all-female group were composed of student athletes. The co-researchers used phenomenological inquiry to gather descriptions of lived experiences and examine essential themes.

The researchers developed a model based on their investigation. The focus groups revealed a general consensus about stranger rape, but researchers found date rape to be ambiguously defined. The model illustrates how societal ambiguity about date rape mutes potential and actual victims. The muting also affects dialogue about date rape and may reinforce cultural norms.

Because victims are muted, they tend to be the ones who are ostracized instead of the perpetrator. This causes many instances of rape to go unreported or uninvestigated, which the researchers suggest strengthens rape myths. These myths help perpetuate the behavior because potential victims are not well informed or they may succumb to peer pressure.

Due to these conditions, the researchers argue that college females make up a co-cultural group that must create awareness and a way of talking about rape in order to change rape culture. They must adopt the communicative strategies of the dominant culture and use these tools to make their needs part of the dominant culture.

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Twitter hashtags serve dual role: Organizing content and creating community

By John Stevenson

Twitter and other social media microblogging websites have gained popularity in recent years—and the large volume of information can be overwhelming for both novice and experienced users of these platforms. The hashtag emerged as a way for Twitter users to group and navigate through topics, by attaching a word or code to the end of the message, with the word or phrase being led by the “#” symbol. These keywords allowed users to group and receive news and messages that were relevant to that topic.

But the role of the hashtag may be more complex than the bookmarking of content. Hashtags can serve as a symbol of community, allowing users to virtually converse directly on the Twitter platform without the need for an external chat room. The dual role of the hashtag is to allow users to label and curate content related to a topic, but also become a member of a virtual community. “By creating a hashtag, a user either invents and shares a new bookmark (of content), or initializes and spreads a coat of arms (of a community), or both, ” write researchers, Lei Yang, Tao Sun, Ming Zhang, and Qiaozhu Mei at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and Peking University’s School of EECS. Generally, social tags serve two purposes: organizational and social.

Yang et. al. conducted a systematic empirical analysis of how hashtag’s dual role affects adoption of the hashtag itself. In a piece titled We Know What @You #Tag: Does the Dual Role Affect Hashtag Adoption?, they used the following measures related to content tagging: relevance and preference; measures related to joining a community: prestige and influence. Other measures include popularity, hashtag length, freshness, degree and activeness. Datasets for the research were drawn from political users from March 2007 to December 2010, as well as a random sample of 5 percent of roughly 19 million users, 49 million unique hashtags and 476 million retweets.

The findings suggest that hashtags function both as a way to tag content and a symbol of membership in a community, proving the effectiveness of the dual role where the content and community measures strongly correlate to hashtag use on Twitter. With these measures as features, a machine-learning model can predict the future adoption of hashtags that a user has never used before.

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What a Shame, You Have Such a Pretty Face! The Ramifications of Negative Pictorial Stereotypes When Discussing Obesity

By Toni Zoblotsky

Ask just about any attractive overweight female, and inevitably she’s heard more than once in her life from a parent, grandparent or some other older relative in particular…“what a shame about your weight, you have such a pretty face!”   Collective nods are going up from chubby girls all over the country reading this right now.  I used to have a great aunt who would announce this at the dinner table, inevitably at some large family food gathering, like Thanksgiving.  You know the venue—some place where the food was bountiful — but because the chubby girl was sitting there eating it, what an opportune time to tell everyone how I’m just throwing away the fabulous gene pool of a “great face.”   I might have turned beet red, but her words didn’t entice me to change; she just made me dread family outings.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing.  Nowadays, I want to believe we’re too politically correct to call someone out in this embarrassing and public way.  But are we?

It was in this context that the journal article “Obesity Stigma in Online News:  A Visual Content Analysis” by Chelsea Heuer, Kimbery McClure, and Rebecca Puhl, published in the Journal of Health Communication , peaked my interest.  Virtually all would agree on some level that being overweight has negative ramifications to good health and longevity.  Losing weight, most agree, is easier talked about than actually done.  Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our empathy for people that battle this condition and stigmatize or shame them, whether purposely or unintentionally, with unflattering photo depictions that accompany a given story.  We never see pretty faces; instead, we see isolated hands holding ice cream cones or sodas.

In the Heuer et al study, of the 441 online images studied across several major online news outlets, 72% featured at least one negative stereotype in the photo chosen to accompany the story.  Most commonly, the overweight subjects were often pictured with their head cut out of the photo (59%) or shown at an unflattering angle such as from behind (40%), or in ill-fitting/scant clothing (18%). We’ve all seen this.  The point of this type of pictorial framing is that it can lead to negative overweight stereotypes and subconsciously place blame squarely on the subject themselves versus a host of environmental factors that can also attribute to the cause.  On the flip side, critics argue that in not showing the face, you protect the person from further scrutiny.  And further, if being overweight is normalized, people are less likely to do something to remedy the issue.

Perhaps the shaming and this ugly photo portrayal are well-meaning (like my aunt) in that, if you embarrass a person enough, then surely they will try harder to lose weight, but studies have shown that the opposite occurs.  The shaming makes a person less likely to see a doctor and more likely to avoid physical activity. After all, it’s hard to want to join a gym when you are surrounded by attractive people who are half your size and significantly more nimble. In contrast, studies have shown that offering support and acceptance are more conducive to the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.

The topic of obesity is relevant and should continue to be covered.  I would, however, like to see a shift in the way overweight people are visually portrayed in the media.  Let’s take a page out of the Associated Press Statement of News Values and Principles playbook, cited in the Heuer et. al. study, and apply it as gospel.  It states:

“Always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news…That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions (2010.)”

A picture may tell a thousand words, but let’s make sure we’re showing the full picture.








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