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.