Kids TV Gender Forensics: Part I

If it often seems like kids TV is a man's world, it might not be your imagination. Read on for part one of our three-part series on an exhaustive new European study that tracks gender representation in 19,000-plus kids shows airing in 24 countries.
October 27, 2008

Despite the fact that the human population is pretty evenly split between males (51%) and females (49%), this balance isn’t being reflected in the kids TV universe, says Dr. Maya Götz of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television in Germany.

In a new study that tracks gender representations in 19,664 kids shows from 24 different countries, Götz and her research team found that only 32% of protagonists in children’s programming are female, compared to 68% male. And drilling down into non-human leads (monsters, animals, etc.), this ratio becomes even more imbalanced at 13% female vs. 87% male.

Conventional industry wisdom says that the reason for this preponderance of male protagonists is that girls can identify more easily with boy characters, whereas boys have a much harder time relating to girls on screen. But Götz posits that this is a faulty argument: ‘The fact that male characters seem more popular is primarily a question of what is available, and hence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.’

Furthermore, the study ID’s several gender stereotypes that are common amongst kids shows from around the world. In general, girls and women are often:

* conventionally beautiful, underweight and sexualized

* motivated by a romantic interest

* shown as dependent on boys

* stereotyped in two ways according to their hair colorblondes are either the nice girl next door, or the proverbial ‘blonde bitch;’ and redheads are headstrong, cheeky tomboys.

By contrast, men and boys are often:

* loners or leaders

* more frequently antagonists

* more frequently overweight

* even more frequently Caucasian

* stereotyped in four waysas the lonesome cowboy, as the emotional soft-boy, as the clever small guy and as the dumb blockhead

Check back in on Wednesday, October 29 for the next instalment of this three-part feature, and find out what girls are actually looking for when they watch TV.

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