Lately, the representation of female and minority characters on television has been the subject of many research initiatives.
Now, a groundbreaking study focused on young men and the portrayal of male characters, looks at how these portrayals may be influencing male viewers behavior and decision-making.
“If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representations of Masculinity in Boys’ Television” studied the most popular boys’ television programs from 2018 to draw conclusions about male-centered portrayals on television.
The study examined the top 25 Nielsen-rated programs among boy ages seven to thirteen. The dataset includes a total of 3,056 characters from 447 episodes.
The overall findings found that those characters studied were portrayed as aggressive, uncaring, and as hands-off parents.
Conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, ve spolupráci s PromundoA Kering Foundation, the report is part of a series of new research and resources from the Global Boyhood Initiative.
Promundo is a global leader in promoting gender equality and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women, girls, and individuals of all gender identities, while the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) at Mount Saint Mary’s University, is the first research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to improve gender representation, and the Kering Foundation, works to combat violence against women around the globe. Additional data for this report was also provided by the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory (SAIL) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and Nielsen.
Conclusions from the study included the findings that male characters are less likely than female characters to show emotions, including empathy (22.5% compared with 30.6%), happiness (68.3% compared with 75.2%), and even anger (28.8% compared with 36.6%).
Results also indicated that male characters are more likely than female characters to be shown engaging in risky behaviors (20.0% compared with 14.0%).
Along those same lines, the study showed that the most prominent stereotype about masculinity depicted in children’s television is of boys and men as aggressors. In boys’ television male characters commit 62.5% of violent acts against another person.
Looking at family and work life as depicted on-screen, it was concluded that male characters are less likely to be shown engaging in hands-on parenting duties (4.5% compared with 7.7%), and that male characters are more likely than female characters to be shown having an occupation (30.5% compared with 26.1%).
There were some positive findings in the research, including that there is gender parity among leading characters when it comes to screen time and speaking time. This runs counter to a popular thinking that boys will not watch content featuring girls and women.
Also, a high percentage of male characters are shown in close friendships, which challenges the masculine stereotype of men as loners, and few male characters are portrayed engaging in sexually aggressive behaviors, which challenges the masculine stereotype that centers male sexual conquest at all costs.
In a press release about the report, Geena Davis, Chair and Founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, stated, “Media representations of masculinity – much like messages coming from friends and family – can have real world effects on the well-being and behavior of boys and men. Characters onscreen have the power to challenge limiting masculine norms in ways that support boys’ health and happiness. As a mother of two sons, I think it is vital that we do a better job for our boys in the portrayals of males that we show.”
Gary Barker, President and CEO of Promundo, added, “We know that boys receive – and absorb – stereotypical messages about what it takes to ‘be a man’ from an early age. If they embrace these ideals, it can have long-term impacts, our research finds that they may be: less likely to have close relationships, more likely to have poorer mental health, and more likely to use violence later in life. If we want to create a gender equal, nonviolent future, we need men in particular to model vulnerability, connection, and respectful relationships, on and off screen.”
Barker’s thoughts are further expanded upon in the introduction to the study which reads, “Media has the power to challenge limiting masculine norms in ways that support men’s reduced engagement in violence and self-injurious behaviors, and improve their health and happiness. This report fills that gap by analyzing depictions of boys and men in children’s television programming.”
Recommendations to improve positive representation of men and boys on screen as listed in the report include allowing male characters to express a full range of emotions – and to ask for help, representing alternatives to violence, and committing to increase inclusive storytelling.
To view the full 20 page report, please click zde.