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A study of Television Shows and Commercials, Movies, Music Videos, and Teen Magazine Articles and Ads

N.Signorelli 1997

More than a decade ago, Nancy Signorelli examined the effect media had on the life-style decisions made by girls 12-17 years of age. She studied the content of television programs, music videos, magazine articles, films, commercials, and advertisements in magazines with an eye toward assessing their effect on age of onset of romantic relationships, concern with physical appearance, importance of a career, and the type of behavior girls "should" embody. Signorelli found that men were over represented in television, film, commercials, and music videos, while women dominated photos in magazine articles and advertisements. Another difference emerged: across all media, women were mostly portrayed as young adults, whereas men of all ages were represented.

This study also highlighted the activities in which men and women were engaged in television, films, and commercials. Here, too, Signorelli found striking gender differences. Of particular importance, women were shown in more passive roles, while men were seen in more active roles. In addition, women talked more about family and romance while men did not. Overall, she noted that the media play a dual-role: sending messages about strong independent women, while also showing women in stereotypically weak roles. Finally, Signorelli found that girls enjoyed shows that underrepresented women and that the stereotypical treatment of women, whether intentional or not, had a large effect on how these girls made decisions about their appearance, and their romantic and academic lives.

see full report on the Kaiser Family Foundation website.

Delusions of Gender

How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference.

Delusions

Fine, C. (2010). New York: Norton.

Dr. Cordelia Fine is an academic psychologist and writer; her particular area of expertise is cognitive neuroscience.In this eminently readable book, Fine, a prize-wining author, provides convincing data to debunk the central notion that gender accounts for differences in minds and behavior through some biological, brain-based process.

Drawing on a multitude of peer-reviewed studies, she calls claims based on this notion "Neurononsense." As she demonstrates convincingly, the fact that this central notion is unproven has not unfortunately diminished its popularity.

Her research leads her to conclude that it is the social context, including social group identity and gender stereotypes, that influences who you are, how you think, and what you do. And these thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors of yours, in turn, become part of the social context. Those who ignore the wealth of data on these recursive nature-nurture interactions propagate "the monstrous fictions of popular writers."

In the proliferation of neuroscience claims, supposedly supporting the central notion, Fine sees sexism disguised in "neuroscientific finery."This new "Neurosexism" is having a major influence on all of us, even affecting the way children are taught.

Fine often turns current beliefs on their heads. For example, she points out that "male and female brains are of course far more similar than they are different. Not only is there generally great overlap in 'male' and 'female' patterns, but also, the male brain is like nothing in the world so much as a female brain. So why focus on difference? If we focused on similarity, we'd conclude that boys and girls should be taught the same way.

She also takes aim at the widely repeated claim that hormones, especially fetal testosterone, has a marked effect on gender-related behaviors.Fine notes, that among primates, sex norms differ across, or even within primate species. For instance, male involvement in infant rearing ranges from the hands-off to the intimate. It is clear that although hormones are the same throughout these different species, there is no "universal pattern" to how the different tasks of the society, including infant care, are divided. In line with this flexibility, it seems that the potential for primate male care-giving is by no means destroyed or even diminished by fetal testosterone."

With respect to humans, "If the hormones determine the roles, one would expect to find the same sex occupying the same roles in all societies." Yet, that is patently not the case.

This well-researched book asks provocative questions and provides intriguing and challenging answers.