Television depicts men and women in many roles and contexts. Many argue that television characters and their interactions affect the knowledge and behaviors of younger viewers during their impressionable years (e.g. Pingree, 1978; Ruble, Balaban, & Cooper, 1981; Tan, 1986). Some young viewers may learn behaviors from television (Bandura, 1977; Cobb, Stevens-Long, & Goldstein, 1982). Television may teach general expectations of self and others and whether behaviors for self and others are appropriate. For example, for a young female teenager, the actress she admires can serve as a multipurpose model: a source of occupational aspiration, clothing style, hair design, and more. An individual can be influenced by a given portrayal only if exposed to it. Exposure requires the individual to be viewing during the portrayal. Research attention has been focused on how television portrays women. Portrayals of women included in this research have both physical aspects such as presence, occupations, hair color, and psychological dimensions (success, power and importance). Researchers have concentrated their interest in how women are portrayed during prime time -- the time segment when most viewers are watching.
Content analyses of prime time TV programs have been reported for more than two decades. One frequently cited purpose of their content analyses is to document the manner in which women characters are portrayed. Documenting the television image of women provides researchers with data about the female models to which children, for example, may be exposed. In this context, content analyses can be used to gauge the potential effect of these portrayals on children. Another purpose of content analyses in this research is to track the presence of women on prime time TV over the years.
Content analysis researchers who simply track the presence of women remove from the analysis value judgements related to the manner in which women are portrayed. Examining the trend of women's presence on prime time TV enables the researcher to answer an important question -- the possible association between women's presence on TV and changes in society. A reliable trend of women's presence on TV can be constructed when enough relevant content analysis is available for each year. Societal changes concerning women may be gauged by women's acceptance in the workplace, Figures on changes in women's share of the total U.S. labor force by year are available from the U.S. Department of Labor. Important indicators of American values concerning women are reflected by Americans' answers to questions included in the General Social Survey (GSS). The purpose of this study is twofold:
1) To add to the available knowledge about how women are portrayed on prime time TV programs broadcast in the United States; and 2) To explore the possible association between the trend of women's presence on prime time TV and the trend in Americans' progressive acceptance of women as important individuals outside the home.
Although shares are progressively eroding, the leading television networks continue to capture about 60% of the television viewers in the United States in a typical week. Given this fact, and in order to compare our study results with those of work, we focus our attention on the broadcast networks rather than cable channels.
Over the years, many studies have reported the portrayal of women on broadcast TV. Seggar and Wheeler (1973) found that women across all ethnic backgrounds were not portrayed in proportion to the US population at the time. Using a sample drawn from the 1971 television season, the researchers found that women characters comprised 18.3% of the total characters analyzed. Seggar and Wheeler's (1973) findings were echoed by Downing (1974) who reported that women in professional roles was over represented (19.4%) when compared with statistics for the general population. This was balanced by the fact that men were over represented to a greater extent, with 58% of men in daytime television having professional roles, compared with 15% in the general population. In the same year, Tedesco (1974) found that prime time television portrayed a higher proportion of unemployed women than unemployed men. However, when measuring success, she found that men had a higher rate of non-achievement than women (19% vs. 13%) did. Tedesco also noted a higher proportion of women in non-serious roles. That same year, Turow (1974) found that, during the 1974 television season, men dominated prime time, with 70% of characters being male, and 70% of men giving advice or commands compared to 30% of women. Men were more likely to give advice on traditionally masculine subjects.
McNeil (1975) analyzed a prime time TV sample from 1973. He found that women comprised 32% of all characters and that 44% of the women depicted were working. It is not clear that this finding supports Tedesco's report (1974) that 66% of women were unemployed, as McNeil did not use the term "unemployed." McNeil also found that only 21% of married women were working, and that the majority of these women were in comic roles. In contrast with Seggar and Wheeler's study (1973), McNeil found that women had a greater variety of occupations than did men. However, their positions were of lower authoritative power than those of men.
Seggar's (1975) study presents a number of findings consistent with earlier investigations. Fifteen percent of women in both daytime and prime time television were from ethnic minorities. Only 12% of minority women had speaking roles. Only 7% of minority women had major roles. A greater proportion of women shown were married, and women were less likely to have a professional position if employed. However, 76% of women were portrayed in positions of authority either equal to or greater than men.
Miller and Reeves (1976) reported that approximately seventy percent of significant and regular characters in their sample were male -- 27.8% were female. Lemon's (1977) study presents results consistent with investigations carried out during the 1970s. Twenty-eight percent of major roles were played by women during prime time television (as with Miller & Reeves, 1976 and Turow, 1974). McNeil (1975) and Tedesco (1974) both found that women were more likely to be portrayed in positive roles and more likely to be employed in the genre of comedy than in other genres.
By the late 1970's, Dominick (1979) provided an overview of how gender roles had evolved over time in prime time television. His findings were mixed, showing changes only in certain areas. The percentage of women in major roles remained between 25%-35% in prime time television since 1956. He noted that the types of occupation …