Revisiting Sex-Role Stereotyping in MTV Videos

Article excerpt


This study was a replication of one that investigated sex-role stereotyping of occupations and behaviors of music-video characters shown on MTV in 1987. It employed a random sample of 91 MTV music videos broadcast in 1993. This follow-up study found a continuation of male and female characters shown in sex-typed jobs. However, there was somewhat less sex-role stereotypical behavior in the second study, with males still more adventuresome and violent, but no longer more aggressive, domineering, and victimized than females. Female characters were still more affectionate, nurturing, and sexually pursued than males, but were not found to be more dependent, fearful, and in pursuit of others sexually than were males (as they were in the initial study). As was the case in the first study, a large percentage of female characters wore revealing clothing.

Music videos (like all media of popular culture) reflect societal norms, but (as Bennett and Ferrell, 1987, pointed out) also communicate to young viewers ideas about how to behave and which careers to pursue. Certainly the mass media, particularly television, reinforce sex-role stereotypes held by adolescent audiences (Beuf, 1974; Greenberg, 1982; Morgan, 1982). In the early 1990s, almost 60% of television homes received the MTV (Music Television) channel in their basic cable service, according to MTV Research (as cited in Signorielli, McLeod, & Healy, 1994), with 28% of the audience less than 18 years old, as reported by Cable Network Profiles (as cited in Pardun & McKee, 1995). Earlier surveys of adolescents found that about 80% of them watched MTV, with the average viewing time from 25 minutes to more than two hours per day (Brown, Campbell, & Fischer, 1986; Nielsen, as cited in Kubey & Larson, 1990; Sun & Lull, 1986).

The purpose of this study was to replicate a content analysis by this researcher (Seidman, 1992) that investigated sex-role stereotyping of occupational roles and behaviors of music-video characters shown in video clips on MTV, the preeminent rock-video cable channel, in the early 1990s to find what changes, if any, had occurred since the initial study. The first study examined the content of MTV before its management changed the channel's format to include less "album-oriented rock" music (Denisoff, 1988) and more rap music (DeCurtis, 1990). Whereas in early 1987, a black group (Run-DMC) and a white group (The Beastie Boys) were the only featured rap artists on MTV, by late 1988 there was a plethora of black rap singers on the channel, including M. C. Hammer and Public Enemy (Milward, 1991; Polskin, 1991). MTV, which had been criticized for years for excluding black singers, had changed radically (DeCurtis, 1990; Polskin, 1991). Thus, the present study examined a much different MTV, which (it was hypothesized) would have many more non-white characters in the music videos than in the first study. A major question, however, was whether males and females would be depicted differently than they had been in 1987.

Rock music probably has influenced the sex-role attitudes of several generations of youth by communicating images of sexuality and male-female relationships (Frith & McRobbie, 1978/1979; Freudiger, 1978; Freudiger & Almquist, 1978; Meade, 1970; Melton & Galician, 1987). Rock-music videos seem to be a most influential form of communication for adolescents and young adults, with one study indicating that they had a greater impact on viewers than the songs alone (Rubin, Rubin, Perse, McHugh, & Faix, 1986).

The viewing of these short video promotional clips appear to influence young audience's sex-role attitudes and behavior, as they are filled with icons that frequently evoke sex roles, according to Aufderheide (1986). Researchers have presented evidence indicating that music videos have such influence on teenagers and young adults, with watching these programs predicting drive for thinness among high school girls (Tiggemann & Picketing, 1996), influencing attitudes about premarital sexual relations (Calfin, Carroll, & Shmidt, Jr. …