Magazine article Media Report to Women

The Gendered World of Work in TV Programming and the Media Industry

Magazine article Media Report to Women

The Gendered World of Work in TV Programming and the Media Industry

Article excerpt

Television, regularly portrayed as a purveyor of entertainment and reflector of "the good life" (Dow, 1976; Signorielli, 1984) came into American living rooms as a mass medium in the 1950s, at the same time that gender, race, and class began to be challenged and redefined by critical outliers. Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, as Madison Avenue ads emphasized the necessity for the modem day housewife to keep her house clean. Over the last few decades, forces such as shifting notions of (1) the dominant norms of masculinity and femininity, (2) the dramatic rise of women entering the paid work force, (3) capitalism/ neoliberalism going through drastic changes through the growth of globalization, and (4) social media bringing instant imagery and representation into common consumption converged to create new dynamics in the interactions of these shifts.

This article discusses these shifting norms through a cultural critical analysis of research on how gender at work has been portrayed in television over time. Ultimately, I unpack an abiding contemporary debate around gendered occupational portrayals and economic realities, and make recommendations on potential interventions to reduce gender inequities in both television programmatic content and production/distribution industry practices. The depiction of women and men in television since its inception as a mass medium in the 1950s has presented an evolving and ever-challenging conundrum and opportunity for researchers (Davis, 1990).

On the one hand, television programming in the 1980s - 2000s reflects a growing body and variety of gender portrayals, particularly in the prime-time daypart which accounts for the majority (22-28%) of viewership between 1980-2011 (Nielsen Ratings Report, 2012). Furthermore, women represented not quite half of all fictional television characters, comprising 41% in the 2010-2011 season (Pugh & Dearfield, 2012). There has been an increase in the percentage of television characters reflecting broader diversity across ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and occupations. Prime-time television programming from 2006-2011 shows the highest percentage of black females (45.3%) when compared to family films and children's shows (30.2% and 31.7% respectively). Over 40% of prime-time shows likewise contain Hispanic and Asian characters. From 2006-2011, females were shown in leadership positions as "14% of corporate executives, 42.9 of characters with financial clout, 27.8% of high-level politicians, 29.6% of doctors, 38.5% of academic administrators, and the only 'editor in chief' in journalism" (Smith, Choueiti, Prescott & Pieper, 2012).

On the other hand, research results analyzing gender continue to reflect underrepresentation "with little changes in proportions over time" and stereotypical imaging that continues to hypersexualize females and reflect lesser or undefined occupational status of female characters. Television programming continues to over-emphasize character appearance attributes, especially youth, and under-emphasize occupational qualities signaling power or high status, such as leadership and use of powerful language patterns (Pugh Yi & Dearfield, p. 1; Lauzen & Dozier, 1999). Though 24% of the occupations in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) were held by women in 2009 (Smith et al., p. 6), prime time "does not portray females in the full range of STEM careers. Not one female engineer or mathematician is shown" in a content analysis of 11,927 speaking characters portrayed between 2006-2011 in 275 prime-time programs. Occupational segregation and glass ceilings are dominant in media organizations, with women representing only a quarter (25.2 percent) of individuals in high-status behind-the-scenes occupations such as executive producers (p. 8; Smith et al., p. 4). Moreover, the process of media content creation and production is still heavily supported through an advertisingrevenue dependent model which "has great interest in maintaining the dominance of cultural codes" (Beck, 1998) that skew heavily towards a male -dominated production establishment. …

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