Common Sense Releases Study Showing Parents Concerned, Dissatisfied with Current Media Depictions of Gender

Responding to Serious Concerns from Parents, Common Sense Launches Landmark Media Evaluation Guidelines to Assess Gender Stereotypes, Role Models on TV Shows and in Films

Common Sense Media
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

San Francisco, CA – Today, Common Sense released Watching Gender: How Stereotypes in Movies and on TV Impact Kids' Development, a report that reflects conversations with thousands of concerned parents as well as an extensive analysis of research over the past 40 years around child development, gender, and media to assess how gender roles in the media influence kids' development and how parents feel about it.

Working with media and gender experts, Common Sense synthesized the findings released today into its new, groundbreaking media evaluation grid. The grid distills key information about gender development by age group to help parents select media for their children based on positive gender representations as well as new equity guidelines for content creators to increase programming with healthy, balanced, and more diverse gender portrayals. The grid also provides Common Sense Media reviewers with important criteria that incorporates ways to evaluate media representations of gender roles.

"We know that stereotypes impact development in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense. "Parents are worried and want help choosing content that better reflects the world we live in today. With our new guidelines for content creators and consideration of gender stereotyping in our ratings, Common Sense is giving parents the help they're asking for."

Many of the key findings from the research report were corroborated in responses from the nearly 1,000 parents surveyed in Common Sense's national poll. Examples of research findings and corresponding parent beliefs include:

  • Research shows: The media reinforces the idea that masculine traits and behaviors are more valued than feminine traits and behaviors, and boys who consume these media messages are more likely to exhibit masculine behaviors and beliefs.
    Parents know: Nearly a third of moms think an 8-year-old boy today has a brighter future than an 8-year-old girl.
  • Research shows: Media promote the notion that girls should be concerned about their appearance and should treat their bodies as sexual objects for others' consumption.
    Parents know: Seventy-five percent of parents say girls are "very" or "extremely" influenced by TV shows and movies when it comes to how they look. When it comes to how to act in romantic relationships, 56 percent of parents say TV shows and movies are "very" or "extremely" influential for girls vs. 43 percent for boys.
  • Research shows: In adolescence, media use is associated with more tolerant views of sexual harassment and more support for the belief that women are at least partially responsible for their own sexual assaults.
    Parents know: About 68 percent of parents are "very" or "extremely" concerned when media portrayals of women and girls involve violence, and 64 percent are "very" or "extremely" concerned about their children seeing the sexualization of women and girls.
  • Research shows: Heavier viewing of gender-traditional television and film content is associated with children's gender-typed career aspirations and linked to the expression of more rigid beliefs about what men and women do and are and how they behave.
    Parents know: Thirty-four percent of parents say girls are "very" or "extremely" influenced by TV shows and movies when it comes to what jobs they think they can have.
  • Research shows: Children of color may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of media use on gender role development.
    Parents know: Fifty-two percent of all parents say there is a lack of nonwhite role models on TV and in movies for both boys and girls.

"We have seen gender roles undergo transformational change over the past half century, but media portrayals have not kept up," said Olivia Morgan, director of the Gender Equity Is Common Sense initiative. "Most U.S. families depend on a woman's paycheck, and many men enjoy family responsibilities, yet that is not what's portrayed on TV and at the movies."

Common Sense assessed all the existing social science to learn how inaccurate or stereotyped portrayals affect boys and girls at each stage of development and, using those findings, developed a media evaluation rubric around gender. The goal of the rubric is to break the cycle of gender bias in the media, which is internalized by kids, so they can go on to succeed at both caregiving and breadwinning or whatever else they're called to.

"Parents are clearly concerned about media portrayals of gender, and many are hungry for characters that are more complex, more diverse, and nonstereotypical," said educator and Common Sense Board Chair Reveta Bowers. "Both research and common sense tell us that there is power in positive media representations. The time has come for content creators to step up with role models who inspire our next generation to reach their fullest potential, free of gender constraints."

In addition to providing parents with the tools and information they need to evaluate gender bias in the media and find TV shows and movies they feel good about sharing with their kids, Common Sense will provide educators with curricula that open students' eyes to stereotypes and their effects, and it will target content creators with critical feedback about how their work affects the kids who watch it. This is important if positive gender representations and counter-stereotypes are to take hold in media. Finally, Common Sense will advocate for broad policy changes to enhance the value of caregiving by both men and women: parental leave, paid sick days, child care benefits, and higher wages for child care providers.

"Parents are rightfully concerned about gender stereotypes in the media, but the good news is that we can help them make wise choices and also work with content creators and advertisers to create and support more content with a more accurate representation of the world we live in today," said Common Sense President and Chief Operating Officer Amy Guggenheim Shenkan. "We hope that by highlighting the concerns of parents, as well as the best TV shows and films, the creative community will be compelled to step up and break new ground when it comes to the portrayal of characters free of stereotypes."

This report examines parents' attitudes toward gender as it is reflected on television and in movies and uses data from a probability-based online survey of 933 parents of children age 2 to 17 living in the United States. It was administered by SSRS from March 28 to April 18, 2017.

About Common Sense
Common Sense is committed to making kids the nation's top priority. We are a trusted guide for the families, educators, and advocates who help kids thrive. We provide resources to harness the power of media, technology, and public policy to improve the well-being of every child.

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