Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maya Götz on Gender in/and Kids TV

Update (Oct.31, 2008): Part III of Kidscreen's coverage of Götz's report is now available and focuses on boys' TV character preferences.


Kidscreen magazine is currently doing a three-part profile on recent research by Dr. Maya Götz of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television in Germany, which was presented at last week's Cinekid Festival. Götz's findings appear to be drawn from two studies she is currently (or recently) working on, entitled "What makes a TV character the favourite character“ (2004-2008) and "Children’s Television Worldwide: Gender Representation" (2007-2008). The Kidscreen/Cinekid report not only provides updated statistics on gender (representation and depictions) in children's television, but also some pretty detailed statistics on girls' and boys' own preferences when it comes to television content, protagonists and body ideals. The first two parts are already available on the Kidscreen website (Part 1 here, and Part 2 here), with the third installment coming up on Friday.

The first part of Götz's study tracked gender representations in 19,664 kids' shows from 24 different countries. Key findings include:

* Only 32% of human protagonists in kids' shows are female, compared to 68% male.

* When non-human leads (monsters, animals, robots, etc.) are considered, this ratio is even more disproportionate: 13% female vs. 87% male.

* Gender stereotypes are still extremely prevalent within kids' television. Female characters are most often depicted as:
- conventionally beautiful, underweight and sexualized
- motivated by a romantic interest
- shown as dependent on boys
- stereotyped according to hair colour: blondes are either the "nice girl next door" or proverbial "blonde bitches" and redheads are headstrong, cheeky tomboys.

* Concurrently, male characters are most often depicted as:
-loners or leaders
- more frequently antagonists
- more frequently overweight
- even more frequently Caucasian
- stereotyped in four ways: the "lonesome cowboy," the "emotional soft-boy," the "clever small guy" and the "dumb blockhead"


Götz's research also reveals that these stereotypes are far from what kids' actually want and prefer out of their television characters. For example, they found that girls identify most with female leads who "take control of their own lives, find their own solutions to problems, and make things happen for themselves." Children of both genders prefer "natural, less sexualized body shapes when it comes to female characters," as well as kid characters who look "more like kids and less like caricatured women." Götz's study asked over 1000 children aged 3 to 12 years to look at three different images of a popular cartoon girl character, each one with a different waist size, and select their preferred version. More than 70% of girls and boys chose the character with a healthy-sized waist (as opposed to the thin one or the "chubby" one).

In terms of narrative, kids of both genders prefer stories and characters that reflect their interests, are suspenseful and/or funny. There's lots more great data available, so be sure to check out the Kidscreen reports for now, and keep an eye out for upcoming publications by Götz et al. in the very near future.

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