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Reflections of Girls in the Media:  A Content Analysis Across Six Media and a National Survey of Children

Solving Problems and Achieving Goals

Problem solving and achieving goals were examined in relation to the television and moviecharacters and as information provided in the magazine articles (Table 10). Both male and femalecharacters most often rely upon themselves to solve their problems and achieve their goals. In thetelevision shows about a third of the men (32%) and women (35%) solved their own problems, while inthe movies, almost half of the men (49%) and more than a third of the women (35%) solved their ownproblems. In regard to achieving goals, about four out of ten of the men (38%) and women (39%) inthese television shows and more than six out of ten of the men (67%) and women (62%) in the movieswere self-sufficient.

After relying on themselves, both men and women characters turn to other friends andacquaintances for help. About two in ten of women on television (20%) and in films (23%) relied on amale friend or acquaintance, and 20 percent of women on television and 31 percent of women in filmsrelied on a female friend or acquaintance to help them solve problems. Similarly, around a quarter ofmen on television (23%) and in films (29%) rely on a male friend or acquaintance, while fewer men(16% on television and 11% in film) rely on a female friend to help them solve their problems.

Table 10: Percent of Women and Men Who Rely on Each Source to Solve Their Problems and Achieve Their Goals in Television and Films, and the Percent of Magazine Articles that Mention Each Source to Rely on Television
Characters Film
Characters Magazine
Articles Rely on to Solve Problems: Women
(109) Men
(133) Women
(26) Men
(45) Articles
(378) Self 35% 32% 35% 49% 28% Mother 6 2 4 4 6 Father 6 1 15 4 3 Women 20 16 31 11 1 Men 20 23 23 29 2 Female-Romantic 3 8 4 16 2 Male-Romantic 12 0 23 0 1 Rely on to Achieve Goals: Self 39% 38% 62% 67% NA Mother 1 1 4 4 NA Father 2 2 8 4 NA Women 14 14 46 16 NA Men 9 21 23 47 NA Female-Romantic 2 8 8 11 NA Male-Romantic 9 0 31 0 NA
Note: Bolded pairs of number indicate that the differences between the percent for women and men is statistically significant at pTwelve percent of women rely on their male romantic partner to help them solve problems and9 percent to help them achieve their goals. Eight percent of men rely on their female romantic partnerto solve their problems and to achieve their goals. These patterns were also seen in the movies, wherealmost a third of the women (31%) rely upon their male romantic partners to achieve their goals whereas only 11 percent of men relied upon their female romantic partners (Table 10).

The magazine articles stress relying on oneself to solve problems–more than a quarter of thesearticles (28%) implied that the reader should solve her problems herself. These articles presentedmothers (6%) as the next most likely source of help in solving problems and did not for the most partencourage the reader to seek the help of men or their male romantic partners (Table 10).

Appearance

Numerous studies have found that the media often portray people with perfect, or almostperfect, bodies. Table 11 examines the body weight of the characters and models in this study. Coders were asked to categorize each character, model, or person as being very thin, thin, average,muscular, a bit overweight, or obese. Reliability between the coders suggests that viewers would mostlikely categorize the individual similarly as they watch or reads the particular program or article.

In this study, the majority of women in television (51%), film (62%), and commercials (55%)are seen as being of “average” weight or heavier (including “bit overweight” and “obese”). A pluralityof the women in magazine articles (44%) and advertisements (39%) are seen as “average” weight.

However, a substantial proportion of women across all the media are seen as “thin” or “verythin” — 46 percent of women on television, 39 percent in films, 32 percent in commercials, 43 percentof women on music videos, 34 percent in magazine articles, and 26 percent of women in magazine ads. A much smaller proportion of men who are seen as “thin” or “very thin” — 16% of men in television,4% in film, 6% in commercials, 6% in magazine articles, and 8% of men in magazine ads. Only in musicvideos does the proportion of men (44%) seen as “thin” or “very thin” come close to women (43%).

Table 11: Percent of Women and Men’s Perceived Body Weight Television
Characters
(number) Film
Characters*
(number) Commercials
Models
(number) Music Videos
People
(number) Mag. Articles
Photographs
(number) Magazine
Ads. Models
(number) Body Weight: Women
(109) Men
(133) Women
(26) Men
(45) Women
(195) Men
(270) Women
(14) Men
(50) Women
(262) Men
(110) Women
(288) Men
(64) Very Thin 7% 1% 0% 0% 3% 0% 0% 8% 2% 0% 2% 0% Thin 39 15 39 4 29 6 43 36 32 6 24 8 Average 41 65 58 76 51 60 36 44 44 70 39 58 Muscular 0 2 0 7 0 4 0 12 0 8 0 2 Bit Overweight 9 7 4 2 4 15 0 0 0 0 0 0 Obese 1 6 0 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 Cannot Code 3 5 0 7 14 14 21 0 22 16 36 33
*Note: In these cases, when comparing the distribution of responses for the women to responses for the men, we find differences that are statistically significant at pTable 12 shows the type of clothes worn by characters. Men in all of the media except themagazine advertisements, were more likely than the women to wear business clothes (or a uniform). While almost a quarter of women in television (23%) and film (23%) wore business attire, more than athird of men (35% in television, 44% in film) were portrayed in business clothes. Women in televisionprograms, commercials, and particularly movies, were more often than men found in sleepwear orlingerie–15% of the women and 5% of the men on television, 7% of the women and 0% of the men incommercials, and 42% of the women and 11% of the men in the movies wore undergarments oncamera. Except for the movies, the women were also more likely than the men to be seen in dressy orevening clothes. About one-fourth of the women on television (24%), four out of ten of the women inthe films (42%), and more than one-tenth of the women in commercials (14%) wore dressing orevening clothes.

Table 12: Percent of Women and Men Seen Wearing Each Type of Clothing Television
Characters
(number) Film
Characters*
(number) Commercials
Models
(number) Music Videos
People
(number) Mag. Articles
Photographs
(number) Magazine
Ads. Models
(number) Type of Clothing: Women
(109) Men
(133) Women
(26) Men
(45) Women
(195) Men
(270) Women
(14) Men
(50) Women
(262) Men
(110) Women
(288) Men
(64) Sleepwear/Lingerie 15% 5% 42% 11% 7% 0% 21% 0% 3% 1% 2% 3% Business/Uniform 23 35 23 44 12 30 0 16 0 9 0 0 Casual 15 23 27 16 11 18 0 14 7 20 8 13 Dressy/Costume 24 15 42 42 14 10 79 16 6 2 7 2
Note: Bolded pairs of number indicate that the differences between the percent for women and men is statistically significant at p
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Reflections of Girls in the Media:
Press Release Report Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six
Survey

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.