The Social Construction of Gender in Cartoons

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November 7, 2010
Sociology 134, Section 1

The Social Construction of Gender in Cartoons

Defining what is “normal” for a specific gender role in society is a very skeptical classification. Though the roles of men and women might seem obvious, most scientists distinguish a huge difference in gender and sex. Gender roles are not biologically determined, but vary according to the culture, and they are socially assembled, either internally or externally. While observing the external influence through children’s cartoons and commercials in television media, it is clear that children are taught at a very young age the accepted roles each gender should portray.

Before beginning the experiment, outside research was needed to learn more about typical gender roles in society and how they are displayed in children through media today. In Tim Curry, Robert Jiobu, and Ken Schwirian’s book Sociology, they discuss the inequalities of gender. In chapter nine, they argue that the great social transformation plays a part in why we live in a male-dominate society. Major biological differences between the two sexes are height, weight, amount of body fat, body hair, and genitals (Curry, 244) but the specific characteristics that classify females are called feminine and the characteristics that classify men are masculine. Both characteristics have very stereotypical views in the media, especially in children’s television. Some people might think that these stereotypes begin at school or at a certain age, but it starts at birth. The baby is immediately put into a blue or pink blanket based on their sex. While examining many children shows, five main things are watched to gain a deeper meaning in how gender roles are portrayed to youth. The living space, play, dress, school, and advertisements are the biggest parts of a typical show. These are also called the agents of socialization, which are things that teach gender roles and identities. The information Curry, Robert, and Kent is very relatable to the investigation in gender roles in cartoons.

On online article indexes, three journals were reported on investigations into the portrayals of stereotypical gender roles in cartoons. Paul J. Wright wrote Sexual Socialization Messages in Mainstream Entertainment Mass Media and started on young children. He stressed that the roles certain genders play on TV reinforces what the media claims as natural’. The children who watch these animated shows are more at risk because TV influence is highest at a younger age because they have a hard time distinguishing reality with fantasy (Baker 25). The science 2.0 blog Kaysee Beker also did reports on gender in media and found a disturbing trend for both genders. Out of all the cartoons the journals touched on, male cartoon characters greatly outnumbered female characters almost 4:1 in every episode. An even more interesting find was the representation each gender made for them. Males were always the dominant character, problem solver, or hero of the show, whereas females were damsels in distress. Males were defined by their muscles, strength, keen minds, and problem solving ability, and females were innocent, selfless, attractive, and romantic. Even worse are the typical jobs both genders were seen playing because of their gender. Men were heroes, business men, police officers, and other positions of power, yet women were just the housewife, secretary, or waitress (Baker 28). Cartoons is easily informing young minds who they should become. (Science 2.0, 1-2).

Beginning the investigation, two different channels were watched between the times of 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. The first channel watched on October 16, 2010 is a popular children network called Nickelodeon. While watching Nickelodeon for the four hours, three different shows were aired. Among the shows were Spongbob Square Pants, Go! Diego Go!, and Dora the Explorer. The second station observed for the experiment is the popular Disney Channel....
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