If He Can See It, Will He Be It?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The purpose of this report is to examine messages about masculinity present in popular television programming among boys ages seven to thirteen. Much of the existing research on gender representation in children’s television has focused on girls and women, and for good reason— female characters are typically underrepresented and shown in highly stereotypical ways. However, far less is known about depictions of masculinity in contemporary children’s programming. Media representations of masculinity have “real world” effects on the well-being and behavior of boys and men and can impact their beliefs/behaviors toward women and girls. Media has the power to challenge limiting masculine norms in ways that support men’s reduced engagement in violence and self-injurious behaviors, and improve their health and happiness. This report fills that gap by analyzing depictions of boys and men in children’s television programming. 

This report was produced through a collaboration between Promundo, a global leader in promoting gender equality and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women, girls, and individuals of all gender identities, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, the first research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to improve gender representation, and the Kering Foundation, which works to combat violence against women around the globe. Additional data for this report was also provided by the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory (SAIL) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and Nielsen.

In this report we analyze representations of masculinity in the most popular boys’ television programs from 2018. We started this project in 2019 and made use of available data from 2018. We examined the top 25 Nielsen-rated television programs among boys ages seven to thirteen. Our television dataset includes a total of 3,056 characters from 447 episodes. This executive summary presents our major findings.

REPRESENTATIONS

We find surprising gender and race parity when it comes to leading characters in the most popular boys’ TV shows, but vast under-representation of LGBTQIA+ characters and characters with disabilities.

Gender

Race and Ethnicity 

LGBTQIA+

Disability

STEREOTYPES

Promundo has identified different pillars of masculinity, referred to as The Man Box study, which reflect cultural beliefs about how “real men” should behave. While we find some evidence that popular TV for boys challenges some of these stereotypes, we also find that media reinforces the idea that “real men” are self-sufficient, tough, physically attractive without effort, engage in high risk behaviors, and value paid labor but not caregiving.

Self-Sufficiency 

Acting Tough 

Gendered Values

Aggression

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT