Gender Representation in Cartoons

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Updated: Jun 20, 2019
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Gender Representation in Cartoons essay

Cartoons play an important role in the lives of children. According to Statistics, an average child spends more than 900 hours in school and nearly 1023 hours in front of a TV in a year. Over-viewing of cartoon de-sensitizes children, limits their social interaction skills and obstructs their brain development. This paper analyses how cartoons influence children in the formation of their identities. Other than issues like violent behavior, insensitivity, eye and brain related problems, it unknowingly creates gender – bias in the child’s mind. The gender-stereotypes portrayed in cartoons emphasize the concept of masculine as independent, assertive, intelligent, athletic, confident, responsible, and stronger than female characters. Female characters will be portrayed as weaker, more controlled by others, emotional, romantic, sensitive, frailer, passive, complaining, domestic, stereotypical, and troublesome than male characters. Such stereotypes will be ingrained in young minds and any deviation from the accepted ones will not be tolerated. The attributes of masculinity and femininity are exaggerated and over-emphasized in cartoons which make the child’s mind gyrate between the binaries.

Cartoons are indispensable source of entertainment as far as children of today are concerned. Children begin watching cartoons on television at an early age of six months, and by the age two or three children become enthusiastic viewers. Parents also are quite unconcerned about children viewing cartoons because they can at least for the time being engage in their own chores. Pokemon, Ben10, Scoobe-Doo, Richie Rich, Popeye, Tom and Jerry have become household names to kids all over the world.ChhotaBheem, Doraemon, Ninja Hattori, and Oggyand the Cockroaches have also became popular among children within in a very short period of time. Oztürk commented on this interaction between television and children by stating;“Television, in a way, saves people from troubles by thinking and dreaming actually for them or it shows signs about in which way people should think and dream”.(67)Eventhough cartoons mesmerize children they do affect the child’s development and personality in an adverse manner if they over-view cartoons.Although children have everyday contact with other media and many other forms of expression and communication, visual media alone is seen as speaking a “universal language,” accessible regardless of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) both feel that TV does influence the behavior of children as young as one year old.

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The National Committee on the causes and prevention of violence reported in 1969 that violence in the media had a negative effect on children. Violent films encourage violent forms of behavior and promotes violence in daily life as being acceptable. Professor Malamuth, chairman of communications studies at the University of California and Professor Edward Donnerstein, a psychologist at the Center for Communications Research at the University of Wisconsin, have both conducted studies that suggest viewers of media violence are detrimentally affected.

In a 2000 report on adolescent violence, the U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher stated that more aggressive behavior in a young child’s life is caused by frequently watched entertainment that incorporates violence in it. This has become a public health issue and because of the research findings; the American Psychological Association passed a resolution ,informing broadcasters and the public about the dangers violence on the television has on children. Three major effects have been proven by psychological research caused by children seeing violence on television are that the child may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others; children who watch violence do not fear violence nor are they bothered by violence in general and the children are more likely to become aggressive or use harmful actions towards others.

In 1956, researchers took to the laboratory to compare the behaviour of 24 children watching TV. Half watched a violent episode of the cartoon Woody Woodpecker, and the other 12 watched the non-violent cartoon The Little Red Hen. During play afterwards, the researchers observed that the children who watched the violent cartoon were much more likely to hit other children and break toys.

Apart from the detrimental effects on brain and eyes of children as a result of overviewing cartoons, a more serious issue that needs to be addressed is the creation of gender bias at a very early stage.

Research since the 1970s has shown that females have been underrepresented on television programs, in commercials, and in cartoons, that females usually appear in lower status occupations if they are depicted as holding a job, and that female characters appear as less knowledgeable than male characters. How males and females are portrayed is important because in the socialization process for children the role played by media is certainly important in modeling gender-specific behavior, in influencing the self-concepts of young women and in creating sexist stereotypes.

Streicher (1974) conducted a study on how females were portrayed in cartoons. She found that many cartoons had all male characters especially in those cartoons categorized as “chase-and-pratfall.” When females did appear, they needed to be rescued. Female characters appearing in “continuing adventure” series were stereotypical and had a tendency to fall in love at first sight. Even heroines who were trying to do good caused trouble for everyone in their paths.. Streicher concluded that there was significant perpetuation of gender stereotypes in television programming aimed at children.

Bem developed the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI), a psychometric instrument, used to measure masculine and feminine gender role perceptions . According to Bem , male characters will be more prominent and be portrayed as more likely to have a recognizable job, more independent, assertive, intelligent, athletic, important, competent, technical, confident, responsible, and stronger than female characters. Female characters will be portrayed as weaker, more controlled by others, emotional, warmer, tentative, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, frailer, passive, complaining, domestic, stereotypical, and troublesome than male characters. The analysis of specific behaviors will indicate gender-role stereotypic patterns, such that male characters will be more likely to be aggressive, show leadership, bravery, ingenuity and achievement, and give guidance to others. Female characters will be more likely to be followers, be helpless, ask for help, be rescued, fail, give praise, and show affection. (53)

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Crystal Allene Cook watched over 400 popular G, PG, PG-13 and R live-action and animated movies produced from 1999 to 2006, and 1,034 television shows for kids, including 534 hours of programming between June 12 and August 18, 2005. They found out that male characters outnumbered female characters in all genres by as much as 2:1. The girls and women portrayed were “hypersexualized”. The researchers identified as three stereotypical female roles: The first category consisted of the “daydreamers” — passive female characters who possess no particular goal or aspiration, or dream only of romantic love; the second of “derailed” — leading characters that express an ambition and are broadsided by romantic love; third category conssisted of the “daredevils” — protagonists that express goals and make choices that move them forward to their ambition..(Jan Nagel para 7) Constructivist approach and Cultivation Theory explain that sexist content in cartoons influences children’s understanding and realization regarding gender roles (Graves, 19)

Stuart Hall opines that language is a representational system. Images and sounds also form a representational system even in the absence of language. Meaning gets produced in the representational system. Media texts can be analysed to deconstruct gender representations in different ways. Gotz conducted quantitative media analysis of children’s television in 24 countries across the world. The main characters of the fictional programmes were examined for this research. The results showed a ‘clear under-representation and stereotyped depiction of female characters worldwide’. 158 fictional programmes were coded from various Indian children’s television channels including Cartoon Network, Disney, Doordarshan, Nick, Pogo, Sony, Star One, Star Plus, Sun TV, Surya TV among others. According to the there were 36.1 per cent female characters and 63.9 per cent male characters. Females were mostly operated in groups. Loners were only males. Females appeared slightly more often at private places and at school, males at public places and work sphere.

According to a study conducted by Ruchi Jaggi and R K Madhavi Reddy male characters are much higher in number as compared to females in primary and secondary character categories (ratio: 2.5:1). Since the number of both the male characters is extremely higher than females, more kinds of behaviours are also displayed by male characters. However what is significant to observe are the categories in which male and female cartoon characters perform highly masculine, highly feminine and cross-typed behaviours. There is an overwhelming adherence to masculine and feminine stereotypes in the case of primary male and primary female characters, respectively. They hardly display any cross-typed characteristics, except for primary males being romantic and primary females being achievers in few cases. Secondary male characters portray some cross-typed behaviours: submissive, dependent, emotional and sensitive. Secondary female characters portray foverwhelming number of male characters show anger, ask questions, brag, order, are brave, become victims of physical aggression, display leadership, are competitive, professional and portray a comic role. But an overwhelming number of female characters are non-athletic and domestic. The content analysis study establishes that there is a negligible number of gender-neutral characters. Even the behaviours portrayed by these cartoon characters are in the following variable categories – submissive, timid, comic role, dependent, follower, victim of physical aggression, express disappointment.(74)

Cartoons have become so influential that it has become part of popular culture. They are important in consumer market as well because there are many number of toys, t-shirts, games based on cartoon characters. The representation of males as succesful, dominant, athletic and practical makes the young children think of the binary,females as unsuccessful, submissive, weak and emotional. A majority of cartoons never portray females as intellectuals or as having a decent job. Instead they as represented as frail, submissive, weak characters engaged in household jobs or looking after babies.

Betty Friedan explains how mass media succesfully distorts reality. Mass media provides thousands of persuasive messages to American housewives in order to make them feel proud of themselves and convert their feelings of guilt into something different so that the women can repress the feeling of emptiness that grows inside them every day. These messages are transformed into misleading, crude and impolite television advertisements by using the techniques and concepts of modern social sciences. People exposed to these commercials will begin to believe that women do not want anything other than being a housewife. Even if these commercials and their designers are not responsible for sending women to their homes, they are certainly responsible for keeping women in their homes (31)

Children who receive the message of stereotypical gender roles directly and/or indirectly will certainly affect their views of gender equality in the future. If the new generation of citizens grow up with a negative sense of gender equality, the country’s future will be in danger.

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Gender Representation in Cartoons. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from