Document 57571

Sex Roles, Vol. 32, Nos. 9/10, 1995
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons: Has the
Picture Changed in 20 Years? 1
Teresa L. Thompson 2 and Eugenia Zerbinos
University of Dayton
This study is an update of research done primarily in the 1970s on gender
representation in children's cartoons. In the present study, 175 episodes of 41
different cartoons were coded for numbers and demographic characteristics of
male, female, and androgynous characters. Behaviors, communication
characteristics, and total talk time of male and female characters were coded,
along with copyright year and country of origin. Results indicated notable
discrepancies between prominence and portrayal of male and female
characters. Both male and female characters were portrayed stereotypically.
Compared to female characters, male characters were given much more
prominence, appeared more frequently, engaged in more of almost all of the
noted behaviors, and talked significantly more. When male or female behavior
and communication variables were divided by number of male or female
characters or by total talk time, results indicated consistency with gender role
stereotypes. Comparisons of pre- and post-1980 cartoons, however, indicated
significant change toward a less stereotypical portrayal of the characters,
particularly female characters.
The way in which women have been portrayed on television has received
considerable attention from researchers for more than two decades. This
research has shown that females have been under-represented on television
programs, in commercials and even 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. AI1The authors would like to thank Kris Morlan, Lynn Mildenberger, and Nita Sanil for helpful
assistance during the preparation of the manuscript.
2To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Communication, University
of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1410.
0360-0025/95/0500-0651507.50/0 © 1995PlenumPublishingCorporation
Thompson and Zerbinos
though numerous studies have focused on how adult females are portrayed
on television, only a few studies have addressed gender representation in
children's programming. Gender representation in children's programming
deserves attention because children begin watching television at a very early
age and spend considerable time doing so. Cartoons are of particular interest because they are the preferred program format for children starting
at the age of 18 months to 2 years (Hapkiewicz, 1979).
As former Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson
once said, '~M1 television is educational; the only question is: what is it
teaching?" Building on social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), much research .has shown that children model aggressive behavior as well as prosocial behavior seen on television (see Barcus, 1983, for a summary) and in
animated cartoons (Forge & Phemister, 1987). Recent efforts to incorporate ecological messages into cartoon story lines (Kahn, 1991) suggest that
producers believe such messages can teach children to be more concerned
about the environment. In a review of literature and theory related to children's learning from television, Williams (1981) concluded "that television
can play a positive role in children's learning, but given typical North
American media diets and current television content, the opposite has been
true for most children" (p. 189).
Gender portrayals in the media are cause for concern because of the
importance of the media in the socialization process for children and adults
(Signorielli, 1990). Children tend to imitate same-gender characters more
than opposite-gender characters (Courtney & Whipple, 1983), therefore,
the media play "an important role in modeling gender-specific behavior"
(Remafedi, 1990, p. 59). "Realistic and varied portrayals of men and women
will enhance healthy development" and "unrealistic stereotypes...will
negatively influence young viewers" (Remafedi, 1990, p. 60). Rosenkrantz,
Vogel, Bee and Braverman (1968) suggested that gender-role stereotypes
in the media were partly responsible for young women's negative self concepts. Frueh and McGhee (1975) found that high amounts of television
watching were associated with stronger traditional gender role development
in boys and girls, Williams (1981) concluded that increased viewing of television can increase stereotyping, and Signorielli (1989) also found evidence
that television viewing might be related to more sexist views of women's
role in society.
The effects of television cartoons on gender-role stereotyping in young
girls was studied in an experimental setting by Davidson, Yasuna and Tower
(1979). Thirty-six 5- and 6-year-old girls watched three Saturday morning
network cartoons that exemplified reverse stereotyping, high stereotyping
or neutral behavior. Gender-role stereotyping scores were lower after exposure to the reverse stereotyping program, but the difference was not sig-
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
nificant for children who watched the neutral and high stereotyped programs. The researchers suggested, in retrospect, that this might be due to
subtle stereotyping in the neutral program. In the neutral cartoon, a physically unattractive female character contributed equally with the boys in solving a mystery but the other female character, an attractive blond, was
Messages conveyed by cartoons are also of concern because very young
children cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality (Baker & Ball,
1969). Young children are unable to differentiate between internal and external experiences and even "puppet and cartoon characters are likely to
be thought of as real and alive..." (Noble, 1975, p. 84). A case in point
is a recent study of what children learn about the animal world from cartoons (Wong & Peyton, 1992). The researchers found that children who
watch cartoons without knowing facts about animals tended to believe animals have human traits.
Perhaps researchers have not analyzed cartoons in recent years because, as a CBS vice president said, "Children's television has always been
male dominated" (Poltrack, quoted in Carter, 1991, p. C18). Network executives have said they make no pretense of trying to provide programming
that appeals to girls because boys outnumber girls in the 2-11-year-old audience on Saturday morning. If a show is to be successful, it must appeal to
boys because boys will not watch shows that have girls as lead characters
but girls will watch cartoons with male leads.
More than twenty years ago Streicher (1974) looked at 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. In "teachy-preachy" cartoons boys outnumbered girls, but girls tended to have more important
roles. Streicher summarized that
In general, cartoon females were less n u m e r o u s than males, made fewer
appearances, had fewer lines, played fewer "lead roles," were less active, occupied
many fewer positions of responsibility, were less noisy, and were more
preponderantly juvenile than males. Mothers worked only in the house; males did
not participate in housework. In many activities in which girls showed some form
of skill (e.g., cheerleading), their performance was duplicated by a dog or other
pet .... (p. 127)
Sternglanz and Serbin (1974) also found that there were more than
twice as many male roles and that the behavior of males and females was
stereotypical in ten cartoons they analyzed. Because many of the cartoons
Thompson and Zerbinos
had no female characters, Sternglanz and Serbin purposely selected cartoons which had female characters.
Children 8-13 years of age who viewed television cartoons in a study
by Mayes and Valentine (1979) recognized that the characters exhibited
stereotypical gender role behaviors. The children evaluated all male and
female characters in cartoon episodes on characteristics that included
"brave, does not have to be rescued, dominant, intelligent, can make decisions easily, unconcerned about appearance, independent, keeps out of
trouble, not easily excited in a crisis, acts as a leader, harsh, aggressive,
does not have a strong need for security, does not cry easily" (p. 46). The
researchers found significant differences on all dependent variables, and
respondents' gender produced no significant interaction effect.
Levinson (1975) also found that males outnumbered females on Saturday morning cartoons. More important than their numbers, though, was the
fact that male characters were portrayed in a much greater variety of roles
and occupations. Female characters were seen as housewife-mother, girlfriend, grandmother, aunt, villain's daughter, maid, nanny, nurse, teacher,
secretary, waitress, singer, movie star, TV reporter, circus performer, and
witch. As Levinson concluded, "television's portrayal of the sexes in cartoons
does not accurately mirror real world events but it does reflect real world
values concerning traditional gender-role assumptions" (p. 569).
Reporting research conducted in 1981, Barcus (1983) found that 75.5%
of the characters in children's television were male and 21% were female.
The female characters were more likely to be younger and were more likely
to be married than were males. Males were assigned significantly more major roles and were more likely to be employed. Consistent with this, males
typically were portrayed as falling into a higher socioeconomic class. Female
characters were more altruistic but also were more likely to use personal
charm or dependence to accomplish goals; males were more likely to use
violence or trickery/deceit. Whereas females emphasized personal relationships, males emphasized achievement. There were also differences in personality traits among the characters.
Research on gender representation in adult television has also indicated similar results (Atkin, 1991; Dominick, 1979; Hansen & Hansen,
1988; Japp, 1991; Seidman, 1992; Signorielli, McLeod & Healy, 1994).
Other studies which found that stereotyping was still present also noted
some improvement. For example, Downs (1981) concluded that some television programming had moved toward fewer portrayals of traditional gender-role stereotypes. Durkin (1985) also concluded that progress had been
made in the quantity and status of roles portrayed by women in television
series aimed at single women. Similarly, Vande Berg and Streckfuss (1992)
found that more women were represented on television and there was a
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
slight increase in the variety of occupations held. In their summary of content analyses done over a 15-year period of male and female portrayals on
television commercials, Bretle and Cantor (1988) observed a trend toward
more equal representation of men and women in commercials.
The present study looks at gender representation in children's cartoons
in the 1990s and whether the picture has changed since the 1970s. Because
studies by Streicher (1974), Sternglanz & Serbin (1974), Levinson (1975),
Mayes & Valentine (1979), and Barcus (1983) found that cartoon characters
were portrayed in gender-role stereotypic ways, support for the following
hypothesis can be expected.
Hi: Male and female cartoon characters will be portrayed in significantly different and gender-role stereotypic ways.
"Gender-role stereotypic" will be operationalized as follows. 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. Additionally, 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. Although the behavior analysis will include some other behaviors coded in past research, those noted above are the variables on
which differences are most expected. Finally, analysis of specific communicative acts will also indicate gender-role stereotypic patterns consistent
with research on gender differences in humans, such that males will be
more likely to initiate new topics, express opinions, answer questions, emphasize tasks, interrupt, laugh at others, insult others, brag, threaten, show
anger, and order others. Females will be more likely to ask questions, emphasize relationships, gossip, express excitement or happiness, show variety,
and express disappointment or sadness.
Although gender-role stereotyping has prevailed in adult television,
some research since 1980 (Bretl & Cantor, 1988; Downs, 1981; Durkin,
1985; and Vande Berg & Streckfuss, 1992) shows evidence of a trend toward
Thompson and Zerbinos
less stereotypical portrayals. It is reasonable to expect that this trend might
carry over to cartoons, suggesting the following hypotheses:
H2:Post-1980 cartoons will have more female characters than
pre-1980 cartoons.
1-13:Pre-1980 cartoons will have both male and female characters
more gender-role stereotypic than post-1980 cartoons.
"Gender-role stereotypic" will be operationalized as noted under H1.
Finally, based on the work of Streicher (1974) noting differences in
gender representation in different types of cartoons, a research question
was asked:
RQI: Are there significant differences in gender representation among
different types of cartoons (continuing adventures, chase-andpratfall, and teachy-preachy)?
The hypotheses and research question were examined in a content
analysis of children's animated cartoons.
Sample. A list of all on-going children's cartoon series on both network
and cable channels (N = 92) during February 1993 was generated from
the local edition of TV Guide. Each of 31 coders was randomly assigned
one cartoon, unless that cartoon was aired only once a week. In such cases,
coders were assigned two cartoons. Each coder taped two hours of the
show or shows assigned to him or her. Forty-one different cartoons were
thus taped. A total of 175 cartoon episodes, ranging in length from about
ten minutes to an hour, were taped and coded.
Coders. The coders were junior and senior communication majors enrolled in a class taught by one of the authors. All but one were female,
and ranged in age from 20 to 44. They did the coding as part of a class
requirement. Coders were told that their coding would be verified with
random checks. To facilitate this, coders recorded the broadcast date and
time of the cartoon they were coding. One of the researchers taped and
coded one show originally coded by each coder. In all cases, reliability on
this final coding of the data was greater than 85%. Reliability averaged
93% on the coding of numbers and types of characters; 95% on the demographic characteristic; 91% on the character traits; 86% on the behavior
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
analysis; 87% on the communication analysis; and 92% on total talk time.
All of these variables will be described below.
Coder Training. A coding scheme was developed by the first author
after reviewing the past research on gender representation in children's cartoons as well as that on gender differences in actual conversation. This
effort relied primarily on the coding schemes described by Barcus (1983),
Levinson (1975), Mayes and Valentine (1979), Sternglanz and Serbin
(1974), and Streicher (1974). The coding scheme was refined three times
during coding efforts involving the first author and the student coders.
Some of this refinement took place during discussions of the coding instrument involving all the coders at the same time. Following refinement
of the instrument, all categories were explained to the coders and written
instructions/definitions were given to them. After several practice coding
experiences as a group and one-on-one with the researcher during which
coding decisions were discussed, all coders independently coded an episode
of the same cartoon. Each coder's evaluations were compared with those
of the first author and coders were given feedback. All coders again independently evaluated an episode of the same cartoon. If a coder's evaluations agreed at least 90% of the time with the first authors, the coder's
training was terminated. If agreement was less than 90%, the coder was
again given feedback and training and another cartoon was coded. Following this procedure all coders reached 90% agreement with the first author.
Coding. Each show was viewed at least four times by a trained coder.
(A copy of the coding form is available from the authors.) The unit of
analysis was somewhat different for different types of variables, because
different variables demanded different units of analysis. For variables such
as copyright year, numbers of characters, and frequencies of various behaviors, the cartoon was the unit of analysis. Other variables, however,
could only meaningfully be coded for the major male and female characters. These variables included demographic characteristics and personality/character traits.
The first viewing of each show entailed coding demographic information about the show and lead characters. This included the name of the
show, copyright year, country of origin, number of lead/major female and
male characters, number of minor female and male characters, number of
minor female and male characters, and number of gender-neutral characters. The lead male and female characters (or the first of such appearing
on-screen, if there was more than one) were coded for marital status (single, married, widowed, or divorced), parental status (parent vs. non-parent),
occupation, species (human, animal, or other nonhuman), and appearance
(real life vs. fantasy). The lead male and female characters were also rated
on 25 different character/personality traits using 5-point scales. These traits
Thompson and Zerbinos
were selected from past research and included such traits as warm-cold,
independent-dependent, attractive-unattractive, athletic-unathletic, responsible-irresponsible, etc. Additionally, characters were rated as stereotypical
vs. nonstereotypical on a 5-point scale to assess how closely the character
corresponded to traditional gender roles. The directionality of the items
moved from a score of 1 on the left-hand side of the scale to 5 on the
right-hand side. Reliability of this portion of the scale could be assessed
using Cronbach's alpha (males = .80; females = .86).
The second viewing of the show required recording the frequency with
which 21 different behaviors occurred for male, female, or gender-neutral
characters. The unit of analysis for these variables and for the frequency
of communicative acts (described below) was the entire cartoon, not just
the lead characters. Whereas the demographic and personality/character
traits noted above were coded for only the lead male and female characters
on each show, the behavior and communicative analysis (described below)
included counting behaviors and communicative acts for all the male, all
the female, and all the gender-neutral characters within a show. The behavior and communicative variables were measured in an attempt to go
beyond the global character assessments, because specific behaviors and
communicative acts lead to those global character assessments. The behavior analysis, based on past research, involved counting the occurrence of
such behaviors as showing physical or verbal aggression, leadership, being
the victim of physical or verbal aggression, rescuing, showing ingenuity, engaging in adult tasks, asking for advice, praising, showing affection, etc.
(see Streicher, 1974). The third viewing noted frequencies of communicative acts for males, females, or gender-neutral characters. The communicative acts were selected based on research that has identified differences
in actual male vs. female communication (see summaries in Pearson,
Turner, and Todd-Mancillas, 1991, and Tannen, 1990). These communicative
acts included such things as expressing opinions, emphasizing tasks, emphasizing relationships, expressing disappointment, ordering others, bragging, etc. The fourth viewing returned the unit of analysis to the lead
characters and involved recording how long (in seconds) the lead/major
male and female characters (or the first of such appearing on screen) talked
in each episode. Thus, the unit of analysis for the coding form itself was
the cartoon, although the unit of analysis for s o m e of the variables was the
major male or female character.
Occupations were coded for the first male and female lead characters
to appear on screen and then recoded into five categories: a recognizable
paid job, no job, caregiver, villain without any other identifiable occupation,
or celebrity/superhero. Agreement (100%) was reached between two coders
on these recategorizations. Cartoons were recoded into three cartoon types:
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
chase-and-pratfall such as "Bugs Bunny" and "Road Runner," continuing
adventure such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "G.I. Joe," and
teachy-preachy such as "Smurfs" and "The Little Mermaid." These categories were borrowed from those used by Streicher (1974). Inter-rater reliability was 100% among at least three coders on all of these judgments.
Of the 175 cartoons, 110 had identifiable copyright years ranging from
1935 to 1992. Overall, there was a total of 106 lead and 127 minor female
characters across all the cartoons, and a total of 326 lead and 587 minor
male characters. Of the 175 cartoons 45% had no female leads, 50 had
one female lead, 4% had two, and 1% had three. These cartoons included
1% with no male leads, 47% with one, 33% with two, 8% with three, 9%
with four and 2% with five. There were no cartoons with gender-neutral
Male vs. Female Comparisons
To address Hypothesis 1, paired t-tests were conducted comparing male
and female characters across all cartoons. Using the cartoon (N = 175) as
the unit of analysis, the results indicated that the cartoons had significantly
more male lead (M = 1.86) and minor characters (M = 3.35) than female
lead (M = .61) or minor characters (M = .95). Male characters talked
nearly twice as much (M = 325.57 seconds) as did female characters (M
= 179.39 seconds). The means for statistically significant (p < .05) comparisons of characteristics of lead characters are presented in Table I. Due
to deletion of missing data, the Ns for these analyses were all 95. Missing
data occurred in cartoons for which there was no female lead, so the traits
could not be judged for a female lead. The character ratings showed significant differences, such that the male characters were more independent,
assertive, stereotypical, athletic, important, attractive, technical, and responsible than were the female characters. The female characters were rated
significantly more emotional, warm, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, frail,
mature, and domestic than the males.
Paired t-tests on the behavior and communication ratings were somewhat more problematic. Initial analyses indicated that male characters did
more of everything than female characters, simply because there were so
many more male characters than female characters. When the male and
female behavior and communication variables were divided by the total
Thompson and Zerbinos
Table I. Significant (t7 < .05) Gender Comparisons--Characteristics
(Unit of Analysis = Lead Character; N = 95)
Male M
Female M
number of male and female characters, respectively, t results showed significant differences, such that females engaged in every behavior more frequently than did the males. These results appeared to occur because there
were so many more male characters, and dividing the male occurrences by
the number of male characters resulted in very low scores.
More meaningful results appeared to emerge in analyses that divided
the male and female behavior and communication variables by the number
of male or female lead characters or by the total talk time for the lead
male or female characters. This ad hoc approach to data analysis is somewhat problematic, of course, because the behavior and communication variables are based on all of the characters in the cartoons, not just the leads.
Nonetheless, the number of leads and lead talk-time variables do give s o m e
indication of the prominence of the genders in the cartoons and appear
to be a way to delve into the relative weighting of the variables. Statistically
significant results are presented in Table II. Analyses dividing the behavior
and communication variables by the number of male and female leads, respectively, indicated that the male characters showed more ingenuity, were
more frequently victims and perpetrators of verbal and physical aggression,
showed more leadership, achievement, incompetence, and rescue/bravery,
were more frequently rewarded, failed, and followed, asked more questions,
expressed more opinions, answered more questions, emphasized tasks
more, interrupted more, laughed at others more frequently, insulted others
more frequently, threatened others more frequently, expressed disappoint-
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
Table II. Significant (p < .05) Comparisons on Behavior and
Communication Variables (Unit of Analysis = Cartoon; N = 175)
Male M
Female M
Divided by numbers of male and female leads, respectively
Victim of physical aggression
Victim of verbal aggression
Physical aggression
Verbal aggression
Object of reward
Guidance given
Shows affection
Asks Questions
Expresses opinions
Answers questions
Emphasizes tasks
Laughs at others
Insults others
Threatens others
Expresses disappointment
Shows anger
Divided by male and female talk time, respectively
Object of reward
Victim of physical aggression
Asks for advice/protection
Shows affection
Physical aggression
Verbal aggression
Victim of verbal aggression
Thompson and Zerbinos
Table II. Continued
Emphasizes relationships
Threatens others
Laughs at others
Insults others
Male M
Female M
ment more frequently, bragged more frequently, and were more likely to
order or boss others around and show anger. Females were more likely to
show affection. Analyses dividing the behavior and communication variables by the total talk time of the lead male or female characters also demonstrated that male characters were more likely to be perpetrators and
victims of physical and verbal aggression and were more likely to brag,
follow, fail, rescue, and show leadership, achievement, ingenuity, and incompetence. Females were more frequently rewarded, helpless, or praised
and were more likely to ask for advice/protection, engage in routine services, show affection, or emphasize relationships.
An interesting difference occurred in the demographic characteristics
of the male and female characters. Frequency analyses indicated that male
and female characters were similar in terms of marital and parental status
and appearance but were significantly different in occupation. Male characters had some sort of recognizable job 31% (n = 53) of the time; female
characters had one 13% (n = 13) of the time. Male and female characters
had no job more than half the time (male n = 97, 56%; female n = 56,
58%) of the time. Female characters were caregivers 16% (n = 15) of the
time; male characters never appeared in this capacity. Males were "villains"
3% (n = 6) of the time; females were "villains" in 5% (n = 5) of their
appearances. Males were celebrities or superheroes 10% (n = 17) of the
time; and females were celebrities or superheroes 8% (n = 8) of the time
(Z2 = 52.24, p < .001).
Changes Across Time
Because most of the past research that content analyzed children's cartoons occurred during the seventies, hypotheses 2 and 3 suggested that
changes had occurred since that time. Accordingly, t-tests were conducted on
the variables comparing pre- (n = 28) and post-1980 (n = 82) cartoons. Sev-
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
eral significant differences emerged. Since 1980, cartoons had more male and
female leads, male and female minor characters, and more gender-neutral
characters. Prior to 1980, there were totals of 8 lead female, 121 lead male,
7 minor female and 65 minor male characters. Since 1980, there were totals
of 74 lead female, 170 lead male, 107 minor female, and 354 minor male
characters. That means that the ratio of female to male lead characters prior
to 1980 was .06, while it has been .44 since 1980. For minor characters, we
find a ratio of .11 (F/M) prior to 1980 and .30 since 1980. Chi-square tests
examining these pre- and post-1980 differences were statistically significant
for female leads 0~2 = 25.95, df = 3, p = .00001), female minor characters
0C2 = 27.27, df = 6, p = .00013), and male minor characters (%2 = 41.64,
df = 12, p = .00004). Female characters since 1980 were more independent,
assertive, intelligent, competent, responsible, and helpful. They were also
stronger and hardier, and less emotional, tentative, affectionate, sensitive, and
complaining. Male characters, too, were hardier and more intelligent.
On the behavior variables, female characters since 1980 showed more
verbal aggression, ingenuity, and leadership. They also gave more guidance
and showed less helplessness. The communication analysis also yielded differences. Male characters since 1980 have asked and answered more questions, emphasized tasks more, expressed more excitement, bragged less, and
ordered or bossed others more. Female characters answered questions
more frequently than they used to. Male characters since 1980 have talked
significantly more than they used to, but the means for female characters
were almost identical pre- and post-1980. These results are summarized in
Table III.
There were some variables for which tests of significance could not
be conducted. Some behaviors did not occur in cartoons prior to 1980 but
have occurred since then and seem worth mentioning. These behaviors included: female leadership, females as the object of rewards, female failure,
females performing routine services, female interruption, female gossiping,
females insulting someone, females bragging, males performing routine
services, and male gossiping.
Cartoon Types
Gender presentation was also examined across types of cartoons to
answer Research Question 1. The analysis of variance was utilized to examine differences among the groups on the dependent variables. StudentNewman-Keuls multiple comparison tests probed significant differences.
Means for significant ANOVAs are reported in Table IV. Notable differences emerged among the groups for both male and female characters.
Thompson and Zerbinos
Table IlL Significant (p < .05) Comparisons Pre- and Post-1980
Numbers of characters
Variable (unit of analysis = cartoon; n = 110)
Female leads
Male leads
Female minor characters
Male minor characters
Gender-neutral characters
Character analysis (unit of analysis = lead character;
female n = 28, male n = 79)
Female independence
Female weakness
Female assertiveness
Male intelligence
Female intelligence
Female emotionality
Female tentativeness
Female affection
Female incompetence
Female sensitivity
Male technicalness
Male hardiness
Female hardiness
Female irresponsibility
Female complaints
Female helpfulness
Behavior analysis (unit of analysis = cartoon; female
n = 28, male n = 79)
Males--show verbal aggression
Males--show leadership
Males--show ingenuity
Females--give guidance
Females--show helplessness
Communication analysis (unit of analysis = cartoon;
female n = 28, male n = 79)
Males--ask questions
Males--answer questions
Females--answer questions
Males--emphasize tasks
Males--express excitement
Total talk time (unit of analysis = lead character;
female n = 28, male n = 79)
Male talk time
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
Table IV. Significant Co < .05) Differences by Cartoon Typea
(n = 50)
Chase and
(n = 90)
Numbers of characters (unit of
analysis = cartoons)
Female leads
Female minor characters
Female minor characters
1.27 a
4.84 a
0.31 b
0.40 b
2.23 b
1.26 c
1.89 c
4.20 a
Character analysis (unit of analysis
= lead character)
Female intelligence
Male nonstereotypicality
Male unemotional
Female unemotional
Male warmth
Female warmth
Male importance
Male unaffectionate
Female unaffectionate
Male incompetence
Female incompetence
Male sensitivity
Male untechnical
Female untechnical
Male irresponsibility
Female irresponsibility
Female undomestic
Male helpfulness
Female helpfulness
4.45 a
2.14 a
2.85 a
3.76 a
3.35 a
2.70 a
2.27 a
1.89 a
3.39 a
2.43 a
2.65 a
1.65 a
3.47 a
3.43 a
4.00 a
2.84 b
3.19 a
3.61 a
3.24 a
3.79 a
4.01 a
2.78 a
2.00 a
2.63 b
2.43 b
2.88 b
2.98 b
2.50 a
2.72 a
2.36 b
3.10 a
3.10 b
3.88 b
1.94 a
3.71 b
4.67 b
4.29 b
4.56 b
4.48 b
2.03 b
1.36 b
1.97 a
1.88 a
3.89 a
2.54 a
3.50 b
2.23 b
1.44 a
2.06 b
3.89 b
3.97 a
Behavior analysis (unit of analysis =
Male physical aggression
Male verbal aggression
Male leadership
Male rescue/bravery
Male achievement
Male giving guidance
Male victims of physical aggression
Female failure
Male providing routine services
Male affection
5.71 a
5.16 a
3.54 a
3.50 a
5.74 a
1.31 a
4.35 b
3.18 b
1.81 b
2.24 b
1.61 a
1.74 a
4.81 a
2.57 b
1.81 a
1.50 a
2.87 c
4.38a, b
4.06 a
3.28a, b
2.81 b
3.04 b
3.09 b
3.73 b
2.59 b
325.55 b
10.19 b
9.33 a
7.87 b
221.18 a
5,44 a
5.45 b
3.90 a
1.56 a
25.09 b
9.52 b
7.40 b
2.74 b
Communication analysis (unit of
analysis = cartoon)
Male talking
Male asking questions
Female asking questions
Male expressing opinions
Male answering questions
Female emphasizing tasks
(n = 35)
Thompson and Zerbinos
Table IV. Continued
Communication analysis (unit of
analysis = cartoon)
Male emphasizing relationships
Female emphasizing relationships
Male interrupting
Male expressing excitement
Female expressing excitement
Male insults
Male threats
Male expressing disappointment
Male ordering/bossing
(n = 50)
Chase and
(n = 90)
(n = 35)
4.20 a
2.40 b
aMeans with matching subscripts are not significantly different.
Chase-and-pratfall cartoons had the smallest numbers of female leads
and minor characters, followed by continuing adventure and then teachypreachy cartoons. No differences were observed among the cartoons in
numbers of male leads. Chase-and-pratfall cartoons, however, had fewer
male minor characters than do either continuing adventure or teachypreachy cartoons.
On the character traits, continuing adventure male characters were
hardier than the other characters. Males in chase-and-pratfall cartoons
were most nonstereotypical, and least competent, technical, and responsible. Teachy-preachy males were least stereotypical, warmest, most emotional, important, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, and helpful. Female
characters in chase-and-pratfall cartoons were least competent, responsible
and active and most troublesome. In the continuing adventure cartoons,
females were most intelligent and least domestic. Females in teachypreachy cartoons were most emotional and affectionate, warmest, and least
Differences were also noted in the behavior analysis. Males in teachypreachy cartoons were highest on providing routine services and lowest on
both engaging in and being victims of physical aggression. In chase-andpratfalls, males were lowest on verbal aggression, leadership, achievement,
giving guidance, showing affection, and being rescued. Continuing adventure males were highest on verbal aggression, rescue/bravery, and altruism.
Females in continuing adventure cartoons were least helpless, while those
in chase-and-pratfalls fail most frequently.
On the communication analysis, males in teachy-preachy cartoons emphasized tasks the most, while males in continuing adventures used the
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
most threats and insults and bossed others more. Chase-and-pratfall males
asked and answered more questions, expressed fewer opinions, expressed
little excitement or disappointment, and rarely interrupted or insulted others. Females in teachy-preachy cartoons were highest on asking questions,
emphasizing relationships, and expressing excitement. In chase-and-pratfall
cartoons, females answered few questions and rarely emphasized tasks.
No significant differences were observed in talk-time across the three
types of cartoons for female characters. Male characters, however, talked
much less in chase-and-pratfall cartoons than in continuing adventure or
teachy-preachy cartoons. Chi square tests also probed the differences in
male and female leads across cartoon types. Continuing adventures had 16
cartoons with no female leads, 34 with 1 female lead, 31 with 1 male lead,
6 with 2 male leads, 2 with 3 male leads, 10 with 4 male leads, and 1 with
5. Chase-and-pratfalls had 62 with no female leads, 28 with 1 female lead,
33 with 1 male lead, 44 with 2 male leads, 9 with 3 male leads, and 4 with
4 male leads. Teachy-preachies included 1 with no female leads, 26 with 1
female lead, 6 with 2 female leads, 2 with 2 female leads, 19 with 1 male
lead, 8 with 2, 3 with 3, 1 with 4, 3 with 5, and 1 with 6 male leads. Both
of these chi squares were statistically significant (males: 22 = 44.85, d f =
12, p = .00001; females: ~2 = 75.55, df = 6, p < .0001).
Since cartoon types changed over the years, with continuing adventure
and teachy-preachy cartoons becoming more common and chase-and-pratfalls becoming less common, it was deemed appropriate to examine the interaction between year (pre- and post-1980) and cartoon type on the
dependent variables. Only five significant interactions emerged from factorial ANOVAs on the character traits and talk-time. The means indicated
that males in continuing adventure cartoons became more certain, attractive,
romantic, and talkative with time, while males in chase-and-pratfall cartoons
exhibited the opposite trend. The same pattern was observed for females
on "romantic," and as an almost-significant trend for talk-time. Although
these data should not be interpreted as indicating that no teachy-preachy
cartoons were broadcast prior to 1980, there were no teachy-preachy cartoons with copyright years prior to 1980 in this sample. Thus, the potential
role of teachy-preachy cartoons in this interaction cannot be determined.
There were only two continuing adventure cartoons with copyrights prior to
1980 found in our sample, and 26 chase-and-pratfall cartoons. The sample
included 37 continuing adventure, 19 chase-and-pratfall, and 26 teachypreachy cartoons copyrighted since 1980.
Factorial ANOVAs could not be computed on the behavior and communication variables because list-wise deletion of missing data resulted in
no or few available cases for all of these analyses.
Thompson and Zerbinos
These results indicate some significant differences in the presentation
of the male vs. the female characters on children's cartoons. As suggested
in hypothesis 1, in most ways the characterizations were rather consistent
with traditional gender role stereotypes. They do, however, seem to have
changed in several ways since the 1970s research.
Differences emerged between genders both in terms of the importance
or prominence of the characters and in terms of their presentation. As past
research found, there were significantly more male lead and minor characters than female lead or minor characters. Lead male characters talked
almost twice as much as did the lead female characters. Similarly, initial
tests on the behavior and communication variables indicated that male
characters did more of almost everything than did the female characters,
simply because they appeared more often.
The lead male characters tended to be more independent, assertive,
athletic, important, attractive, technical, and responsible than the female
characters. Of all these characteristics, only attractiveness is not a characteristic typically associated with males. The female characters, on the other
hand, tend to be more emotional, warm, romantic, affectionate, sensitive,
frail, mature, and domestic than the males. All of these characteristics, of
course, are stereotypical of females. Similarly, analyses of the behavior and
communication variables, when divided by either number of male or female
leads or by total talk time for the lead male or female characters, indicated
behaviors consistent with both gender-role stereotypes and with data on
communication differences in males and females. The male characters
showed more ingenuity, anger, leadership, achievement, and bravery, were
more frequently victims and perpetrators of verbal and physical aggression,
asked and answered more questions, expressed more opinions, emphasized
tasks more, bragged more frequently, interrupted, insulted, threatened and
laughed at others more, and ordered/bossed others around more. Female
characters asked for advice or protection, emphasized relationships, were
rewarded by others, were helpless, were praised, engaged in routine services
(typically providing things for or serving others), and showed affection. It
should not be assumed, of course, that it is "bad" to have all of these
differences, given that many of them do reflect actual differences research
has identified in male and female communication.
Occupational differences also existed between the male and female
characters. Males were more likely to have some sort of recognizable job,
while females were more likely to be cast in the role of caregiver. These
differences are, of course, somewhat consistent with real-world occupations,
in that more males do have jobs outside the home than do females and
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
females are more likely to be caregivers. However, in the cartoons only
13% of the female characters had jobs, and male characters were never
shown as caregivers. This, of course, is not consistent with real-world data.
Pre- and Post-1980 Differences
As noted above and as suggested in hypotheses 2 and 3, while the
gender portrayals are still rather stereotypical, they have changed substantially since 1980. Particular change was noted in the representation of the
female characters, who are now more independent, assertive, intelligent,
competent, responsible, and helpful than they used to be. The female characters were also stronger and hardier, and were less emotional, tentative,
affectionate, sensitive, and complaining. Additionally, the female characters
give more guidance, showed less helplessness, and answered more questions
than they did in the past. We now see some evidence of female leadership,
rewarding, bragging, insulting, failure, incompetence, gossiping, providing
of routine services, and interrupting. All of this indicates significant change
in the portrayal of the female characters, much of it away from gender-role
Changes have also occurred in the presentation of the male characters.
They are now more intelligent, more technical, and hardier than they used
to be and engage in more verbal aggression, leadership, ingenuity, question
asking and answering, ordering/bossing, task emphasis, and expressions of
excitement. They brag less than they used to. In the past we did not see
evidence of males providing routine services and gossiping, but now we see
some of these behaviors. A few of these changes indicate less stereotypical
gender-role behavior; others do not.
Male characters now talk significantly more than they used to, but no
significant change has occurred in the amount of talk seen in the female
characters. While there are now more female characters than there used to
be, there are also more male and gender-neutral characters than in the past.
As was reported in the results, however, most of the pre-1980 cartoons
were chase-and-pratfall. Our pre- and post-1980 results, then, are confounded
by cartoon type. However, many of the cartoons broadcast prior to 1980 were
chase-and-pratfalls; continuing adventures and teach-preachies have become
more popular since that time. Thus, this confounding may not be a serious
concern, as it represents changes in the most popular cartoons over time.
The fact that our pre-1980 results are consistent with those found in the pre1980 studies cited in the literature review provides added confidence.
Thompson and Zerbinos
Cartoon Types
The research question asked whether there were differences among
cartoon types, and the analysis revealed some interesting differences among
cartoon types. Male characters in chase-and-pratfall cartoons were least
stereotypical in some ways, while teachy-preachy males were least stereotypical in other ways. Chase-and-pratfall males were least competent, technical, and responsible, and did not engage in much verbal aggression,
leadership, achievement, giving guidance, expressing opinions, interrupting,
or insulting others; thus, they did not represent characteristics that are typically thought to be associated with males in our culture. Teachy-preachy
males, however, were warmest, most emotional, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, and helpful. They provided routine services to others and engaged
in little physical aggression. They, too, were nonstereotypical because they
engaged in many prosocial, frequently stereotypically female, behaviors. But
the teachy-preachy males also held some typically male traits, in that they
were presented as being important and emphasizing tasks. Teachy-preachy
males appeared to be more androgynous than stereotypically male. Chaseand-pratfall males were not high in typical male characteristics, but did not
balance that out with positive, typically female, traits. Males in continuing
adventures were most stereotypical--they were hardy, verbally aggressive,
used threats and insults, bossed or ordered others, and frequently rescued
others or demonstrated bravery.
By contrast, females in continuing adventures were least stereotypical.
They were the least domestic and helpless and most intelligent of the female characters, but appeared less often than in teachy-preachy cartoons.
Like males in teachy-preachy cartoons, females in teachy-preachy cartoons
were emotional, affectionate, and warm. They tended not to be very technical, and were high on asking questions, emphasizing relationships, and
expressing excitement. Rather than being nonstereotypical, we found that
male and female characters were rather similar in the teachy-preachy cartoons, both representing many prosocial values. Females in chase-and-pratfall cartoons were not competent, responsible nor active, were likely to fail,
and were troublesome. They answered few questions and rarely emphasized
tasks. Both males and females were portrayed in rather negative ways in
chase-and-pratfaU cartoons.
Children who view these various cartoon types are most likely to see
negative presentations of both male and female characters in chase-andpratfall cartoons, and fairly positive, if nonstereotypical, presentations in
teachy-preachy cartoons. Those children who watch continuing adventure
cartoons, which tend to be rather popular, will see stereotypical males, but
nonstereotypical, if rare, representations of females.
Gender Roles in Animated Cartoons
Future Research
Although television neither claims to nor is expected to completely
represent real-life, it is likely that the depictions seen by children have some
impact both on the expectations they develop about relationships and appropriate behavior, and their future life-decisions. The data cited earlier
in the literature review provide a rationale for concern about these issues.
The next phase of the present line of research is an investigation of children's perceptions of gender representation in cartoons. Of interest will be
whether children see differences in the male and female characters and
how those differences impact them.
Additional future research should overcome the limitations in the present study. Although all the coders first established reliability with one of
the researchers and were periodically but randomly monitored during their
coding, it is more difficult to maintain control over a large number of
coders than over a smaller number. This is even more probable with a
rather detailed coding form such as that used in the present study, which
is likely to increase coder fatigue. Random checks, however, did indicate
continued reliability in data coding.
There is also no doubt other variables should be studied about how
cartoon characters are represented. This was not done in the present study
because incorporating other variables would have increased the coder fatigue problem. Future research, however, should examine these other characteristics.
The present study examined a random and fairly large sample of all
cartoons listed in the local edition of 77I Guide at the time the data were
collected, but it is possible that cartoons watched by a significant number
of children were not included. Thus, some very popular cartoons may not
have been studied. Analyses of more popular vs. less popular cartoons
would provide interesting insight into the issues under consideration here
and important information about children and cartoons. Some of the data
cited in our literature review indicate that continuing adventure and chaseand-pratfall cartoons are particularly popular with children, and these cartoons are typically more gender-role stereotypical than the teachy-preachy
cartoons. The impact of type of cartoon watched on the development of
gender-role stereotypes and personal expectations in children would be an
interesting extension of this research.
The impact of observing gender-role stereotypical behavior on children's cartoons or any other medium, of course, cannot be ascertained
through mere content analysis or through the kind of correlational study
of children's perceptions of television that is currently being undertaken as
a follow-up to the present study. However, the stereotypical behavior that
Thompson and Zerbinos
has persisted in the presentation of male and female cartoon characters
a n d t h e d a t a cited e a r l i e r a r g u i n g t h a t such p o r t r a y a l s i m p a c t c h i l d r e n l e a d
to a c o n t i n u i n g c o n c e r n a b o u t t h e s e issues. C e r t a i n l y , this calls for a d d i t i o n a l r e s e a r c h a m o n g t h o s e for w h o m rigid g e n d e r - r o l e s t e r e o t y p e s are
s e e n as a l i m i t a t i o n to t h e d e v e l o p m e n t o f o u r c u l t u r e a n d o u r c h i l d r e n .
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