Television heroines : effects on adolescents' perceptions of female stereotypes and the ideal woman

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While content analyses of television programming document patterns of differential treatment of males and females, few investigators have addressed the issue of television's impact on sex-role socialization. The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of the three heroines of "Charlie's Angels" (females in "atypical" lead roles) on adolescents' perceptions of women. The program was selected because these characters possess qualities associated with salient role models. Adolescents' perceptions of the stereotypic woman and the ideal woman on the Personal Attributes Questionnaire were assessed in a standard situation and in one in which subjects first rated the heroines from "Charlie's Angels". MANOVAs for the masculinity scale, femininity scale and sex-specific scales were conducted for stereotype and ideal ratings (sex, grade and treatment as independent variables). Stereotypes were related to sex differences--higher scores for each sex on sex-appropriate traits—and grade differences—seniors higher than sophomores. Treatment, however, did not affect ratings. In contrast, perceptions of the ideal reflect sex and treatment differences but no grade differences. Females see the ideal woman as more masculine, more feminine and less emotionally vulnerable than males. Subjects who have rated the television heroines first see the ideal woman as more masculine, less emotionally vulnerable and less feminine than control subjects. Despite differences between males and females, treatment effects were similar for both sexes. Results suggest that current portrayals of "liberated" heroines merit as much scrutiny as traditional passive portrayals; implications for female sex-role development are discussed.