URC

The Portrayal of Men in the Media

Chelsea Ivy-Rose Jove
The Master’s College

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the portrayal of fathers in the media. Fathers are being “dumbed down” and pushed aside. The survey instrument was limited to selected parents in the Santa Clarita Valley and students at The Master’s College located in Santa Clarita, California, during the spring 2009 semester. The research questions were analyzed using STATPAK.  The One-Dimensional Chi-square test was used to calculate the data using a .05 level of significance. It was indicated through the review of the literature that the media’s portrayal of men affects the family. Fathers are extremely important when rearing children, and they affect their children’s lives physiologically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally, and physically.

Introduction

Research shows that conflict between male and female characters is often the foundation of domestic comedies (Olson & Douglas, 1997). The media often portrays the conflicts between husband and wife, while adding a comedic twist to it. “Many of the returning shows are ones that helped create the image of the ‘doofus dad,’ shows featuring a fat oaf with no good advice to give his kids, and a beautiful wife who really ought to take the kids and leave” (Weinman, 2006, p.60).  The media takes a stab at fathers just to get a laugh from the audience.

The Amount of Television Children Watch Affects Their Attitudes and Beliefs

It is estimated that the average child sees 360,000 television advertisements by the age of eighteen (Harris, 1989, p. 30).  Due to this large number of commercials, parents and guardians are beginning to wonder what commercials are asking their children to do and ask for. Commercials can affect children’s beliefs because when they do not receive the new hot toy or item being advertised they can be whiny, angry, and upset. Commercials are very effective because the company portrays their product as the best out there. They also give viewers the feeling that they need what is being advertised and that they need it right away.

Commercials are created for the purpose of convincing the viewer of something. “Television seems to play an important role in shaping children’s attitudes. Commercials have a detrimental effect on elementary school children’s views of women’s occupational roles, and girls may even change their occupation preference to ones portrayed by women in commercials” (Kaufman, 1999, p. 439).  It is clear that commercials portraying a stupid father can affect the way children view their own father.

Parents Should Monitor What Their Children Watch

When children arrive for their first day of pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade, they may not know much about English and numbers, but chances are that they know a lot about television and movies. Children may not know how to write by the time they reach first grade, but they probably already know how to work the remote control. When children are young they soak up a lot of information, and almost everything impacts and influences them. This is a key reason that it is important for parents to monitor children’s entertainment, especially when they are young.
“Americans watch an average of more than 30 hours of television and see over 500 commercials. With this constant barrage of images, it is no surprise that researchers have found a connection between commercials and gender role attitudes” (Kaufman, 1999, p. 439).  As children are growing they start to learn more in school and about life. They begin to shape their views. If children are constantly watching television where dads are seen as irresponsible, then they may take on this view as their own. When parents put boundaries on what children can watch, it helps them understand that not everything in the media is accurate and appropriate to watch.

Fathers are Important When Rearing Children

“With Father’s Day and the prospect of a new pair of socks on the horizon, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to dads, specifically, TV dads . . . . I recently read a shocking statistic: According to a 2005 study by the National Fatherhood Initiative, 24 million children in this country do not live with their biological father in the same house. That means that an amazing number of kids are growing up with TV dads as their primary image of what fathers are all about” (Lynch, 2006, p. 12).  Rearing children with a mother and a father as a team is ideal. When there is a father in the home there is often more structure and stability. Having a father in the home when a boy is growing up is important because he learns how to be a gentleman, and nothing can replace the father-son camaraderie. It is also important to have a loving father for a daughter because she experiences love and respect. That fatherly respect will help her in finding a gentleman.

A Common Characteristic from Sitcom Dads Is that They’ re Irresponsible

The goal of many sitcoms and movies today is to get you to laugh and enjoy what you are watching. Taking a punch at fathers is an easy laugh. “Think about the so called sit-coms aired from 7 to 10 in the evening. Almost every one of them depicts fathers as dolts, dunderheads, blockheads, nincompoops, and clods who can’t fathom the simplest adolescent or teenage conundrum; who can’t come up with a calm rational solution if their La-Z-Boy lives depended on it” (Cooper, 2003, p. 23). The media will portray men this way and then portray women or mothers in the complete opposite extreme. The woman is the cure and antidote for the father’s irresponsibility and mistakes. She is portrayed as a superwoman who is always clearing up her husband’s messes. The wife seems to look down on her husband and thinks that the she is the one in control of the family and the marriage. Viewers will often relate media to themselves and their lives because in some ways it may be similar. This may lead to criticizing one another through jokes and wishing they would act more like the actors in the television show or movie. Thus, viewers begin to believe that fathers really do act irresponsibly and stupidly, and fathers across the nation are starting to feel hurt because of the way they are being portrayed.

The Portrayal of Men in the Media Is Not Accurate

It seems like the media is bashing men and de-emphasizing the importance of fatherhood. “I can happily say that fatherhood is the greatest fortune I’ve ever experienced. It’s too bad that that sounds so cliché, because it’s true. It’s amazing how that such a deep, emotional connection can be reduced to the most banal of statements and the most banal of images on television” (Lynch, 2006, p. 12). The media makes men look lazy and stupid. The mother often solves problems because it seems the father would not understand. The truth is that fathers are great sources for wisdom and guidance, and they will always have their child’s best interest at heart.

The media will create a fatherly role that is not accurate just to get some laughter out of the audience. “Today instead of being bombarded with unrealistic images of fatherly perfection, we too often suffer from the ‘sitcom dad’ epidemic: the buffoonish father who forgets birthdays and causes his kids to fail their school projects because his help is so misguided . . . . Here is the stunning reality: Dad’s are people too. In real life, dads are flawed, well rounded, sometimes wise, sometimes goofy, mostly somewhere in the middle, full of shades of gray. These are the dads we should see on television” (Lynch, 2003, p. 12).  Fathers are getting upset with the way they are being portrayed because there are too many loving, caring fathers out there who have a great relationship with their children. If they are working hard to have a happy relationship with their children, then they should not be put down repeatedly in the media.

The Way Dads Are Portrayed in Media Influences the Way People View Father Figures

After watching fathers portrayed in this light repeatedly, people begin to think that it is reality. Children without fathers will especially believe the portrayal of men in the media because they don’t have a father in their lives to show them how loving and caring they really are. The media represents fathers as lazy, when in reality they are often working hard all day, come home, and do some more work around the house. Fathers are extremely important when rearing children, and the media has belittled their importance. Television viewers need to be reminded that fathers impact their children’s lives physically, educationally, and emotionally.

Researchers wonder why the fatherly role portrayed in the media has been so drastically changed within the last 50 years. This change can be attributed “to the decline of the man as the sole breadwinner and [they become] ‘fair-game’ for criticism once they had a less crucial economic role in the family” (Walsh & Furshich, 2008, p. 123). Many families have to have both parents work in order to support the family, but that should in no way make the man feel insecure. Even though the man is not always the single breadwinner of the household, he is still extremely important to the family in multiple ways.

Feminism Has Impacted the Way Fathers Are Portrayed in the Media

Feminists feel that there is always a fight for power between men and women. As more women have been receiving jobs in the media, the roles and views of women in the media have also been changing. “Atkin assessed the portrayal of the single female from 1966 to 1990 and found more women in managerial or professional positions and fewer in assistant, subservient occupation positions over time. . . . Lauzen found in the 1997-1998 primetime season that programs with one or more female executive producers had an average of 6 % more female characters than programs with all male executive producers and female characters in programs using female writers displayed significantly more power in language uttered in interpersonal situations”  (Scharrer, 2001, p. 24-25).

The female writers feel they can show their power through their writing. A marriage is a team, yet these writers keep portraying marriage in these shows with the woman being the leader, and the husband doing whatever the wife tells, or nags, him to do. “Overall, during the last twenty-five years feminist media critics have explained how the portrayal of fathers and men on U.S. sitcom comedies has evolved and how humor can empower women on sitcoms” (Walsh and Fursich, 2008, p. 123).  Many women desire independence because they want to feel like they achieved something. By showing their power through sitcoms and movies they feel like they have won, even though marriage is not a competition.

The Increased Number of Divorces Impact the Way Fathers Are Portrayed in the Media

The divorce rate increases almost yearly because many couples do not take marriage seriously. They feel like divorce is a crutch they can rely on if something goes bad. “43 percent of first marriages dissolve within fifteen years; 60 percent of divorcing couples have children and approximately 1 million children each year experience the divorce of their parents” (National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse). Children are daily being separated from one of their parents. When children have to grow up without their father, they are missing a part of themselves. When they watch the television, they will slowly begin to believe that their father acts like the ones in the media.

 “In an article entitled ‘Better Dead than Wed,’ Pollner (1982) discusses the negative portrayal of married men as compared to single men on television. Married men were seen as vulnerable and trapped, relying on wives to tell them what to do. Single men were portrayed positively as being free, happy, and leading exciting lives. The implication for young boys was clear; be like the bachelors” (Kaufman, 1999, p. 440). Divorce is affecting the way the father is shown in a family, but it is also affecting how men are shown outside of a family.

Method

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the portrayal of fathers in the media. Fathers are being “dumbed down” and pushed aside. The following research questions were used:

  1. How does the media’s portrayal of men affect the family?
  2. What influences contribute to the current portrayal of men in the media?
Method of Data Collection

Data were collected through an electronically generated survey. The survey was created to determine the views the subjects had on fathers and their role in media. Three demographic questions were asked with nine Likert-type attitudinal scale questions. The Likert-type attitudinal scale was used to determine how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each statement. The survey instrument was limited to selected parents in the Santa Clarita Valley and students at The Master’s College located in Santa Clarita, California, during the spring 2009 semester. A total of 33 copies of the instrument were completed and returned.  Thirty-three were used in this study.

Statistical procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was       ordinal. In the ordinal scale of measurement, the data are described in a ranked or dated set of values (Joseph & Joseph, p.54). The One Dimensional Chi-square test was utilized to analyze these results because it measures the variance of nominal or ordinal data, the discrepancy between frequencies actually in the sample of subjects measured and frequencies expected according to the stated hypothesis (Joseph & Joseph, p. 182).  A .05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in tables and figures.

Results

The subjects sampled for this study were limited to selected parents in the Santa Clarita Valley and students at The Master’s College located in Santa Clarita, California, during the spring 2009 semester.  Fifty copies of the survey instrument were distributed; thirty-three were returned and thirty-three were used in this study. The sample indicated that 55 percent of the subjects were male and 45 percent were female. The sample indicated that 6.06 percent of the subjects were between the ages of 16-19; 36.36 percent were between the ages of 20-23; 12.12 percent were between the ages of 24-27; 0 percent were between the ages of 28-31; 3.03 percent were between the ages of 32-35; 3.03 percent were between the ages of 36-39; 6.06 percent were between the ages of 40-43; 12.12 percent were between the ages of 44-47; 3.03 percent were between the ages of 48-51; 3.03 percent were between the ages of 52-55; 9.09 percent were between the ages 56-59; 0% were between the ages of 60-63, and 6.06 percent were between the ages of 64-67. The sample indicated that 55 percent of the subjects watched between 0-3 hours per week, 24 percent between 4-7 hours per week, 9 percent watched between 8-11 hours per week,  6 percent watched between 12-15 hours per week,  3 percent watched between 16-19 hours per week,  3 percent watched between 20-23 hours per week, and  0 percent watched more than 24 hours per week.

Table 1. Summary of Responses to Survey Questions


Survey Question

Scale number

Total Responses

Computed Chi-square Value

Tabled Chi-square Value

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Strongly Agree

No Response

1

2

0

12

19

0

33

13.2727

5.99

2

0

0

2

31

0

33

25.4848

3.84

3

0

0

0

33

0

33

29.1212

3.84

4

0

2

11

20

0

33

14.7273

5.99

5

0

6

18

9

0

33

  7.909     

5.99

6

14

12

7

0

0

33

  2.3636

5.99

7

2

6

17

8

0

33

14.6364

7.81

8

2

1

13

17

0

33

23.1212

7.81

9

2

3

17

11

0

33

18.2727

7.81

Research Question One
How does the media’s portrayal of men affect the family?

Questions 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7 of the survey instrument (Appendix A) addressed this research question.

Because the computed Chi-square values of survey questions 1, 2, 4, and 7 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that the type of media a child watches affects their beliefs, parents should monitor what their children watch, a common characteristic associated with sitcom dads is that they’re irresponsible, and the way dads are portrayed in media influences the way people view father figures.

The findings of survey question 1 align with Kaufman (1999) who stated, “television seems to play an important role in shaping children’s attitudes” (p.439).  The results of question 2 align with Kaufman (1999) who stated,Americans watch an average of more than 30 hours of television and see over 500 commercials. With this constant barrage of images, it is no surprise that researchers have found a connection between commercials and gender role attitudes” (p.439). The results of question 4 align with Cooper (2003) who believes that a sitcom “depicts fathers as dolts, dunderheads, blockheads, nincompoops, and clods who can’t fathom the simplest adolescent of teenage conundrum” (p.23). The results from question 7 align with Scharrer (2001) who stated that there has been “a changing portrayal of father figures from positions of wisdom and authority to roles in which their sensibility is called into question or mocked through foolish, humorous portrayals” (p.23).

Because the computed Chi-square value of survey question 6 is less than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that the portrayal of men in the media is not accurate. This finding aligns with Lynch (2003) who suggested that “in real life, dads are flawed, well rounded, sometimes wise, sometimes goofy, mostly somewhere in the middle, full of shades of gray. These are the dads we should see on television” (p.12).   

Research Question Two
What influences contribute to the current portrayal of men in the media?

Questions 3, 5, 8 and 9 of the survey instrument addressed this Research Question.           

Because the computed Chi-square values of survey questions 3, 5, 8, and 9 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that fathers are important when rearing children, most people your age believe that sitcom dads are irresponsible, feminism has impacted the way fathers are portrayed in the media, and the increased number of divorces impact the way fathers are portrayed in the media.

The finding of survey question 3 aligns with Lynch (2006) who stated that “I recently read a shocking statistic: According to a 2005 study by the National Fatherhood Initiative, 24 million children in this country do not live with their biological father in the same house. That means that an amazing number of kids are growing up with TV dads as their primary image of what fathers are all about” (p.12). The results of survey question 5 align with Scharrer (2001) who believed that “the sitcom father is the target of a growing number of jokes and is portrayed in situations that make him look increasingly foolish” (p.23). The findings of question 8 align with Walsh and Fursich (2008) who found that “feminist media critics have explained how the portrayal of fathers and men on U.S. sitcom comedies has evolved and how humor can empower women on sitcoms” (p.123). The results from question 9 align with Kaufman who believes thatsingle men were portrayed positively as being free, happy, and leading exciting lives” (p.440).

Findings

The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square test suggest that it is important for parents to monitor what their children are watching because fathers are portrayed as irresponsible. Feminism and divorce have affected how men are portrayed in the media and how men are portrayed affects children’s attitudes and beliefs. The subjects within this study agreed that the way dads are portrayed in media influences the way people view father figures. Since fathers are important when rearing children, parents need to monitor their children’s television hours and shows.

Discussion

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

  1. The media’s portrayal of men does affect the family.
  2. There are many influences, including divorce and feminism that contribute to the portrayal of men in the media.

The media will always be popular because it is a form of entertainment. There will always be millions of people watching television and movies because it can be addictive and amusing. The media is extremely powerful. Events and outings will get planned around the certain time a television show starts because the loyal viewers want to watch as it is being shown. The Super Bowl is a perfect example to show how people will dedicate time and money just for the enjoyment of television. When so much time is spent invested in the media, its views and opinions begin to become the viewers’ opinions. When certain attitudes and portrayals are being repeatedly shown, it becomes normal and then begins to become a stereotype. The issue with classifying people under a stereotype is that it often is not true.

When children are being reared in the media culture they may think this negative portrayal of fathers is true. Many children grow up without a father present and their views of fatherhood could be completely shaped by the way they are shown in television. This constant negative portrayal of fathers that is showing them as irresponsible and stupid is affecting fathers and families. Fathers contribute significantly to the family and it appears unfair to portray them as complete opposites in the media. Fathers being shown so negatively could affect how they feel about themselves. The media is a great way to find out about news and generate a few laughs. However, it is important to remember that not everything shown is accurate.

Limitations of the Study

This study was limited to selected parents in the Santa Clarita Valley and students at The Master’s College located in Santa Clarita, California, during the spring 2009 semester.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding the portrayal of men in the media.   Additional questions pertaining to the portrayal of men in the media warrant further investigation; thus, the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:

  1. This study should be replicated, using a different population to determine the effects and views of the portrayal of men in the media.
  2. This study can be narrowed to determine specific effects the media has on the family.
  3. This study can be narrowed to determine why divorce is affecting the media’s portrayal of men.
References

Beirne, M. (2008, March 3). The Dumbo Dad AD FAD. (cover story). Brandweek, 49(9), 22-25. Retrieved February 26, 2009, from Business Source Premier database.

Cooper, J. H. (2003). Modern movie spin gives dads bad name. National Law Journal. 25(43), 23.

Harris, R. J. (1989). A cognitive psychology of mass communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Healey, J. F. (2005). Statistics a tool for social research. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

Joseph, M. L., & Joseph, W. D. (1986). Research fundamentals in home economics. Redondo Beach: Plycon Press.

Kaufman, G. (1999). The portrayal of men's family roles in television commercials. Sex Roles. 41(5/6), 439-458.

Lynch, T. (2006). Honest TV portrayals are the best way to honor fathers. Television Week. 25. (24), 12.

National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse , (n/d). Take Time to Be a Dad Today. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from NRFC Web Site: http://www.fatherhood.gov/statistics/index.cfm

Olson, B., & Douglas, W. (1997). The family on television: Evaluation of gender roles in situation comedy. Sex Roles, 36, 409-427.

Scharrer, E. (2001). From wise to foolish: The portrayal of the sitcom father, 1950s-1990s. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 45(1), 23-40.

Walsh, K. R., & Fürsich, E. (2008). Beauty and the patriarchal beast: gender role portrayals in sitcoms featuring mismatched couples. Journal of Popular Film & Television. 36(3), 123-132.

Weinman, J. J. (2006). Wow! A show with a smart father! Maclean's. 119(39), 60. http://www-psh.nearnorthschools.ca/....pdf
 


Appendix A: The Portrayal of Men in the Media Survey

The portrayal of Men in the Media has changed significantly throughout the years. Fathers are shown as forgetting birthdays and sitting at home as couch potatoes. Please respond to the following questions on this survey. Your answers will help in a thesis talking about their portrayals impact on family and why it has changed throughout the years.

Demographics:

Gender: M or F

Age: 16-19   20-23   24-27   28-31  32-35   36-39   40-43   44-47    48-51   52-55   56-59   60-63   64-67

Hours per week I watch TV and Movies:  0-3   4-7  8-11  12-15  16-19  20-23  24-27  28-31  32-35  36-39   40+

Please circle one:

  1. The type of media children watch affects their beliefs.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  2. Parents should monitor what their children watch.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  3. Fathers are important when rearing children.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  4. A common characteristic associated with sitcom dads are that they’ re irresponsible
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  5. Most people your age believe that sitcom dads are irresponsible.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  6. The portrayal of men in the media is accurate.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  7. The way dads are portrayed in media influences the way people view father figures.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  8. Feminism has impacted the way fathers are portrayed in the media.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree

  9. The increased number of divorces impact the way fathers are portrayed in the media.
    Strongly Disagree 1  2  3  4  5  Strongly Agree
                  

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