CHICAGO -- We may have come a long way, baby, from the days of Betty Boop, but females are still portrayed as dummies in television cartoons, and this isn't good for our kids, researchers said Sunday.
Male cartoon characters still outnumber female cartoon personalities by 4-1, exactly the same as in the '70s, when sexism dominated the airwaves even more than today, Drs. Mary Hudak and Cynthia Spicher of Allegheny College told participants at the 105th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
What's more, though Homer Simpson epitomizes stupidity and his wife, Marge, his salvation, they are aberrations, the researchers said. They found that male cartoon characters are still portrayed for the most part as powerful, aggressive and dominating, while few female "toons" have much character at all and are as bland as poached eggs.
This means youngsters who spend hours in front of the TV are getting the same kinds of sexist symbols that prevailed when female cops had to be gorgeous, as in "Charlie's Angels," while men were ugly yet tough, like Kojak.
The researchers videotaped and categorized 118 cartoon characters from such animated features as Bugs Bunny, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spiderman, Tick and Life with Louie. The characters were rated on sex, prominence, gender stereotyping, aggressive behaviors and occupational roles.
"Male characters were powerful, strong, smart, aggressive and so on," they said. "Occasionally there's a token female cartoon character, but she's like lime Jell-O -- she's bland," Hudak said.
And even though women's occupational roles have changed drastically during the past three decades, only a minute number of female cartoon characters were shown in such nontraditional roles as doctors or police.
Male characters tended to be the center of attention. Cartoons today "are the kiddie version of what's portrayed on adult dramas at night," the authors said.
They said changes need to be made because cartoons are depicting major differences in the status, behavior and capabilities of female and male characters.
In other studies, researchers found that:
The threat of severe penalties may be effective in reducing the number of teen-agers killed and injured in auto accidents.
Learning self-defense skills benefits women in ways far beyond protecting themselves; it also boosts their self-esteem and positively affects their personalities, according to a University of Washington study.
Stay-at-home dads are a lot like stay-at-home moms -- they complain they're doing too much. While stay-at-home dads are primary caretakers of children, the researchers said such men also are expected to perform traditional tasks like lawn mowing and house maintenance. That compares to the expectation of many men that stay-at-home moms should do most of the housework. But even stay-at-home dads don't seem to get the same respect as moms, at least from their kids.
"In a stay-at-home dad family, if a child gets hurt or wakes up at night and both parents are available, the child will go to either the mother or the father," said Dr. Robert Frank of Loyola and Dr. Michael Helford of DePaul University. "In a traditional family, the child will go to the mother 80 percent of the time and the father 20 percent of the time."
And no matter who stays at home, moms know more about what's happening with the kids than dads, the researchers found.
Pub Date: 8/19/97