MS NBC

30 September 1999

Children's group releases nationwide survey, study

MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

30 Sept 1999 - Media images of masculinity are reinforcing the message that men are violent and angry, according to a new study and nationwide survey of boys. And that, says the child advocacy group that commissioned the work, means risky role models for American boys.

THE POLL, released by Children Now, showed nearly three-fourths of children aged 10-17 described men on television as "violent," while more than two-thirds described them as "angry." The survey was followed up with focus group discussions with boys and a study by Children Now that reviewed prime-time TV shows, movies, music videos and sports programming cited by boys in the survey as the ones they most often watched. "Our study shows that boys are exposed relentlessly to a narrow, confining picture of masculinity in America, one that reinforces anger and violence as the way to solve problems," Lois Salisbury, president of Children Now, said in a statement issued with the survey and study.

MACHO MEDIA MESSAGES

What researchers found in the study, Children Now said, was a chain of sex and violence associated with male characters, while behavior such as compromise and sharing was downplayed. For example: Three out of four males on television and in movies engaged in traditionally "anti-social" behavior including ridiculing, lying, aggression and defiance. Sports commentators consistently used the language of war, martial arts and weaponry to describe sports action. Traditionally "masculine" images of speed, danger and aggression were frequently used in commercials shown during sports programs boys watch. Minority characters in entertainment media were more often depicted as using sex to solve their problems, while white characters were more likely to use deception, dominance, or ridicule. Overall, while male characters were shown with a range of emotional behavior including fear, anger, grief and pain, they almost never cried - and 38 percent of the boys polled said that "sensitive" was not an accurate description for male characters.

'GENDER STRAITJACKET'

William Pollack, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor and expert on male gender identity, said the media message left U.S. boys with few models for behavior.

"Our culture puts boys in a gender straitjacket, channeling their full range of healthy emotions into narrow forms of expression, often aggressive ones," Pollack, a Children Now adviser, said in the statement accompanying the new study. "Media legitimates these constraints at a time when we desperately need to reinvent manhood in America."

The nationwide survey of 1,200 children was conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points. Children Now presented its findings in two reports, one on entertainment media and the other on sports media. Both are online at www.childrennow.org.

Reuters contributed to this story