#guestpost: research: sexism as entertainment. More on TV’s MANswers.

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This is a guestpost by Hennie and Elin Weiss on their follow-up research on the TV show MANanswers. Their first piece of research is guestposted here.

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In a previous piece for feimineach we wrote about an American television show called MANswers and its disturbing sexist portrayals of women. MANswers Facebook site describes the show as: “…a satire aimed at predominately male audiences with a wide age range, primarily 18-40. Questions of a comical nature are asked and answered which usually relate to women and tips on how to get them, sex references to males, and defense mechanisms in deadly & harmful situations, and also firearms. Specialists with Masters and PhD degrees are brought in and give information from which the viewer can learn”.

In each episode a male narrator poses questions such as “Which nationality is more likely to put out on the first date?”, “How can your beer gut save your life?”, “How can boobs wash your car?” and “What’s the secret to getting in your girl’s pants?”. The answer to each question is reenacted by male and female actors, while a typical MANswers show is approximately twenty minutes in length. According to their Facebook website a typical MANswers episode “has a magazine style format which discusses hypothetical questions believed to be the type men discuss. It has a narrator who talks about the topics and usually over a reenactment”.

While watching the show we noted that its portrayals of women were overwhelmingly negative and very stereotypical. Therefore we hypothesized that in MANswers:

1: The great majority of professionals/experts depicted would be male.
2: Race would be significant in the depiction of women, where white women would be portrayed more often than other ethnicities.
3: The majority of women depicted would be below average weight, while a smaller number of women would be of average weight.
4: The women depicted would be portrayed mainly as “sex objects”.

We found that 78% of the experts consulted to answer questions for the episodes were male and only 22% were female. White women were portrayed more often than any other ethnicity (65%) and black women constituted 6% of the women in MANswers. When looking at the body size of the women in MANswers we found that 77% were below average weight, 22.5% were of average weight and 0.5% were above average weight (sample size of 517 women). Lastly, 35.5% of women were coded with maximum body exposure (very little or no clothing) and 58% were coded with moderate exposure.

Method and Results:

After this first look through MANswers we wondered if the show would improve in its portrayals of women over time. Would the show become less sexist and stereotypical in its portrayals or would it remain the same? Therefore we watched all episodes and seasons and carried out content analysis of each episode to record whether or not the portrayals of women changed over time. The results are shown in the table below.

In comparing the episodes, from season one through season four, a growing number of women were depicted in MANswers. Season one depicted 82 women (5 as professionals that discussed the topics of the show). Season two depicted 141 women (3 professionals). Season three depicted 233 women (5 professionals) while season four depicted 235 women (1 professional). We notice then that the numbers of women portrayed in MANswers increased for each season. The increase in percentage from season one to season two was 42%. From season two to season three the increase of women portrayed in percentage form was 39.5%. From season three to season four the percentage increase of women depicted in MANswers was 1%. As the results show, there was no increase, but a decrease, in the number of women professionals in the show between season one and season four.

When examining the results for the second category which was “race of female” the numbers were quite constant with smaller rather than larger changes. In season one 61% of women were white, 9% were black, and the remaining 29% were categorized as other ethnicities. In season two 67% of women were considered white, 3% were considered black and 30% of women were considered of other ethnicities. In season three 65% of women were white, 6% were black and 29% were of other ethnicities. Lastly, in season four 74% of women were white, 3% of women were black and other ethnicities constituted 23% of the sample. The number of women in the categories do not change markedly from year to year but the largest change is between season one and season four where there is a difference in percentage of 12% increase in the portrayal of white women, a 6 % decrease in the portrayal of black women and a 6 % decrease in the portrayal of all other ethnicities.    

The next category examined was “body weight of female”. For season one 83% of women were considered below average weight while 17% of women were considered average weight and 0 women were considered above average weight. In season two 69.5% of women were considered below average weight, 30% were considered to be of average weight and 0.5% were considered above average weight. For season three 82% of women were considered below average weight, 17.5% were believed to be of average weight while again 0.5% were above average weight. In season four 86% of women were below average weight, 14% were of average weight and 0% were above average weight. Again, the numbers do not differ all that much but we are seeing that season four includes more women that are coded as below average weight than does any other season.

Results for category four “clothing of female” show that for season one 12% of women were depicted as fully clothed, 39% of women were depicted as moderately exposed, 46.5% of women were depicted with maximum exposure, and 2.5% of women were portrayed as naked. In seasons two 4% of women were coded as fully clothed, 67% of women were coded as moderately exposed, 29% of women were depicted with maximum exposure and 0 women were depicted as naked. In season three 6.5% of women were fully clothed, 56% of women were portrayed as moderately exposed, 37.5% of women were depicted with maximum exposure, and finally 0 women were depicted as naked. In season four 4 percent of women were fully clothed, 68 percent showed moderate exposure, 27 % showed maximum exposure and 1 % of women were naked. It appears as if the percentage of women in the maximum exposure category is decreasing between season one and season four and in percentage form it does. The numbers of women in this category however has increased from season one to season four with 26 portrayals of women.

Conclusion:

It appears as the depictions and representations of women in MANswers are still very stereotypical with a typical representation of a woman being a white woman below average weight with very little clothes on. As time went by (even though five years it not an extensive period of time) one would assume that women would be portrayed in a more fair manner and not the other way around. In MANswers, however, we have seen a decrease between season one and season four in the number of women professionals in the show. We saw a decrease in the number of women that were fully clothed and an increase in the number of women in the “moderate exposure” category. We did see a decrease in the number of women in the “maximum exposure” category percentage wise but an increase in the number of women in MANswers in the “maximum exposure” category (from 38 women in season one to 64 women in season four). There is also an increase, both in percentage and in actual numbers of white women in MANswers, much more so than any other ethnicity.

In short, it appears as if the portrayals of women in MANswers is getting more extreme and stereotypical. Perhaps this is an attempt to make the show more “interesting”, from one season to another. But if we consider the ways in which sexism and stereotypical images of women impact how women feel about themselves and also how men treat women, MANswers only helps to maintain wide held stereotypes. Even though stereotypical and sexist images are often portrayed in media in comical shows that do not represent reality, or that makes fun of such stereotypes, they maintain real life implications. Men who are exposed to sexist or stereotypical images appear to react to women in a way that is troublesome. Rudman and Borgida (1995) found that men who had previously watched sexist advertisement material, compared to men who viewed non-sexist material, behaved more inappropriately to a female interviewee and selected more sexist questions to ask her. The authors further found that these men sat closer to the female in question and rated the female as friendlier but less competent. Heflick and Goldenberg (2009) extends on the topic and state that when focus is placed on a woman’s appearance, she if often viewed as less competent but also less human. Loughnan et al. (2010) further states that women who are objectified are often denied moral status and “mind”. The depictions of women in MANswers are, to say the least, troubling.

Sources:

Heflick, N., & Goldenberg, J. (2009). Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 598-601.
Loughnan, S., Hasla, N., Murnane T., Vaes., Reynolds, C., & Suitner, C. (2010). Objectification leads to depersonalization: The denial of mind and moral concern to objectified others. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 709-717.
Rudman, L, A., & Borgida, E. (1995). The Afterglow of Construct Accessibility: The Behavioral Consequences of Priming Men to View Women as Sexual Objects. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 31, 493-517.


Hennie Weiss has a Master’s Degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender stereotypes, the sexualization of women and the portrayal of women and men in media. More of their work can be found here.