Study: 'Superwomen' in movies affect real women

July 20, 2011

An Angelina Jolie character who crushes a robot in “Tomb Raider” is perceived by young women as a better role model than a mouthy Kathy Bates character who carries a gun in “Primary Colors,” a UC Davis study has found.

The study, using recorded perceptions of movie clips viewed by 122 undergraduate UC Davis students, found that movies reinforce and shape gender roles that expect to be attractive and aggressive but also nurturing.

“The media content we watch affects what we expect of others, and probably of ourselves,” said study co-author Laramie D. Taylor, an assistant professor of communications at UC Davis. “When it comes to gender roles, watching these women who can effortlessly do it all leads us to believe, at some level, not only that women can do it all, but that they should.”

The study, “Watching Aggressive, Attractive Female Protagonists Shapes General Roles for Women among Male and Female Undergraduate Viewers,” was published in the journal “Sex Roles.” It was co-authored by Taylor and Tiffany Setters, who was an undergraduate student at the time they collected the data.

Both women and men perceive attractive female leads in movies as better role models than less attractive leads, the study said.

In the experiment, students — both male and female — viewed clips of films featuring “stereotypically attractive” actor Jolie, as well as Bates, in two violent films (“Tomb Raider” and “Primary Colors”). Students also looked at two non-violent films, “Changeling” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” also featuring female protagonists.

Attractive heroines, regardless of whether they were violent, were seen as better role models for girls and women than less attractive heroines. However, aggressive protagonists were considered better role models that less-aggressive regardless of whether the character was also considered attractive, the study found. The study found that women as well as men — represented equally in the experiment — had increased expectations of women after watching movies in which female leads fulfill both feminine and masculine roles.

“Exposure to attractive, aggressive female characters actually increases expectations on women, including potentially inconsistent roles — after viewing, women were expected to be both more independent and ambitious and more socially connected and nurturing,” the study says.

More information: A full copy of the study is available at … v4g3853/fulltext.pdf

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3 / 5 (2) Jul 20, 2011
Media designed to evoke emotions is shown to change emotions. News at eleven.

For the purpose of respecting a woman's mentality, however, we should seek not to coerce it and just show movies about average women...whatever they look like.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 20, 2011
"Both women and men perceive attractive female leads in movies as better role models than less attractive leads, the study said."
Ya know California is a very progressive state. Its colleges R very attractive & people compete like hell 2 get N D door! I really must, MUST, insist that surveys like this use a larger sample and/or a much BROADER multi-ethnic pool:
1) 122 Women who may or may not B undr D Nfluence, did they check 4 that?
2) Women of Color do NOT look like Angelina & F they can get N 2 a California college, they probably have reduced their dependence on looking 4 that PARTICULAR TYPE of role model or looking up 2 'Angie'.
3) More women than men have been going 2 college N D US since about 1975. That is 36 years. I just have 2 believe, BELIEVE, N D inherent sophistication and mental elevation of open female minds!
Tomb Raider IS fiction a bloody GAME! ALL women can look N a mirror, locked N a closet, and get a glimpse of a better woman than THAT!
Tell-ya-mom-I said-IT!
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 20, 2011
Watching Aggressive, Attractive Female Protagonists Shapes General Roles for Women among Male and Female Undergraduate Viewers

They left off the end of the study's title: "for the better".

I'm no Hollywood apologist, but frankly, I *want* my young female protagonists in real life to be both aggressive and attractive (I'm thinking specifically of my daughters and their friends here, lest you misunderstand), and it would be very handy if the young male predators out there were aware of this and thus knew to mind their manners.

No, I don't rely on movies to teach the kids life skills, but you know - a nugget here and there of kick-ass radiant beauty never hurt anyone (other than the antagonist, of course).
1 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2011
Kick ass radiant beauty?

She was only 12 when she made that film.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2011
VD, I realize that girls mature faster than boys, but I'm pretty darn certain Angelina Jolie was a good deal older than that when she made Tomb Raider. And I'm betting you know this.

So who are you referring to as being only 12?
1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2011
"So who are you referring to as being only 12?" - Meh

1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2011
Ah. OK, thanks for the link.
Didn't know about that one.

2 / 5 (4) Jul 24, 2011
Yeah - what we need is more superwoman bull**** in the popular media - to get girls even more socially confused than they already are about life in the real world.

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