Girls like what they see on TV less than boys, according to a new survey, and both sexes tend to invent television characters who are glamorous models, movie stars or professional athletes more frequently than teachers, lawyers or firefighters.
Girls Inc., a 50-year-old education and advocacy organization that serves 350,000 girls nationwide, commissioned the survey, which was conducted by the Louis Harris organization. It questioned more than 2,000 boys and girls in Grades 3 through 12 on their attitudes toward television as part of a campaign to encourage girls to ask Hollywood to produce more and better heroines.
"Role models for girls still remain misleading and meager," says actress Barbara Feldon (Agent 99 in "Get Smart"). "It's as if television were a jigsaw puzzle and we say, 'Out of these pieces build a picture of yourself.' There are very few pieces for girls."
Most girls seen on TV are interested mainly in boys and clothes, according to other studies cited by Girls Inc., and the most common job held by women characters is clerical. Of 200 prime-time shows studied in another survey, not one focused a plot on a female character's "academic activities or career plans," it says.
Among the Girls Inc. findings:
* Children says they watch an average of 21 hours of television a week.
* 58% per cent say they have a television in their bedroom.
* Girls who watch less television were more likely to criticize what is on TV for failing to be realistic or to portray their world. Girls in general were more critical of TV than boys, and of kids' television habits (68% of girls vs. 54% of boys says kids watch too much TV.)
* African American girls reported watching more TV--28.5 hours a week--and were also more likely to be critical of what they saw, and to create smart characters with professional careers when asked to design their own programs.
Most kids (71%) says their parents impose some rules on TV watching; nearly half of them says they don't mind the rules.
The most popular show among girls in Grades 3 through 6 was "Full House," a runaway favorite (since canceled) with 42%. For African American girls and boys, "Martin" was tops, with "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" coming in second. Overall, 20% of all kids picked Fox--often criticized for the quantity of violence and sex in its shows--as their favorite network, while 12% picked MTV and 10% had no favorite.
Asked to create TV characters, boys and girls tended to split along predictable divides. The 7th- to 12th-graders were asked to create 18-year-old characters, both male and female, and 26% of the boys said their female character would be a model. Only 5% said she'd be a lawyer, and no boys saw her as a political figure. While more girls designed their female character as a model more than any other single career (13%) they also were more likely to see her as a professional or as an artist. On the other hand, more boys (7%) cast their female character in traditionally male careers--such as police officer, auto mechanic or firefighter--than did girls (4%).
The biggest pick of boys for male characters was "professional athlete," selected by 16%. The next highest was police officer (11%); lawyer and movie star tied for third place at 5%. Sixteen percent of girls also cast males as future athletes, but they also saw them as doctors (10%), police officers (8%) and lawyers (7%).
Both sexes thought being attractive was the most important attribute for either male or female characters. Forty-three percent of the girls thought physical appearance was more important for both male and female characters than being funny, smart or--in the male category --strong, athletic or a good fighter. Sixty-four percent of the boys thought appearance was most important for female characters, but only 10% thought it was the highest priority for males.