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Essay Cites Gender Bias in Media

Essay Cites Gender Bias in Media
Stacy Smith, left, and Cinny Kennard

Fellows from the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism have written an essay included in a report released Oct. 15 by California’s first lady Maria Shriver.

Shriver is working with the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and the Center for American Progress on a research project examining how women’s changing roles are affecting government, businesses, faith communities and the media.

Findings were released in “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything” (

The report outlines how “institutions rely on outdated models of who works and who cares for our families, and examines how all these parts of the culture have responded to one of the greatest social transformations of our time.”

“Sexy Socialization: Today’s Media and the Next Generation of Women,” an essay written by journalist and media executive Cinny Kennard; scholar and author Stacy Smith; and USC Annenberg doctoral student Amy Granados, appears in the report.

Kennard, Smith and Granados are fellows at the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

“Whether looking at animated films approved for general audiences, R-rated blockbusters or innovative video games, girls and women often appear as eye candy,” the authors wrote. “These ever-present idealized portrayals may be inescapable for female viewers, whether they are 8 or 18 years of age. Of equal concern is what boys and young men might be learning about girls and women and how to relate to them. All this will inform the future workplaces of America.”

According to the essay, the impact of these portrayals may affect girls’ “perceptions of self-worth,” “thoughts and feelings about their bodies” and how they “construct their identities virtually in the public sphere.”

Kennard, Smith and Granados identify possible ways to address these issues.

“The main hope lies on females working behind the scenes across media platforms in production, distribution and exhibition,” they wrote in the essay. “Research demonstrates that when women direct films, write and produce TV shows or even cover the news, the way in which females are presented changes dramatically.”

“A Woman’s Nation” will share its findings with Congress and President Obama, who signed an executive order earlier this year to establish a council to coordinate the federal government’s efforts to address the needs of women and girls.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, women represent half of all workers and are becoming the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before,” Kennard said. “The shift is generating a transformation in the American family, and this report outlines the potential impact on society.”

Said Smith: “Despite these shifts, our essay substantiates that the media still often overlook portrayals of girls and women. Females appear less frequently than males across many media outlets and are routinely shown in a hypersexualized light.”

Geoffrey Cowan, USC University Professor and director of the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, said: “We are delighted to have joined with Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress on this project, which is providing an important examination of the status of American women as we move into the 21st century.

“The exceptional work done by our research team will help illuminate and perhaps lead to systemic changes in one important area: the ways in which the media is influencing the lives of girls and women,” said Cowan, whose parents, Lou and Polly Cowan, participated in the development of the 1963 “Shriver Report” written by Robert Sargent Shriver for the Kennedy administration.

Essay Cites Gender Bias in Media

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