Female Movie Stars Can Be Mean If They Are Hot Study Finds

The study examines the ways in which the representation of a heroine in the media affects the expectations of people from women in real life. Groups of volunteers were shown clips from movies in which the heroine was either physically attractive or not, and either aggressive or not. Watching an attractive and aggressive heroine resulted in the viewers’ approving both feminine and masculine traits in women. The endorsement of aggression, a stereotypically masculine trait, was probably due to a feeling that the heroine was a good standard for the women to follow.

Beauty and nurturing are stereotypical female traits, while aggression and confidence are stereotypical male traits. This study examines the effect of the representation of women in the media as an attractive and/or aggressive personality on the expectations of society from women. Previous studies demonstrate that the depiction of the heroine as attractive and aggressive results in increased aggression in young female viewers. Also, the stereotype presented in the media is extrapolated to other aspects of gender expectations. “Physical attractiveness has been demonstrated to function as a cue for judgments of a wide range of traits; attractive individuals are judged to be more capable, skilled, intelligent and socially skilled.” The effect of media on viewers goes beyond what is represented, is stronger than that of parents and friends, and is seen at an early age.

* In this study, 122 volunteers between ages 18 and 29 were divided randomly into groups and were given questionnaires to fill before showing them appropriate movie clips.
* The movie clips were from aggressive and non-aggressive roles of Angelina Jolie and Kathy Bates (attractive and non-attractive heroines). The volunteers then noted their gender role expectations and their opinions about how good a role model the heroine was, and how attractive she was.
* All the questions were geared toward clarifying gender role expectations based on a broad variety of behaviors — feminine as well as masculine.

* Angelina Jolie was considered attractive in aggressive and non-aggressive conditions.
* Aggressive behavior from the attractive heroine was considered more feminine than from the unattractive heroine.
* Aggressive behavior was accepted more readily from the stereotypically attractive heroine than from the unattractive one.
* The volunteers who viewed the attractive, aggressive heroine approved of her as a role model for women, but those who viewed the unattractive, aggressive heroine did not approve of her being a role model for women.

It is unclear why the attractive, non-aggressive heroine did not cause greater approval of the stereotypically feminine gender role expectations. Activation of other stereotypes triggered by the clothes and the general effectiveness of the depicted scene may have affected certain perceptions of the viewers. Future research should address the possibility that when considering women, the mind is subconsciously looking for feminine stereotypes. Also, the participants enrolled in the study should be more diverse.

Watching the beauty and aggression of a heroine on the silver screen increased an overall societal expectation of women to be like her. A woman was expected to have feminine as well as masculine traits of behavior—in short, the traits of a superwoman. These expectations, now doubled, came mostly from women themselves. Also, aggression brought about expectations of a masculine role in the female gender, but only when the woman was also attractive, a feminine characteristic. Physical attractiveness created a perception that the heroine was a good role model for women, as did aggressiveness. This could be because aggression, in this study, brought triumph, as a desirable result.

For More Information:
Watching Aggressive, Attractive, Female Heroines Shapes Gender Roles for Women among Male and Female Undergraduate Viewers
Publication Journal: Sex Roles, March 2011
By Laramie Taylor; Tiffany Setters; University of California, Davis

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.