TV Eye: Reality TV seen as damaging to girls


Catholic News Service

The need for media literacy may be no more evident than when it comes to reality TV.

Reality TV may show real events, but it’s a director’s and editor’s version of events. It can be the visual equivalent of a newspaper story where the subject complains that he was interviewed for a half-hour, but the only thing that appears is a quote taken out of context.

Of course, reality shows bind their subjects to nondisclosure clauses until it suits the network — like having them appear on the network’s morning news program the day after they’re voted off the island.

But there is emerging evidence that reality TV can be damaging to girls — not that they had been considered any more

”]”]or less immune to the genre than other demographic groups.

The Girl Scouts commissioned a study, released in October, that demonstrated the impact of reality TV on girls.

One of the more eye-opening findings is that girls who view reality TV regularly are more focused on the value of physical appearance. Seventy-two percent say they spend a lot of time on their appearance compared to 42 percent of nonviewers.

The study, “Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV” by the Girl Scout Research Institute, also found that 78 percent of the viewers vs. 54 percent of the nonviewers believe that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls.”

The news isn’t necessarily all bad. The study also disclosed that 68 percent of girls agree that reality shows “make me think I can achieve anything in life” and 48 percent said that they “help me realize there are people out there like me.”

“Girls today are bombarded with media — reality TV and otherwise — that more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration. This perpetuates a ‘mean-girl’ stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls,” said a statement by Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist for the Girl Scouts. “We don’t want girls to avoid reality TV, but want them, along with their parents, to know what they are getting into when they watch it.”

Archibald’s remark about “girls and women in competition” is borne out in another study, released in November by the Parents Television Council, which examined the four top-rated reality shows on the MTV cable channel.

The study, “Reality on MTV: Gender Portrayals on MTV Reality Programming,” looked at “Jersey Shore,” “Teen Mom 2,” “16 and Pregnant” and “The Real World.”

According to the study, the reality shows do women no favors.

“Overall, women were more disparaging than men when speaking of themselves or someone of their own gender,” the study said.

“Females talked about sex acts more than men, talked about sex more graphically than men, mentioned sexual body parts more than men, and talked about intercourse and preliminaries to intercourse more than men,” it added, noting, “Females were the recipients of an ‘F-word’ or ‘S-word’ 662 times or once every four minutes and 10 seconds.”

Another common word used by women to describe other women: the B-word, “bitch,” along with “stupid” and “dirty.” These three ranked as the most-used derogatory words.

What may be the least surprising statistic is that “Jersey Shore” accounted for 59 percent of all of the sexual references used on the four MTV reality series surveyed.

Perhaps the saddest stat of all: When all the shows’ dialogue was taken into account, only 24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive.

And to think that the music videos that were a staple of MTV 30 years ago caused such a fuss.

Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.