The busybodies at the Parents Television Council, which most recently objected to Glee showing kids it's okay for 17 and 18-year-olds to have safe sex with their long-term boyfriends, has released yet another breakdown of how TV is warping kids' minds. While it's already generally accepted that reality TV is one of the lowest forms of entertainment (with the exception of Project Runway), the PTC found that it's women who make these programs so awful — particularly when you only look at MTV shows known for their troubled and erratic female cast members!
The PTC's report "Reality of MTV: Gender Portrayals on Reality TV" hasn't been officially released yet, but it gave Fox News the first look, so we're viewing the study through an additional layer of puritanical hysteria. As part of its ongoing effort to analyze what the kiddies are watching for the benefit of parents too apathetic (or cool) to stand next to their kids and shoot them a disapproving look every time Stewie and Brian curse, the PTC set out to study what kids see on reality TV. It found that among 12 to 17-year-olds, Jersey Shore, Real World, Teen Mom 2, and 16 and Pregnant are among the most-watched prime time reality shows on cable. While we assume Ace of Cakes and Storage Wars are also at the top of that list, the PTC decided to limit the study to MTV programs.
After watching a full season of each show and tallying up all the naughty words and screaming matches with mom, the PTC came up with what Fox News calls "bombshell findings":
- Only 24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows combined.
- Positive dialogue between females focused on their appearance, sense of accomplishment and emotional resilience.
- While terms men used for each other were often viewed as complimentary (e.g., big man, dawg, superhero, McGyver, winner), women used far more degrading language when talking about other females (e.g., rodent, skank, trash bag, trick, ho and much worse).
- 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 foreplay more than men.
- Although 88 percent of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse, the topics of virginity (0.2 percent), contraceptives (1.4 percent) and STDs (2 percent) were only mentioned 4 percent of the time.
While we appreciate the PTC's effort to point out how women are portrayed negatively in shows marketed toward teen girls, we're not talking about reality TV as a whole here, or even the top 10 most popular shows for teens. This is a breakdown of four programs (really three, since Teen Mom 2 just continues the some of the most troubling tales from 16 and Pregnant) that aim to cram as much drinking, brawling, and poor decision making as possible into each episode. Yet, based on their results, the PTC is drawing conclusions about teen girls' media consumption. PTC President Tim Winter tells Fox News:
"The most shocking finding – or at least the most disturbing – was the way the two genders spoke of themselves. The women were overwhelmingly more disparaging when speaking of themselves. With so much being invested and so much at stake in empowering one's self, especially for girls, the overwhelming message from reality television targeted at teen girls is to be overly negative to yourself ... After so many years of pursuing equality for women, our study suggests a glamorized, but grossly distorted view, of what it means to be feminine."
It's unfortunate that the women on these shows have a negative view of themselves, but it isn't really "shocking" since more than half of the female castmembers studied are pregnant teens who spend each episode fighting with their judgmental parents and trying to force their abusive boyfriends to show human emotions. We can name the other women in the study (or rather, one could, if they'd watched an epsiode Real World since Irene slapped that guy) and no one's ever suggested Snookie, J-Woww, and Sammi are good role models as women, or even people.
We're confident that girls aren't absorbing anything good from reality shows (with the exception of Malia and Sasha Obama, who watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians to learn that you shouldn't wax your siblings or let Kris Jenner manage your career). Surely, networks are ignoring the PTC's demand for, "more responsible depictions of how females and males resolve conflict and broader perspectives of what it means to be a female or male beyond the limits of current stereotypes," anyway, but it would be nice if the study had presented some usable data. As it is, it seems like some PTC interns went through way too much trouble to prove that Jersey Shore, Real World, and Teen Mom are trashy shows.