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Nothing Ever Changes
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February 16, 2009, 10:02 AM
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The older I get, the more it seems like nothing in American social mores has really changed since the 1964-1973 turning point. Thus, the late Daniel Seligman`s Keeping Up columns in Fortune from two decades ago seem like they could have been written yesterday:
March 2, 1987 The Dream Girls

A reader has sent in a clipping from Broadcasting magazine and suggested we comment on same. We are delighted to do so as the subject affords a long-awaited opportunity to mention what we consider the single most fascinating social-science finding of the latter 20th century. Pretty big buildup, you say? Just wait and see.

The article in Broadcasting says the Canadian government has developed "voluntary guidelines" about the portrayal of women on television. The article leaves you thinking the governing classes in the U.S.`s friendly neighbor to the north have nothing better to do than brood over the pernicious effects of sex-role stereotyping, and now they are taking action against this evil.

The Broadcasting article naturally reminded the present keyboarder of a study of TV sex roles in his own country. The study, which appeared in Public Opinion last fall, contrasted "TV`s Dream Girls" in three different decades (those beginning in 1955, 1965, and 1975). It concluded that women in all three decades are depicted in ways suggesting they are not truly equal to men. The femmes come across as less important than men in TV dramas; they "are less likely to be mature adults, are less well educated, and hold lower status jobs." Furthermore, women in the dramas tended to derive their identities from their marital status. "A majority of women are identified as either married or single, compared to about one in four men."

We are edging up on the interesting part. Even though women in dramas are stuck in fairly traditional roles, the story line always takes the feminist side of any argument. ("Characters who deride women`s abilities are invariably put down by the script.") This was not always true: Before 1965, say authors S. Robert Lichter, Linda S. Lichter, and Stanley Rothman, "22% of the episodes . .. rejected the feminist positions." But not today — and here comes our fascinating fact. Of the thousands of dramas studied since 1965, "not a single episode derided notions of sexual equality." Not one. Not even to break the monotony. Can Canada top that?