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Female Cinema Heroes Eliminate Negative Views of Violent Cinema

Update Date: Aug 30, 2012 09:25 AM EDT

Movies, television and now the internet have been criticized for the violent content contained in their programming (thanks, MPAA). 

Hollywood in particular has become experts at depicting violence accompanied with lackluster plot models, where the hero (mainly men) save the day and get the woman. 

This is the cliché in old westerns, serial dramas, gangster movies and in just about every film made in the 80's starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  However, movies which depict a strong female lead character may lead to both men and women less likely to experience negative effects to hypersexual and violent media protraryals, even when that character is a victim of sexual violence.

Christopher Ferguson, Assistant Professor at Texas A&M International University, conducted a survey of 150 university students in a controlled environment in a recent study published in the Journal of Communication.Each participant screened a variety of TV shows that portrayed women in different lights when it came to sexual violence.

The results showed that men and women had less anxiety and negative reactions when viewing television shows that depicted a strong female character rather than a submissive one.

"Although sexual and violent content tends to get a lot of attention, I was surprised by how little impact such content had on attitudes toward women. Instead it seems to be portrayals of women themselves, positive or negative that has the most impact, irrespective of objectionable content. In focusing so much on violence and sex, we may have been focusing on the wrong things," Ferguson said.

"While it is commonly assumed that viewing sexually violent TV involving women causes men to think negatively of women, the results of this carefully designed study demonstrate that they do so only when women are portrayed as weak or submissive," added Journal of Communication editor and University of Washington Professor Malcolm Parks. "Positive depictions of women challenge negative stereotypes even when the content includes sexuality and violence. In this way Ferguson reminds us that viewers often process popular media portrayals in more subtle ways than critics of all political stripes give them credit for."

One wonders if positive depictions of certain characters can lead to more positive reactions. Although...nothing can be done to make Jar Jar Binks more palatable.

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