Instructor Explores Media Influence on Race and Gender

Studying the virtual world revealed that online gender and race depictions influence offline perceptions of real people.

Lisa Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor in the Department of Communications, presented “Gender and Race in the Media: From the Virtual to the “Real” “ in Memorial Union last Wednesday.

Behm-Morawitz’s research found that greater consumption of television led to more stereotyping in general. She used The George Lopez Show as an example of programming meant to represent a minority that ultimately reinforces prejudice. Representation of Latinos as loud, obnoxious and lazy perpetuates negative stereotypes and allows people to adopt inferred prejudices into their perception of reality.

Moving on to video games, Behm-Morawitz said hyper-sexualized female characters decrease positive views of women in the real world. After studying male and female college students, she found that students who played games with sexualized characters thought less of women’s abilities, even when characters conquered in combat.

In the virtual world, Behm-Morawitz said people who hyper-sexualize their avatars often experience cyber harassment. She studied Second Life, a virtual reality in which people can create an entire world online. Behm-Morawitz noted that non-white avatars formed a major minority and faced bias and racism online.

While media seems to cultivate race and gender stereotypes, Behm-Morawitz suggests that online interactions could improve group relations and understanding. Some studies suggest that people’s virtual selves socialization can improve offline socialization and self-esteem.

The Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, named the “Diversity in Action” program, sponsored this presentation.


Christina Turner