The representation of tough males and females in televised violence

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In this paper, we studied the relationship between the amount of televised violence and the toughness of males and females. Our hypothesis was that on television, tough males are the victims of violence more than tough females. In order to prove or refute this hypothesis, we watched five different television shows and documented the amount of violence directed toward tough males and tough females. According to our results, the hypothesis is not correct and tough females are the victims of violence more often than tough males.


The basic principles of sociology rely on the concept of the sociological imagination.  The sociological imagination is defined as the ability to see the impact of groups on behavior by taking an outsider's perspective. This concept can be used in evaluating the level of violence seen on TV and is important in understanding the hypothesis that tough males are more violent than tough females. By watching television we can evaluate the level of violence between males and females from an outsider's perspective; this can directly influence the lives of males and females in real life and is the reason why it is important to study and understand the correlation between violence on television and violence in real life.

The two important levels of orientation studied in Sociology are micro-level orientation and macro-level orientation. Micro-level orientation focuses on the individual and what drives him or her to act in certain ways due to internalized desires. Toughness and televised violence fit in with the concept of micro-level orientation because violent characters within television shows can be seen as inherently aggressive due to their genetics. Macro-level orientation focuses on how the individual is influenced by interactions with other individuals or groups. Macro-level orientation fits in with the concept of toughness and televised violence when characters within a show become violent due to the influences of the other violent people that they choose to surround themselves with.

The four elements of culture studied in sociology are language, cognitive, normative, and technology and material. Toughness and televised violence can be analyzed using each of these four elements of culture. The language element of culture deal with the way in which people express their ideas, values, feelings, beliefs, and knowledge. According to the language element of culture, the use of obscene language in televised shows is important because of its association with toughness and violence in today's culture. Televised violence uses obscene language in order to create a darker atmosphere in which the level of toughness and violence is heightened. The cognitive element of culture is based on beliefs that may or may not be scientifically proven. When looking at the cognitive element of culture in relation to toughness and televised violence, the perception of toughness within the study is the consistent use of threatening and cuss words or the consistent participation in violent acts, such as beatings, which result in blood and gore, membership in gangs, and the use of weapons. The normative element of culture deals with the values of a society as a whole and how people work towards or defy them. A value is an idea that is considered to be very important to a specific society. An example of a value in televised toughness would be the strength of an individual. Normative culture consists of folkways, mores, formal and informal norms, formal and informal sanctions, and external and internal sanctions. While the violation of folkways result in minimal punishment, mores, most of which are laws, result in much harsher punishments when violated. A violation of a folkway concerning toughness would be verbal abuse or minimal physical harm such as punching, slapping, or kicking. An example of a violation of a more would be extreme physical harm such as torture or murder. Formal norms, which are written laws, and informal norms, which are unwritten laws, can be used to analyze toughness and televised violence by examining the violation of the formal and informal laws within television shows. An example of a formal norm in televised violence would be the law saying that it is illegal to commit murder, and if this crime is committed the result would be a sanction. An example of an informal norm in televised violence would be the view that it is more acceptable for a woman to hit a man than for a man to hit a woman. A sanction, which is a form of reward or punishment for behaving in a certain way, can be either positive or negative and internal or external. A positive sanction is given when one follows the normative element of the culture and a negative sanction is a punishment for when one violates the normative element of the culture. The purpose of the negative sanction is to encourage the perpetrator to abide by the set values of the society. An internal sanction is when oneself feels the consequences of an action and an external sanction is when someone other than oneself gives the consequences of an action to a person. An example of an internal sanction relating to violence would be the feeling of guilt one would get after murdering an innocent victim, while an example of an external sanction would be a police officer putting someone in jail after that person commits a murder. A formal sanction is when someone with more authority than the person who committed the crime administers the reward or punishment, and an informal sanction is when someone with no authority over the person who committed the crime gives him or her a punishment or reward for his or her actions. As stated above in the example of an external sanction, an example of a formal sanction would be when a police officer arrests a criminal instead of that person being apprehended by a citizen's arrest, which would be considered an informal sanction. Technology and material is the last element of culture. When analyzing televised violence using this element of culture, one looks at how technology today influences the development of toughness and violence. An example of how toughness and violence is developed by technology is through newer forms of weaponry and machinery. The mass media is considered to be the agent of socialization that televised violence falls under because it is through the media, such as television and movies, that the ideas of violence can be portrayed to the public.

It is important to understand the dominant culture and subcultures of an area of study in order to better comprehend why results turn out as they do. The dominant culture of the televised violence study is the United States of America and the subculture is restricted to the people within the dominant culture who cause violence in terms of physical or emotional harm. Different status positions within the dominant culture of the field of study would be police officers, criminals, and tough males or females. The role expectations of police officers are to enforce the law by catching criminals, the role expectations of the criminals are to break the law, and the role expectations of the tough males and females are to withstand physical and emotional harm, or violence, that they are subjected to.

Out of the three theories of socialization, which are Mead's Generalized Other Theory, Cooley's Looking-Glass Self Theory, and Goffman's Dramaturgical Approach, toughness and televised violence can best be explained using the Generalized Other Theory because the tough characters learn their violent behaviors by imitating the violence that other characters demonstrate. The first of the four stages, the preparatory stage, is when the character can only imitate the people in his or her life with no comprehension of the relationships between roles and statuses. The second stage, the play stage, is when a character imitates the people in his or her life and gradually begins to understand the relationships between their roles and statuses in society. The third stage, the game stage, is when a character is able to understand not only a single individual, but also the roles of multiple individuals. The fourth stage, the generalized other stage, is when a character can understand all the roles and statuses in a society and can comprehend their relationships with one another and how they influence each other. We can analyze toughness and televised violence and break it down to fit into each of these four stages. During the preparatory stage, a character cannot be tough or violent unless he or she witnesses other people being tough or violent. During the play stage, a violent character realizes the power he or she has when being tough or violent and can judge when it would be appropriate to cause minimal physical and emotional harm or a great deal of physical and emotional harm. During the game stage, a violent character understands all the statuses of a society such as police officers, criminals, kidnappers, or gang members and can see how they relate to each other. During the generalized other stage a violent character connects all of the roles within his or her society and understands the consequences that may occur if he or she commits a violent act.   

There are many ways in which toughness and televised violence relate to the elements of culture and dominant culture. All toughness and televised violence within this study deals with the dominant culture of the United States. According to the language element of culture, toughness and televised violence use obscene language in order to create a violent atmosphere, as is typically seen in the American society. The cognitive element is portrayed through the beliefs that Americans hold in regard to what we perceive toughness and violence to be: blood, gore, torture, and obscene language. The Normative element is portrayed through televised violence by the use of formal norms and sanctions within a society and is applied especially when a criminal violates a formal norm. The technology and material element is applied through televised violence by the use of new and innovative weapons and new forms of torture.

Tough male characters are more likely to be portrayed as victims of televised violence than tough female characters because the media portrays more males being victimized than females. In the dominant culture of the United States, society has made it a social norm for males to be seen as more tough and aggressive than females. Another possible explanation would be due to the genetics of males. Males are naturally stronger, territorial, and more aggressive than females.

By watching television we are taking an outsider's perspective because we are not involved with the violence going on. The violent characters within a show may be violent because they are inherently aggressive due to genetics or because they are around other characters that are violent and they influence the behaviors of the main character. A character that is inherently violent influences others in a show and makes them more susceptible to becoming violent. Due to the connotation attributed to the use of obscene language in the dominant culture of the United States, a show is seen as more violent when obscene language is used because negative words are associated with toughness and violence. The definition of toughness within this study is termed as the consistent use of threatening words and cuss words or the repeated participation in violent acts that result in blood and gore, belonging to a gang, and the use of weapons. The definition of violence used with the study is anything that causes physical or emotional harm. A television show that is seen as normal in terms of violence within the American society portrays a "bad guy" as having the characteristic of an extremely tough character. Society can view the different types of toughness and violence by utilizing technological and material resources through the mass media. With the dominant culture being the United States, the subculture within this study would be the characters that cause violence. The dominant culture consists of different roles and statuses and examples pertaining to this study would be the status of a cop and his or her role to enforce the law and the status of a criminal and his or her role to break the law. Toughness and televised violence can be analyzed by applying the Generalized Other Theory to a violent or tough situation because the source of violent can be traced to the different stages of imitation described in the Generalized Other Theory. It is important to understand the social perspective of violence within a culture. In the dominant culture of the United States, it is more common for males to be portrayed as being more tough and violent than females. This information leads to the hypothesis of our study which is that tough males are victims of televised violence more often than tough females.   

In this study, a tough male or tough female is considered to be any character that is subjected to or causes moderate to high levels of violence. Violence is defined as anything that causes physical or emotional pain. The following scale denotes the differences in levels of violence: 

1 = not a victim (of violence)

-A person who does not cause emotional or physical pain and is not subjected to emotional or physical pain.

2 = minimally victimized (of violence)

-A person who only verbally abuses people or is only verbally abused.

3 = moderately victimized (of violence)

-A person who slightly hits, slaps, or kicks someone or is slightly hit, slapped, or kicked by someone else.

4 = very victimized (of violence)

-A person who severely abuses someone, such as torture (wounding or stabbing), but does not murder that person or someone who is tortured but not murdered.

5 = completely victimized (of violence)

-A person who is extremely abusive, such as committing murder or multiple murders, or is severely abused by someone else.


The independent variable of the study is sex and the attributes are tough male and tough female. The dependent variable is violence and the attributes are high levels of violence and low levels of violence. The independent variable sex was operationally defined according to the gender that the character was portraying. The dependent variable violence was operationally defined as anything that causes physical or emotional pain. The research method utilized to obtain data was out of context content analysis. Five programs were watched, each analyzing either a tough male or a tough female. The five programs were "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", "Alias", "Dexter", "Prison Break", and "24".

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is a show that focuses on the daily occurrences of a group of friends that own a bar named "Paddy's Pub". This program is widely known for its high levels of offensive language and content. The episode studied was Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire. Frank, the owner of Paddy's Pub, Mac and Charlie, two friends and co-owners of the pub, and Dee, the bartender of the pub and daughter of Frank, are on a mission to become famous. In order to do this, the males convince Dee to save a box of kittens by telling her she will look like a hero and become famous in Philadelphia for her good heart. Instead, they trick her and douse the house in kerosene prior to her arrival and set it on fire once she enters and then watch as Dee runs out of the house on fire, screaming. The men succeed in tricking Dee one more time into attempting to save a box of kittens, but they again catch her on fire. Throughout the episode, incessant verbal abuse is exchanged between Dee and the other characters because they are constantly chastising and deriding her. Dee was the tough female character we studied in this episode. Dee withstood being caught on fire twice and being called obscene names, as well as calling her fellow friends names using foul language.

The second television show we analyzed was "Alias". Alias is a show based mainly on a female character that works for the CIA and works in extremely dangerous situations involving enemies of the CIA who try to overthrow it. Sydney Bristow, the main character we study as a though female, undergoes several different aliases in order to conceal her identity when she is in contact with the enemy. The specific episode we watched was the finale of season two. Sydney and her friend Will realize that their "friend", Francie, is actually the enemy they have been searching for who was surgically modified to look like an exact clone of their real friend Francie. The fake Francie kills Will and attempts to kill Sydney in a five minute long physical battle between the two women. Sydney Bristow is a character constantly put into life threatening situations by being an undercover spy and personally communicating with the enemy. It is very normal for Sydney to kill a person in an episode of "Alias" and to engage in multiple physical fights ending with wounds on both sides. 

The third show analyzed was "Dexter". Dexter is a show about a serial killer, Dexter Morgan, who only kills people who deserve to die according to a code his father, Harry, set forth: only kill when you are certain that person has committed a murder and plans to kill again. Dexter kills because of urges of unknown origin and Harry taught Dexter to harness those urges and focus them into only killing the guilty. The major twist to the show is that Dexter works for the Miami Police Department as a blood splatter analyst and his colleagues have no idea that some of the homicide cases they investigate are Dexter's doing. The specific episode of Dexter we analyzed was about Dexter's plans to kill his best friend Miguel Prado, the only man Dexter had ever told about his dark, murderous secret. Dexter teaches Miguel to murder, believing that Miguel will follow Harry's Code by only killing the guilty. However, Miguel gets caught up in the thrill of the kill and murders an innocent woman. This causes Dexter to consider Miguel a dangerous, unpredictable man, and the episode follows Dexter and his plan to kill Miguel. Dexter Morgan is a laid back, emotionless man. He never uses foul language and is very careful about everything he does or says. You never see him engage in any physical or verbal fights with his acquaintances or friends. The only time he is violent is when he unleashes his inner urges and murders his carefully chosen victims. Dexter often uses knives, chainsaws, and wires and eventually cuts each of his victims into pieces and puts their limbs into plastic bags.

The fourth show analyzed was "Prison Break". "Prison Break" is a show about a man's desperate measures to break his wrongfully accused brother out of prison. In order to do so Michael Scofield creates an extremely elaborate plan involving committing a crime and being incarcerated in the same prison as his brother. The mastery behind is plan is that he The mastery behind is plan is that he was one of the original designers of the prison and has access to the original blueprints, so he has them tattooed on his body disguised by an elaborate, artsy design. The episode analyzed was the pilot of season one. The episode portrays Michael robbing a bank with a gun in order to get sent to the prison where his brother is incarcerated. Once Michael is in the prison, he gets beat up by three other prisoners. Michael Scofield is a very quiet observer but is very "tough" because when he gets into the prison fight, he simply takes the punches and does not hit back.

      The fifth show analyzed was "24". "24" is based around a main character named Jack Bauer. Jack works for CTU, the Counter Terrorist Unit, and the episodes are set in real-time based on hour-long increments of a day in Jack Bauer's life. In the specific episode analyzed, Jack is chasing a man named Marwan. When Jack and his CTU crew encounter Marwan in an all out man hunt, Marwan shoots at the crew killing one of the CTU agents and wounding another. Jack eventually shoots Marwan in the ankle, wounding him severely. Marwan tries to hurl himself off the top of a building but Jack grabs his hand .in order to extract information from him before he can plummet to the ground. Hanging between life and death by only Jack's hand, Marwan slashes Jack's hand with a knife but Jack maintains his grasp. Eventually, Marwan slips and falls to his death and Jack does not learn the important information that only Marwan knew. Jack Bauer is a character that is very strong willed, seemingly indestructible, and is always one step ahead of the game.


The table above shows that the mean rate of violence in television including males is a four. The median rate of violence for males is also a four. There is no mode for the data regarding the televised violence including males. Concerning the rate of violence for females, the mean rate of violence in television is a 4.5. The median rate of violence in television for females is also a 4.5. There is also no mode for the set of data about the violence on televisions for females. The averages shown in the table do not support the hypothesis that tough males are more violent than tough females. This is shown by the fact that the averages concerning females and violence are higher than the averages of the males. The outcome of this data can be interpreted as being deviant from the social norms typically perceived in a society in the dominant culture of the United States. It shows that males are not always perceived as more violent through the media; however, the data that was obtained may be too small of a sample size to be able to be the basis of any theory that wishes to maintain validity. Due to the small number, the sample size is not representative to how events occur in real life or in the majority of television shows. Although the data did not support the hypothesis, it is possible that the data, if collected into a larger sample size, could be more representative of the hypothesis.  The correlation coefficient between male toughness and violence is -.21. This correlation coefficient means that the relationship between male toughness and violence is an inverse relationship, meaning that as male toughness goes up, violence will go down and when male violence goes up male toughness will go down. The degree of the relationship is not strong at all and is almost negligible. This correlation coefficient also is not statistically significant. When a correlation coefficient is not statistically significant it is not supposed to be used as an accurate way to measure relationships. Concerning the hypothesis, the degree of relationship between male toughness and violence cannot be supported because the data is not statistically significant. Also, the inaccuracy and insignificance of this correlation coefficient does not support the hypothesis that males are tougher than females, because as male toughness goes up, violence goes down and as violence goes up, male toughness goes down. If males were in fact tougher than females, the correlation coefficient would be direct, substantial, and statistically significant. The correlation coefficient between female toughness and violence is .57**. This is a direct relationship, so as violence goes up female toughness goes up, or as violence goes down female toughness goes down. The degree of the relationship is substantial and statistically significant. This does not support the hypothesis that males are tougher than females. If the correlation coefficient were to support the hypothesis, it would have an inverse relationship, the degree of the relationship would be small or negligible, and it would not be significantly significant. 


According to the data obtained from this study, the hypothesis that tough males are more violent than tough females is not supported. This means that the data supports an idea opposite than that of the hypothesis. The hypothesis that can be drawn from the data collected from this study supports the idea that tough females are more violent than tough males. This too is supported by a correlation coefficient that is statistically significant, meaning that the data is reliable. If the data collected from the five television program samples is indeed an accurate portrayal of the correlation between toughness and violence in men and the toughness and violence in women, females would be tougher and more violent in real life. The correlation coefficient provided information about the actual relationship between males concerning toughness and violence and females concerning toughness and violence. The actual relationship between males is an indirect relationship in which the amount of male toughness increases as violence decreases and vice versa; however, this data is not statistically significant and cannot be used as a reliable basis for future studies. As for the relationship between females concerning toughness and violence, there is a direct relationship. As female toughness increases, female violence also increases. This data is statistically significant and can be used in future studies because it is considered reliable. The possible explanations as to why females would be more violent may be supported by a micro-level orientation stating that females are more violent as a result of their biological makeup because they are inherently more protective of their offspring and must be tough in order for their children to survive. This idea is radically different from how the dominant culture of the United States views toughness and violence among males and how the dominant culture views toughness and violence among females. Males are typically portrayed as tougher and more violent than females due to their genes and the natural instincts that males are born with. Problems with this data include differences in opinion as to what the operational definition of toughness and violence is. Our operational definition of toughness and violence is anything that causes physical or emotional harm. The small sample size used is another problem that can flaw the data and validity of the hypothesis. This is because the small sample size can no way be equally compared to the size of the real world. Five samples were used and this number is much too small to be able to be representative of the entire population. The samples chosen were not done so by random; they were chosen due to what we considered favorable. This may have altered the outcome of the study because we chose shows we knew would have both tough males and tough females. We also chose episodes we knew we could collect relevant data from and we tried to have an equal proportion of tough males to tough females.