, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 427–445 | Cite as

Powerfrau und Vorbild? Die Wirkung differenzierter Seriencharaktere auf das Selbstkonzept und die Zukunftsvorstellungen von Rezipientinnen

  • Tanja Fisse
  • Elena LinkEmail author
  • Daniela Schlütz
  • Sabine Reich


Die Darstellung von Frauen in fiktionalen Unterhaltungsangeboten erfolgt auch heute noch überwiegend einseitig und konform mit traditionellen Geschlechterrollen: Frauen werden in der Rolle der Partnerin und Mutter gezeigt oder als sexuelles Objekt auf ihre körperliche Attraktivität reduziert. Berufliche Kompetenzen von Frauen stehen hingegen selten im Mittelpunkt. Einige aktuelle Serienproduktionen zeigen jedoch facettenreichere und in Teilen anti-stereotypische Frauencharaktere, die mehrere Rollen ausfüllen. Doch beeinflusst diese differenzierte Darstellung das Selbstkonzept und die Zukunftsvorstellungen der Zuschauerinnen bei der Verwirklichung im Beruf oder als Mutter? Das wurde in dieser Studie untersucht. Eine Online-Umfrage mit 460 Zuschauerinnen der Serie „The Good Wife“ ergab, dass die Protagonistin Alicia vor allem als berufliches Vorbild fungiert und in ihrer Rolle als Mutter weniger inspirierend auf die befragten Zuschauerinnen wirkt. Als besonders förderlich für eine erlebte Inspiration erwies sich, dass die Zuschauerinnen das Leben des Charakters als erreichbar empfanden. Wurden die Probandinnen inspiriert, passten sie ihr expressives Selbstkonzept an das des Charakters geringfügig an. Darüber hinaus fördert eine erlebte Inspiration Zukunftsvisionen, die sich an den gezeigten sozialen Rollen des Charakters orientieren. Anders als erwartet belegen die Ergebnisse jedoch auch, dass eine erlebte Inspiration die Furcht vor zukünftigen sozialen Rollenkonflikten geringfügig schüren kann.


Theorie des sozialen Vergleichs Selbstdiskrepanztheorie Medienrezeption Serienrezeption Stereotypen 

Power woman and role model? The effect of multifaceted characters on female recipients’ self-concept and future goals


The representation of women in fictional entertainment media is predominantly one-sided and conforms to traditional gender roles: Women are portrayed in the role of partners and caring mothers or are reduced to their physical attractiveness whereas their occupational competencies are rarely put into focus. Recently, more series praised for their counter-stereotypical representation of women embodying several roles have appeared on the television screen. Our study analyzes whether such differentiated representations have positive effects on female viewers’ self-concept. More specifically, we ask whether the confrontation with counter-stereotypical serial characters inspires women to imagine themselves in future roles as business women and mothers alike.

These questions are derived from social identity theory that understands self-concepts as dynamic and changeable. The gender-related self-concept comprises expressiveness and instrumentality. Instrumental characteristics (e.g., self-confident) stereotypically are more likely to be attributed to men, while expressive characteristics (e.g., empathetic) are typically linked to women. Three dimensions of the self-concept can be distinguished: actual self, ideal self and ought self. These selves might conflict with each other, eliciting negative emotions like dissatisfaction with oneself or contempt. On the other hand, if the desired or self-imposed self-concept is achieved, positive feelings should occur.

To stimulate these processes, however, self-discrepancies must be activated. The theory of social comparison provides an explanation for the activation and adaptation of existing discrepancies during media reception: Recipients can compare themselves to media personae for different reasons. These motives impact on how information is processed. When a female recipient compares herself to a TV character to improve herself and she perceives the success of the superior figure as attainable she might feel inspired. Feeling inspired means that the viewer anticipates her own improved self-concept while integrating it into her actual self. Thus, the actual self might at least temporarily shift in the direction of the ideal self. To explore this context further, we ask how the attainability of the character’s life and other demographic and situational factors impact the perceived inspiration of viewers (RQ1). We assume that inspiration by a media persona should lead to positive effects for the viewers’ self-concept and motivates them to emulate their role model regarding their professional (H2a) and family goals (H3a), respectively. We assume that instrumental (H2b) and expressive (H3b) similarity to the character mediates this effect. At the same time, this inspiration should reduce the fear of social role conflicts (H4a), mediated by instrumental (H4b) and expressive (H4c) similarity.

To answer the research questions and hypotheses we designed an explorative online survey. 460 female viewers of U.S.-American TV series “The Good Wife” (CBS; 2009–2016) participated. The series depicts Alicia Florrick as the main character, a self-determined lawyer and mother of two. Respondents (M = 33.42 years; SD = 8.88) were recruited via Facebook and blogs. After viewing six pictures of the protagonist in different situations dealing with professional and family issues, respectively, participants were asked to evaluate the character and their response to it. Inspiration was operationalized based on existing research using 9 items (like “Alicia is my ideal”), 3 each with regard to work, motherhood and overall impression. The gender-related self-concept was measured (a) concerning Alicia and (b) the respondent herself using an established scale. The difference between these values indicated both instrumental and expressive similarity between viewer and protagonist. Finally, we measured possible future selves (PFS) regarding career, motherhood and role conflicts.

Regarding RQ1, we ran three separate multiple regression analyses to investigate what influences the viewers’ feeling of being inspired by a television character. Perceived attainability correlated positively with the feeling of being inspired by Alicia on all three dimensions (in general, professional role, mother role). Additionally, the rating of the series and the respondent’s age influenced the relationship. Participants’ own motherhood only positively affected general and professional inspiration. Watching serials and gender role perception had no significant influence on the inspiration from the character.

For Hypotheses 2 and 3, two mediation models were tested using inspiration from the character as independent variable, with specific professional future goals/future goals as mother as dependent variable and similarity as mediator. Both direct effects show small to medium effects. The more respondents were inspired by Alicia regarding job and motherhood, the more they wished to make a career for themselves (H2a) and to raise children (H3a). A mediation effect on professional future goals through instrumental similarity was not significant (H2b). Contrary to H3b, the mediation effect of inspiration on the future goal to be a mother through expressive similarity was negative. More inspiration by Alicia leads to more perceived expressive similarity to the character, decreasing the wish to assume the role of mother in the future. Testing hypotheses 4a–c, surprisingly, overall inspiration did not reduce the fear of social role conflicts but reinforced it slightly. Presumably, activating the self-discrepancy between actual and ideal self also activated the discrepancy to the ought self: Inspired viewers reflected their own wishes and thought of their perceived duties at the same time. Results regarding the mediating effects of similarity with the serial character were inconclusive. While instrumental similarity showed no mediating effects (H4b), a small but significant negative effect was observed with respect to expressive similarity in the context of the future goal of taking over the role of a mother (H4c).

Methodological limitations notwithstanding, the study provides first evidence that counter-stereotypical, multi-faceted female characters in TV series have the potential to influence viewers’ self-concepts (albeit slightly). At the same time, the findings revealed that the portrayal of power women risks fanning the fear of social role conflicts.


Social comparison theory Self-discrepancy theory Media reception TV series Stereotypes 


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© The Editors of the Journal 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Journalistik und Kommunikationsforschung der Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien HannoverHannoverDeutschland
  2. 2.Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLFPotsdamDeutschland

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