Television offers its viewers sexual information both explicitly (through such things as news, documentaries, and public service announcements) and implicitly (through the ways it por­trays sexuality or gender relations in its programming; Gunter & McAleer, 1990). One im­plicit message of television programming, almost since its inception, has been that men are in positions of leadership (whether they are chief legal counsel or the head of the family), whereas women, even if they are high-ranking, are sexual temptations for men. Even today, the stereotyping of women is often extreme in television commercials, which we consider in the section on advertising. Although the types of portrayals of women’s roles are chang­ing and improving on television today, men still outnumber women in major roles, and the traditional role of woman as sex object still predominates on television.

Many gender stereotypes persist on television. The only place they often don’t show up is on soap operas. Because soap operas are aimed at women, they tend to portray women as more competent than other programming does (Geraghty et al., 1992). Yet even soap operas send subtle messages about keeping women in their place; women who are more sexually active and independent of men tend to be portrayed as evil or unsympathetic.

Fortunately, some gender stereotypes on other television shows are changing. Men are now being shown as single or stay-at-home dads, and there is a tendency to mock the old “macho man” stereotypes on shows such as The Family Guy. Shows like Alias, CSI, and Law & Order regularly feature women in leading roles and have helped establish the new television woman: forceful, working outside the home, and dealing with the real – life problems of balancing social life, personal issues, and work. These women are smart, motivated, and self-confident. Gender stereotypes have also been changing with the in­creasing popularity of reality television shows, such as Survivor and Fear Factor. Shows like these portray the majority of females as strong, independent, and self-confident women who are willing to take risks.