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In recent years, the increasing popularity of video-on-demand (VOD) platforms has changed Spanish audiovisual consumption. The main objectives of this article are to analyze the representation of gender in VOD Spanish productions. We pay particular attention to whether there is underrepresentation of character types and gender stereotyping with respect to occupation, traits, attitudes, and conversations. In addition, we set out to verify whether the image of women is different in VOD platforms compared with generalist television channels. To this end, we carried out a quantitative content analysis on a sample of 760 characters from Spanish fiction series produced by VOD platforms, broadcast between 2017 and 2020. The results obtained prove that even though new audiovisual platforms tend to incorporate equality, the underrepresentation and stereotyping of female characters in terms of professional occupation, family, and emotions still exist.
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International Journal of Communication 15(2021), 581604 19328036/20210005
Copyright © 2021 (María Marcos-Ramos and Beatriz González-de-Garay). Licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at http://ijoc.org.
Gender Representation in Subscription Video-On-Demand
Spanish TV Series
MARÍA MARCOS-RAMOS
BEATRIZ GONZÁLEZ-DE-GARAY
University of Salamanca, Spain
In recent years, the increasing popularity of video-on-demand (VOD) platforms has
changed Spanish audiovisual consumption. The main objectives of this article are to
analyze the representation of gender in VOD Spanish productions. We pay particular
attention to whether there is underrepresentation of character types and gender
stereotyping with respect to occupation, traits, attitudes, and conversations. In addition,
we set out to verify whether the image of women is different in VOD platforms compared
with generalist television channels. To this end, we carried out a quantitative content
analysis on a sample of 760 characters from Spanish fiction series produced by VOD
platforms, broadcast between 2017 and 2020. The results obtained prove that even
though new audiovisual platforms tend to incorporate equality, the underrepresentation
and stereotyping of female characters in terms of professional occupation, family, and
emotions still exist.
Keywords: gender, character, Spanish TV fiction, VOD platform, content analysis
The present work expands on the analysis carried out by González-de-Garay, Marcos-Ramos,
Portillo-Delgado (2019) and De-Caso-Bausela, González-de-Garay, and Marcos-Ramos (2020) on Spanish
television series aired during prime time on the six main generalist channels during 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Both studies detected the underrepresentation and stereotyping of women. This article aims to analyze
whether there is a consistent move toward equality in the portrayal of women in VOD platforms or whether
stereotypes are still present in this form of viewing. Consequently, a total of 760 characters (n = 760) from
38 episodes of 33 series, such as Élite (Movistar, 201819), Las Chicas del Cable (Netflix, 201719), La
Casa de Papel (Netflix, 201720), El Ministerio del Tiempo (TVE, 201517; Netflix, 2018) and Foodie Love
(HBO, 2019) were analyzed, among other series, broadcast on the streaming platforms Movistar, HBO,
Amazon Prime, AtresPlayer Premium, and Netflix. The first step in this assessment was to check whether
there was an unequal representation of male, female, and nonbinary characters in terms of gender
stereotyping and underrepresentation with respect to occupations, topics of conversation, personality traits,
violent attitudes, and character sexualization.
María Marcos-Ramos: mariamarcos@usal.es
Beatriz González-de-Garay: bgonzalezgaray@usal.es
Date submitted: 20200624
582 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
On analyzing contemporary audiovisual fiction in Spain, we must consider paid streaming platforms
because one of every four Spanish households has a subscription to at least one (Barlovento Comunicación
2019). According to the Estudio General de Medios (2019) “barely existing in 2015, [platforms] have come
to be present in 38% of households in the final wave of 2019” (p. 13). Among these platforms, Netflix (2.2
million households) and Movistar (2 million households) are the most popular (Ruiz de Elvira, 2019).
Although data about the audiences for these platforms is inconsistent, the information that is available
suggests that the number of viewers is significantfor example, the first episode of the original Movistar
series La Línea Invisible (Movistar, 2020) was watched by 596,000 viewers (Audiovisual 451, 2020).
Additionally, it is also relevant to analyze the audiovisual fiction produced by VOD platforms given their
increasing popularity, the importance of television fiction in socialization processes, and their influence on
conditioning the behavior of viewers. Audiovisual streaming platforms have not only increased the number
of audiovisual products but have also had an influence on the nonconventional content being offered with
respect to aesthetics and the variety of topics (Cascajosa, 2006; Lacalle, Gómez, Sánchez, & Pujol, 2019).
In general, VOD platforms have had the tradition of producing bold, avant-garde, and even taboo content.
“It’s not TV, it’s HBO” (Cascajosa, 2006, p. 23) could be the slogan for such a trend. In Spain, Domingo
Corral, the content manager of Movistar Original, explained that the type of TV series they aim to produce
“must have a good script, but we also pay lots of attention to the characters to avoid clichés or formulas”
(López, 2018, p. 45). Therefore, it is necessary to analyze whether the representation of gender or minority
groups is different from that of generalist television, which would help to identify whether genderization still
occurs. Some studies claim (Galán-Fajardo, 2007) that fictional series, rather than being entertaining,
present role models of identification that could have repercussions on society, as explained in Gerbner’s
(1972) cultivation theory.
Literature Review
The analysis of how gender is portrayed in audiovisual fiction has recently become a prolific area
of research (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2016; Lauzen, 2017; Smith, Choueiti, & Pieper,
2014, 2017). New technologies for automating the analysis of samples of exceptionally broad content are
now being used to carry out different types of studies (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2016;
Ramakrishna, Martínez, Malandrakis, Singla, & Narayanan, 2017). However, manual content analysis
continues to be a commonly used method in this field (for a revision, see Rudy, Popova, & Linz, 2010, 2011).
Within a Spanish context, studies on streaming platforms are scarce. Nevertheless, Castro and
Cascajosa (2020) analyze how subscription VOD services (SVOD) have transformed Spanish TV production
and emphasize that “in 2018 the SVOD platforms offered almost the same number of seasons as Spain’s
Generalist television channels15 programs for SVODs, compared with sixteen for the broadcasters
although with fewer episodes (103 versus 202) and of shorter length” (p. 156). In June 2018, one of every
three families with an Internet connection in their home paid a subscription to a VOD platform (CNMC, 2018)
and the income was 1,111.84 euros, which represented an increase of 6.2% with respect to the last year
and 19% with respect to free-to-air television (CNMC, 2018). Therefore, VOD is one of the viewing options
that is gaining ground in society, in terms of a preference for consuming audiovisual content, and is a topic
that requires further study.
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 583
Higueras-Ruiz (2019) examined the role of women in HBO series and confirmed an increase in the
number of female showrunners. The results from this study show how feminist issues are becoming more
prevalent in different types of series, findings that are in line with the need for creating more positive images
for women in real life. Nonetheless, gender inequalities within these platforms still exist, because only 26%
of showrunners are female.
Among the research studies carried out on Spanish TV productions, differences in gender with
respect to the representation of aggressors and victims of violence have been explored, as acts of violence
are often associated with male behavior (Fernández-Villanueva, Revilla-Castro, Domínguez-Bilbao, Gimeno-
Jiménez, & Almagro, 2009; Masanet, Medina-Bravo, & Ferrés, 2018). By contrast, women are still
represented through their family, home, and social relationships; their personal goals are often associated
with motherhood and their professions are generally associated with lower status jobs (Álvarez-Hernández,
González-de-Garay, & Frutos-Esteban, 2015; Galán-Fajardo, 2007; García-Muñoz, Fedele, & Gómez-Díaz,
2012; Lacalle & Gómez, 2016; Menéndez, 2014). Furthermore, women are sometime negatively
characterized in work situations, where ambition is frowned upon and physical beauty is an attribute of
power (Tous-Rovirosa & Aran-Ramspott, 2017). Fernández, Gil, and Segado (2011) conclude that women
continue to be portrayed as mothers and caregivers of children; although they are also associated with
positive traits that highlight their independence. Feminine stereotypes also show an overrepresentation of
sexuality, as the sexual activity of female characters is determined by attractiveness and age and the fact
that women must satisfy men (Lacalle & Castro, 2017). Moreover, González-de-Garay and partners (2019)
found an underrepresentation of women as well as an overrepresentation of cisgender and straight
characters in their research on Spanish prime time free-to-air TV shows. These findings, however, pertain
not only to Spain, as various studies carried out internationally have shown that women are
underrepresented in different types of media (Hether & Murphy, 2010; Matud, Rodríguez, & Espinosa, 2011;
Smith, Pieper, Granados, & Choueiti, 2010). They are often sexualized (Mager & Helgeson, 2010) and are
portrayed as nonprofessionals, housewives, wives, or mothers and sexual objects (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010;
Mager & Helgeson, 2010; Neuendorf, Gore, Dalessandro, Janstova, & Snyder-Suhy, 2010). Also, stereotypes
still exist about the types of jobs held by women, often requiring fewer qualifications, in contrast to those
held by men, who often hold executive positions. Furthermore, female characters usually have goals that
are more personally related, as opposed to male characters, whose goals are more work oriented. In sum,
it is essential, at national and international levels, to consider the way in which women are represented in
fiction to avoid augmenting negative stereotypes, which occur worldwide and not in just one country.
Ruiz Muñoz and Pérez-Rufí (2020) differentiate two stages in the production and distribution of
female ensemble cast series in Spain, including Mujeres (La 2, 2006), Seis Hermanas (La 1, 201517), and
La Otra Mirada (La 1, 201819), among others, from the total sample of eight productions. The first stage
includes the years 1991 until the first half of 2014, and the second season begins in 201415. The authors
claim that the recent production of female ensemble casts series shows a trend in current production that
may respond to a demand for specific content by an audience that wants products made according to their
tastes and preferences. Furthermore, López Rodríguez and Raya Bravo (2019) recognize that from 2010
onward there have been many female screenwriters, directors, and executive producers in Spain, and “the
popularity of video on demand also contributed to the increasing dispersion of Spanish viewers and the
production of innovative, niche TV shows targeted at more specific sectors of society” (p. 967). They analyze
584 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
the case of Teresa Fernández-Valdés as a showrunner and conclude that her collaboration with Netflix led
to the inclusion of “themes and topics rarely seen on previous TV series broadcasted by Spanish stations
such as women’s sorority, polyamory, and non-binary sexual identities” (López Rodríguez & Raya Bravo,
2019, p. 973). However, Castro and Cascajosa (2020) point out that “even though the popular press has
linked Netflix original productions to narrative innovation and creative freedom, creators suggest that the
levels of freedom are quite similar to those offered by Spanish broadcasters” (p. 159). Also, with respect to
audiences, Spanish women consume more generalist channels/DTT (p = .014) than men, but there are no
statistical differences regarding Pay TV (p = .054; Araújo Vila, Fraiz Brea, & Cardoso, 2019).
Based on the contributions and gaps in the theoretical corpus reviewed above, and owing to the lack
of studies that analyze the fiction available on VOD, four hypotheses and seven research questions related to
the narrative level of contemporary Spanish television series broadcast on platforms have been proposed:
H1: There will be an underrepresentation of female characters compared with male characters, and,
therefore, compared with the population distribution. There will also be an underrepresentation of
homosexuality, bisexuality, and other sexual orientations.
H2: Men will significantly outnumber women in high-status positions, and female characters will focus
more on personal than on work-related goals in comparison with male characters.
H3: Male characters will tend to exhibit more violent attitudes than female characters will, who tend to
be portrayed as victims.
H4: Female characters will be characterized by more positive personality traits compared with males.
This study will also attempt to address the following research questions:
RQ1: Are there significant differences between the data collected from Spanish production series
distributed on VOD platforms and of that collected from generalist television regarding gender
representation and actual population demographics?
RQ2: Are there differences between the representation of sexual orientation and actual population
demographics?
RQ3: Are there significant differences between the data collected from Spanish production series
distributed on VOD platforms and that collected from generalist television with respect to the
characters’ professions, personal goals, and gender?
RQ4: Are there significant differences between the data collected from Spanish production series distributed
on VOD platforms and that collected from generalist television in terms of violence and victimization?
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 585
RQ5: Are there significant differences between the data collected from Spanish production series
distributed on VOD platforms and that collected from generalist television with respect to the
characters’ personality traits?
RQ6: Do female characters experience more hypersexualization than male characters?
RQ7: Are there significant differences between the data collected from Spanish production series
distributed on VOD platforms and of that collected from generalist television regarding character
hypersexualization?
Method
The content analysis allows to “scientifically approach the analysis of messages (regardless of its
nature), understand their genesis and formation process, and obtain accurate descriptions of their structure
and components” (Igartua, 2006, p. 180).
To examine how gender is represented in Spanish production series broadcast on VOD platforms
and to determine whether there is inequality in the way that male, female, and nonbinary characters are
portrayed, a quantitative methodology was proposed through content analysis. The coding was done by
several judges who all applied the same categories, to avoid disparate interpretations that may affect
carrying out the research, leading to incorrect results (López-Noguero, 2002).
Sample
A quantitative content analysis was carried out on a sample of 33 series broadcast from 2017 to
2020, analyzing 38 episodes and 760 characters on the following platforms: Movistar, HBO, Amazon Prime,
Netflix, and AtresPlayer. The episodes were chosen randomly to avoid sampling bias (Igartua, 2006) and to
ensure that uncontaminated and reliable results were obtained. To do so, one episode from two seasons for
each series was randomly selected, as Table 1 shows.
586 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
Table 1. Description of the Sample.
ID
Year
Platform
Series
Episode
Characters
1
2019
Netflix
Alta Mar
S01E05 La tormenta
23
2
2019
Netflix
Alta Mar
S02E01 Casandra
27
3
2018
Movistar
Arde Madrid
S01E07 Dios es Dios y yo soy yo
16
4
2018
Movistar
Capítulo 0
S02E04 Criminal Friends
19
5
2017
Movistar
Conquistadores: Adventum
S01E01 Las llaves del mar
21
6
2019
Netflix
Criminal
S01E02 Carmen
7
7
2019
Netflix
Días de Navidad
S01E01 Capitulo 1
13
8
2019
Movistar
El día de Mañana
S01E01 Episodio 1
28
9
2019
Movistar
El Embarcadero
S01E04 Episodio 4
12
10
2018
Netflix
El Ministerio del Tiempo
S03E03 Tiempo de hechizos
21
11
2019
AtresPlayer
El Nudo
S01E01 Veritas Solve
20
12
2020
Netflix
El Vecino
S01E07
12
13
2018
Netflix
Élite
S01E04 El amor es una droga
29
14
2019
Netflix
Élite
S02E06 66 horas desaparecido
26
15
2019
Movistar
En el corredor de la muerte
S01E04 20082019
19
16
2018
Movistar
Félix
S01E02 Episodio 2
14
17
2019
HBO
Foodie Love
S01E01 Esto es Francia
10
18
2018
Movistar
Gigantes
S02E05 Mar eterno
27
19
2019
Netflix
Hache
S01E06 Marsella
24
20
2019
Movistar
Hierro
S01E01 Episodio 1
26
21
2019
Movistar
Instinto
S01E04 Episodio 4
22
22
2019
Movistar
Justo Antes de Cristo
S01E06 Cornelio Pison
20
23
2019
Netflix
La Casa de papel
S03E06 Nada tenía importancia
29
24
2020
Netflix
La Casa de papel
S04E03 Lección de anatomía
22
25
2018
Movistar
La Peste
S02E04 El esclavo
26
26
2017
Movistar
La Zona
S01E08 El último lobo
25
27
2017
Movistar
Las Chicas del Cable
S01E08 El amor
18
28
2019
Movistar
Las Chicas del Cable
S04E07 La felicidad
24
29
2018
Movistar
Matar al padre
S01E02 2004
21
30
2019
Movistar
Merli
S01E05 Bizitza (la vida)
16
31
2018
Movistar
Mira lo que has hecho
S02E02 El hijo de Berto
29
32
2019
Netflix
Paquita Salas
S03E04 Viral
11
33
2018
Netflix
Paquita Salas
S02E03 El Secreto
18
34
2018
Amazon Prime
Pequeñas Coincidencias
S01E04 Noche de San Juan
16
35
2018
Movistar
Skam España
S02E11 Fin
11
36
2017
Movistar
Velvet Colección
S02E03 La emperatriz
22
37
2017
Movistar
Vergüenza
S02E05 Distintos tipos de personas
19
38
2019
Movistar
Vida perfecta
S01E07 Cuando todo se derrumba
17
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 587
Materials
The character analysis focused on humans, excluding animals, aliens, fantasy, science fiction,
and cartoon characters. Only those characters visually present throughout the program and engaging in
dialogue were taken into account (Koeman, Peeters, & D’Haenens, 2007).
To analyze the selected sample, an 18-page code book was prepared that included a total of 92
variables distributed into 11 different groups. In addition, a coding form was prepared and used to collect
the appropriate data for each of the categories according to the variables and the items included the
study (Álvarez-Hernández et al., 2015; Marcos-Ramos, 2014; Neuendorf, 2002).
The main concepts analyzed in this work are (a) the gender diversity and sexual orientation of
the characters; (b) their relevance in the story and the type of roles and functions they represented; (c)
the environment in which their interactions and social relations took place; and (d) their main personality
traits. The analysis of these concepts was used to determine how the characters were represented
throughout the development of the plot.
Each character was first coded based on general data: (1.1) gender (male, female, trans,
nonbinary, intersex) and (1.2) sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and other types
such as asexual, pansexual, demisexual, and unidentifiable).
Another group of variables was used to quantify the narrative level of the characters. The coders
were asked to determine (2.1) the type of character (principal, secondary, or background); (2.2) if the
character had definite goals to achieve in the episode and if these were (2.2.1) related to their personal
environment or (2.2.2) related to their work; and (2.3) personality traits. In addition, we used the study
by Igartua et al. (1998) to verify, on a 3-point scale, the relevance of some types of character traits
(good, disloyal or treacherous, aggressive, intelligent, intolerant, to which we added charismatic,
irresponsible, maternal/paternal, brave, weak, fraternal, and wicked), and (2.4) if the character was
hypersexualized. This was based on the presence of at least three concepts established by the Geena
Davis Institute on Gender in Media (Smith et al., 2014): (a) sexually suggestive clothing; (b) gratuitous
nudity (partial or total); (c) female thinness/male musculature; and (d) sex-appeal, to which we added
(e) fragmentation of some erotic scene when editing or through framing.
Also, the interaction of the character with other characters was coded to determine (3.1) whether
their interaction was mainly related (a) to men, (b) to women, (c) to nonbinary characters, or (d) to a
not clearly identified gender; and (3.2) whether the character spoke with other characters of the same
gender. Furthermore, the coders had to apply the following codes to the characters who talked with others
of the same gender to establish the importance of the opposite sex in their conversations: (3.2.1) female
characters talked to other women about something other than men; and (3.2.2) male characters talked
to other men about women.
588 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
Procedure
Establishing a coding system is necessary, as this method allows raw data to be systematically
transformed into units that allow a more accurate description of the characteristics of the subject matter
(Abela, 2011). The coding was carried out by several judges who all applied the same categories to avoid
disparate interpretations that may affect carrying out the research, leading to incorrect results (López-
Noguero, 2002). The coding of the analysis units was carried out by five coders who were trained in the
use of the coding instrument. This led to certain modifications in the codebook and the codes, so that the
judges could better assess the different variables they had to consider.
After this process, another coder acted as the interjudge, who analyzed the reliability of the
study variables by calculating the intercoder reliability. For this, 15% of the sample was used. This
approach followed the recommendations of Igartua (2006), who established “a sample composed of 10%
20% of the units of analysis to be analyzed independently, based on the same material, by two or more
coders” (p. 218). Five series were coded in this analysis: La Peste (Movistar, 2018), Mira lo que has hecho
(Movistar, 201819), Conquistadores: Adventum (Movistar, 2017), Élite (Netflix, 2018present) and Alta
Mar (Netflix, 2019).
Subsequently, coder agreement was calculated using Krippendorff’s alpha and the observed
percentage of agreement. From the first calculation, 27 of the variables considered yielded reliability
outcomes above 0.75 (SD: 2.12); thus, the data were highly positive, and none of the variables were
below 0.60. An additional 25 variables were considered using the observed percentage of agreement,
and only five variables were below 75%, an amount suitable for continuing with this study, as shown in
Table 2. Three variables presented low reliability: He or she pursues their objectives through ethics;
Personality traitworker; and Personality trait—seducer.
“Another controversy involves Alpha, Pi, and Kappa and the fact that they can produce very low coefficients
even when levels of simple agreement are high (Feng, 2015; Gwet, 2008; Zhao et al., 2012), which can
occur when data distributions are skewed (e.g., most of the coded units are in one category; see Riffe et
al., 2014). Krippendorff (2013b) labelled this insufficient variation(p. 319), writing that such data cannot
be correlated with anything either, their analytical meanings are largely void, and they cannot convey
sufficient information from the analyzed text to the research question(p. 320). That conclusion seems to
ignore the fact that there have been, and will continue to be, populations with skewed distributions of
categories that are nonetheless important to study” (Lovejoy, Watson, Lacy, & Riffe, 2016, pp. 45).
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 589
Table 2. Relation Between Gender and Occupation.
Gender
Occupation
Male
Female
Total %
Manager or professional
9.7
7.5
8.8
Technician or middle management
12.9
15
13.7
Office or services employee
3.2
7+
4.7
Small business
2.9
3.7
3.2
Skilled worker
4.4
1,9
3.4
Unskilled worker
9.4
10.7
9.9
Farmer, livestock, fishing (primary sector)
2.1
4.2
2.9
Religious
1.5
0.5
1.1
Police and/or military
21.2+
7–
15.7
Sportsperson, artist, or entertainment professional
3.8
11.2+
6.7
Retired and/or pensioner
0.6
2.3+
1.3
Unemployed
1.2
4.2+
2.3
Student
9.7
14
11.4
Unpaid domestic work
0–
0.9+
0.4
No stable occupation
0.9
1.4
1.1
Criminal activities
13.2+
6.1
10.5
Other
3.2
2.3
2.9
Note.
= value statistically lower than the total percentage (standard corrected residuals analysis); + =
value statistically higher than the total percentage (standard corrected residuals analysis).
Results
The results related to H1, RQ1, and RQ2 about the number of characters classified according to
gender identity, sexual orientation, and demographics, and after making a frequency table to calculate the
percentage of female and male representation, showed that 57.4% (n = 436) were male characters, 41.8%
(n = 318) were female characters, 0.5% (n = 4) were characters of nonbinary gender or any other third
gender, and 0.3% (n = 2) were unidentified, as Figure 1 indicates. According to the National Institute of
Statistics (INE, 2019) the Spanish population, as of July 1, 2019, was 49.02% (n = 23,089,389) men and
50.98% (n = 24,011,006) women. Therefore, our results indicate that women are underrepresented by
almost 10 percentage points, whereas men are overrepresented by 8 percentage points.
For all tables, this legend will apply.
590 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
Figure 1. Gender frequency.
In the sample analyzed, 40.9% (n = 311) of the characters identified themselves as being
heterosexual, compared with 2.9% (n = 22) who were homosexual characters and 0.8% (n = 6) who were
bisexual characters, as Figure 2 shows. On the other hand, 0.3% (n = 2) of the characters were identified
with other orientations, and 55.1% (n = 419) could not be clearly identified. Also, it was observed that there
was an underrepresentation of nonheterosexual orientations, but only slightly since approximately 11% of
the Spanish population identifies as belonging to the LGTB community (Control, 2017).
Figure 2. Sexual orientation.
González-de-Garay and colleagues (2019) have shown how there is an underrepresentation of
women appearing on Spanish generalist television, which amounts to 36.8% in 2016 and the first half of
Male, n= 436,
57.40%
Female, n=
218, 41.80%
Other, n= 4, 0.50%
Unidentified, n= 2, 0.30%
Heterosexual, n =
311, 91.1%
Homosexual, n= 22, 6.5%
Bisexual, n=6, 1,8%
Other, n= 2, 0.6%
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 591
2017. Likewise, De-Caso-Bausela and associates (2020) have revealed that this figure rose to 40.7% in the
second half of 2017 and 2018. Compared with what was found in this study, the series distributed on VOD
platforms show a similar underrepresentation.
There were also some differences found regarding sexual orientation. While 2.5% of the characters
were identified as nonheterosexual on generalist television (De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020), we found that
4% of the characters were nonheterosexual in the series on VOD platforms, which is considerably higher.
However, this percentage is still below the actual demographics of Spain, according to the Control Barometer
(Control, 2017), where 11% of the Spanish population identify themselves as being nonheterosexuals. Thus,
among the characters whose sexual orientation could be coded (n = 341), 91.1% were heterosexual and
8.9% were nonheterosexual, which is approximately 2% below the demographic statistics.
For H2 and RQ3, regarding job status and work-related goals, significant differences were found
when the gender variable was compared with occupation type using Pearson’s contrast statistic: χ²(16, n =
554) = 59.691, p < .000. For example, there were several categories that showed a higher probability for
women characters to hold certain positions such as an office worker (7% of women vs. 3.2% of men),
sportsperson or artist (11.2% vs. 3.8%), a retiree or pensioner (2.3% vs. 0.6%), unemployed or
underemployed person (4.2% vs. 1.2%), and an unpaid domestic worker (0.9% vs. 0%). However, the
occupations with the highest professional status were not only occupied by men, as both sexes, in most
cases, were found to hold these types of jobs.
In conclusion, the results obtained for the Spanish series broadcast on VOD platforms show that
higher status professions are occupied by both sexes. However, the jobs requiring less professional training
tend to be occupied by women.
As for personal goals, there was a statistical relationship based on gender, χ²(1, n = 498) = 7.608,
p < .006, since women are more characterized as being driven by personal goals than men are. In fact,
among the characters coded for this variable (n = 498), 70% (n = 149) of women had personal related
goals as compared with 57.9% (n = 165) of men, as Table 3 shows.
Table 3. Relation Between Gender and Personal Goals.
Gender
Personal goals
Male
Female
Total %
No
42.1+
30
36.9
Yes
57.9
70+
63.1
Regarding topics of conversation, there was a significant relationship between gender and the
topics of conversation such as love [χ² (1, n = 754) = 7.451, p < .006], violence [χ² (1, n = 754) = 4.569,
p < .033] and work [χ² (1, n = 754) = 3.856, p < .050]. Thus, as can be seen in Table 4, gender was
relevant when these types of topics were discussed. For the rest of the topics analyzed, such as friendship,
sex, money, masculinity, environment, health, education, family, politics, sports, racism, immigration and
empowerment, there was no relationship between gender and the topic of conversation.
592 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
As for the topic of conversation termed “love,” women were more likely to talk about it, 30.8% (n
= 98) as opposed to 22% (n = 96) of men. However, most of the characters do not discuss this subject,
especially men: 78% (n = 340) male versus 69.2% (n = 220) female.
The topic termed “violence” was mostly related to male conversations, since 24.8% (n = 108) of
men discussed the topic, and only 18.2% (n = 58) of the women talked about it. This indicated that the
topic of “violence” was not mentioned by 81.8% (n = 260) of the women and 75.2% (n = 328) of the men.
The last topic termed “work” was found to be significantly related to gender, where 52.5% (n =
229) of men discussed work as opposed to 45.3% (n = 144) of women. As such, 47.5% (n = 207) of men
and 54.7% (n = 174) of women were found to not discuss this topic.
Table 4. Relation Between Gender and Conversation Topics.
Gender
Topic
Male
Female
Total %
Love
No
78+
69.2
74.3
Yes
22
30.8+
25.7
Violence
No
75.2
81.8+
78
Yes
24.8+
18.2
22
Work
No
47.5
54.7+
50.5
Yes
52.5+
45.3
49.5
If we compare these data to those collected from the analysis on generalist television series (De-
Caso-Bausela et al., 2020; González-de-Garay et al., 2019), we observed that the situation is quite similar to
that of VOD platforms, since jobs requiring less professional training (unpaid domestic worker, unemployed,
office staff, retired, etc.) were mostly represented by women actors. Female character also tended to have
more personal related goals than men and female conversations were still oriented more toward the discussion
of “love.” Therefore, no major differences were found between series broadcasted on generalist channels and
on VOD platforms regarding these variables and how female characters are portrayed.
Concerning H3 and RQ4, the hypothesis and research question associated with violent attitudes,
significant differences between male and female characters were found regarding “Perform major physical
attacks,” χ²(1, n = 754) = 4.027, p < .045, and in “Perform acts of intimidation,” χ²(1, n = 754) = 9.039,
p < .003. Table 5 shows that the gender most related to the act to carrying out “major physical attacks”
was male, because 4.6% (n = 20) of men carried out this type of behavior, compared with 1.9% (n = 6) of
women. The same is true for “acts of intimidation,” as this type of behavior was carried out by 8% of men
(n = 35) compared with 2.8% of women (n = 9).
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 593
Table 5. Relation Between Gender and Violence.
Gender
Male
Female
Total %
Major physical attacks
No
95.4
98.1+
96.6
Yes
4.6+
1.9
3.4
Intimidation
No
92
97.2+
94.2
Yes
8+
2.8
5.8
Therefore, H3 should be partially rejected because it was verified that men are more involved than
women in some violent acts. However, it was not possible to verify that women are more frequently the
victims of these acts, because none of the differences were statistically significantly.
The study by González-de-Garay and colleagues (2019) has confirmed that men are more prone
to violent behavior and that women are most often their victims. Nevertheless, the subsequent study by the
same authors (González-de-Garay et al., 2020) did not determine a masculinization of violence, because
the violence and victimization rates were equal. Therefore, it can be concluded that the situation has
improved, because the Spanish series broadcast on VOD platforms do not pigeonhole women as victims of
violence.
Regarding H4 and RQ5, about personal attributes, significant differences were found associated
with some personality traits and the characters’ gender. As Table 6 shows, the following variables were
more characteristic of men rather than women: “unfair,” χ²(2, n = 575) = 11.681, p < .003, “aggressive,”
χ²(2, n = 568) = 21.335, p < .000, and “irresponsible,” χ²(2, n = 518) = 12.286, p < .002.
594 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
Table 6. Relation Between Gender and Personality Traits.
Gender
Male
Female
Total %
Unfair
Not characteristic
76.5
87.6+
81.4
Partially defines his/her personality
15.4+
7.6
12
Perfectly defines his/her personality
8+
4.8
6.6
Aggressive
Not characteristic
77.7
92+
84
Partially defines his/her personality
13.8+
5.6
10.2
Perfectly defines his/her personality
8.5+
2.4
5.8
Irresponsible
Not characteristic
79.9
90.8+
84.7
Partially defines his/her personality
13.5+
5.2
9.8
Perfectly defines his/her personality
6.6
3.9
5.4
Maternal/Paternal
Not characteristic
65.9+
51.5
59.3
Partially defines his/her personality
16.5
20
18.1
Perfectly defines his/her personality
17.6
28.5+
22.6
The only characteristic that stood out with respect to females was the “maternal/paternal trait,”
χ²(2, n = 514) = 12.139, p < .002, which is related to H4, where the result suggests that women are more
preoccupied with their personal and private lives.
However, other personality traits, such as friendliness, openness (outgoing), kindness (good-
hearted), disloyal or treacherous, intelligent, grateful, conflicted, racist, intolerant, seductive, weak,
perverse, and courageous were not significantly related to gender.
Data from the Spanish series aired on generalist television during the second half of 2017 and 2018
(De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020) have shown that men are characterized as being “disloyal,” “aggressive,”
“conflictive,” and “irresponsible,” whereas women tend to be defined as being “maternal,” “intelligent,” and
“kind-hearted.” Likewise, similar results and stereotypes were found in this study after analyzing characters
in the Spanish series distributed on VOD platforms. That is to say, men are “aggressive” and “irresponsible,”
whereas women are “maternal.”
In conclusion, some personality traits in the series broadcast on generalist television and on VOD
platforms are still gender specific; although others personality traits are represented equally by both genders.
Finally, regarding character sexualization (RQ6 and RQ7), there was a statistically significant
relationship between variables “gender” and “hypersexualization,” χ²(1, n = 742) = 5.452, p < .020. It was
observed that of the 427 men who were coded into this category, not one was hypersexualized. This was
not, however, the case for the female characters shown in the Spanish series distributed on VOD platforms,
because 1.3% (n = 4) of women were hypersexualized; therefore, the research question is answered
affirmatively.
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 595
As for the series broadcast on generalist television in 2016 and the first half of 2017 (González-de-
Garay et al., 2019), 3.8% of women and 0.7% of men were hypersexualized. While in the second half of
2017 and 2018 (De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020), hypersexualization involved 6.7% of women and 3% of
men. Even though the hypersexualization of characters in the Spanish series distributed on VOD platforms
is not that common, when hypersexualization does occur, it tends to happen to female characters (1.3%).
Discussion
This study has shown that, despite what was initially thought about the content offered on VOD
platforms, that is, more heterogeneous material with greater diversity, women continue to be
underrepresented in contemporary Spanish TV series broadcasted on streaming platforms. However, data
on stereotyping are more promising compared with generalist television (González-de-Garay et al., 2019),
as an increase in nonbinary characters has been reported (De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020; González-de-
Garay et al., 2019). Nonetheless, there is still a shortage of nonheterosexual characters in the series shown
on VOD platforms, although the percentage of characters whose orientation is nonheterosexual is higher
with respect to previous studies (De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020; González-de-Garay et al., 2019). In general,
underrepresentation persists because there are fewer nonheterosexual characters in television fiction than
indicated by the statistical figures based on population demographics.
In addition, the representation of nonheterosexual characters has not been found on all VOD
platforms, although Netflix Spain, for instance, is the platform that most includes LGBT characters, followed
by Movistar. On the Amazon Prime platform, one character was identified as homosexual; on HBO, only two
bisexual characters were identified; and on the AtresPlayer platform, no characters were identified to
represent a nonheterosexual sexual orientation. A study by Carson Cook (2018) found that the
representation of LGB characters increased from 1.4% (no transgender characters) in 20056 to 6.4% in
201718. In the latest report by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD, 2019), titled Where
We Are on TV 2019/2020, we can see that 10.2% of prime-time television characters are LGBTQ. This
substantial increase allows us to predict there will be an upward trend in the coming years (Smith et al.,
2017), an aspect that should be analyzed in Spanish fiction television.
Regarding topics of conversation, love” continues to be associated with the female characters
shown in Spanish VOD series, with an increase of 0.2%. But in this study, “sex” does not appear to be a
common topic among the conversations of men; “money,” “violence,” and “work” are topics still related to
male characters; and the family continues to be related to female characters.
Unlike previous research by De-Caso-Bausela and associates (2020), females are more sexualized
than male characters. However, the number of hypersexualized characters is so low that this phenomenon is
statistically insignificant, although this data should be considered relevant since there has been a reduction in
hypersexualization in generalist television, perhaps it is used as one more claim for the audience. As expected,
there are more women than men with personal goals related to their private lives and interpersonal
relationships. Also, TV characters with work-oriented goals are predominantly men. This aspect is virtually the
same in Spanish fiction television broadcast on both generalist television and VOD platforms.
596 Marcos-Ramos and González-de-Garay International Journal of Communication 15(2021)
There is no masculinization of violent attitudes, although intimidation is mainly performed by men.
These data substantiate the conclusions drawn by De-Caso-Bausela and colleagues (2020) about generalist
television channels. However, they contradict those of González-de-Garay and partners (2019), as the
results showed a higher rate of violence in male characters. Thus, these findings seem to reinforce the idea
of separating the binomial man violence that had been propagated in Spanish fiction television.
Male characters still hold higher status jobs (such as businessman and director) and are police
officers, military personnel, skilled workers, religious workers, or criminals. The data agree with previous
reports about women who predominantly occupy positions such as office workers, athletes, artists,
professional entertainment workers, retirees, unemployed, students and nonpaid domestic workers, as
portrayed in generalist television (De-Caso-Bausela et al., 2020).
In conclusion, we observed a trend toward gender equality and more representation of the LGBT
community in streaming platforms. However, there are aspects of underrepresentation, such as child
rearing, or specific occupations that continue to be linked to women. On the other hand, behaviors that
were once associated with men, such as violence, have also been progressively acquired by female
characters, which has consequently changed the stereotypes representing women and the plots in which
women are involved. It should not be forgotten that television fiction, as well as other audiovisual content,
“can become an educational and entertaining vehicle for equality training” (Padilla-Castillo & Sosa-Sánchez,
2018, pp. 91, 92). Various studies have indicated that gender roles are formed in early childhood and
continue to influence behavior during adolescence and adulthood (Gómez-González & Gómez-Cabrera,
2013). Although female characters are stereotyped in adolescence, stereotypes affect people from a very
young age. In adulthood, stereotypes can also shape and influence attitudes and behavior. For this reason,
the media should reduce stereotypes and promote realistic aspirations and behaviors to change certain
attitudes and beliefs about the female gender. They should present real-life female characters in a way that
promotes change within a society because “viewers will imitate the representations of the world that their
favorite series offer and use the archetypes, values and how we relate to others” (Padilla-Castillo & Sosa-
Sánchez, 2018, pp. 9192). That is why it is so important to give an accurate picture of women in television
series, to dissuade society from believing in stereotypes and, consequently, contributing to the custom of
the underrepresentation of female characters. It has also been shown that “humans give more credibility to
what we see than to other senses” (Aguilar, 1998, p. 227). Gender roles and stereotypes are deeply rooted
in society, and the process of gender equality will take longer to achieve along with social change. However,
television fiction can play a major role in this process. Few things seem to have changed since Tuchman
coined the term “symbolic annihilation” in 1978 to refer to the media representation of women or when
Mattelart in 1982 stated that the media offers a stereotypical image of women because they broadcast and
promote values such as passivity and dependence. Wood (2005, p. 33), after conducting a meta-analysis,
has concluded that the media have created two stereotypical images: good women and bad women. In
general terms, various studies have indicated that the representation that television makes about gender in
the field of entertainment reproduces normative roles, stereotypes and inequalities between men and
women (e.g., Barthes, 2017; Belmonte & Guillamón, 2008; Tortajada & Araüna, 2014).
Although this study only analyzes fiction produced in Spain, it should also be noted that these
productions, or most of them, can be seen all over the world. Several platforms make it possible for viewers
International Journal of Communication 15(2021) Gender Representation 597
to watch series in a language other than their own, which is the case of La Casa de Papel (Netflix, 2017
20), which has become a worldwide success, being “the most watched non-English speaking series on the
Netflix platform, and the second most watched globally in the first 24 hours since its launch” (Millán, 2020).
As Lacalle, Gómez, Sánchez, and Pujol (2019) state, “the rise of Spanish fiction in VOD is evident in the 24
premiere titles in 2018, which include 16 Spanish productions, three Mexican, a Brazilian, a Colombian, and
an American” (pp. 201202). This, in addition to giving visibility to Spanish fiction, offers an image of Spain
to the world. It must be considered that many people will not travel to Spain in their lifetime, so the
knowledge they may have of this country is through parasocial contact. Therefore, care must be taken when
spreading the image that one wants to give of Spain, whether it is one of a diverse country or not. Therefore,
it is necessary to analyze the media, as it allows us to know in a scientific way whether there is a
correspondence between reality and fiction as far as representation is concerned.
Limitations
Although this study was carried out using a large corpus of data (760 characters) obtained from 33
series, it still has some limitations. First, because only one episode from two seasons were analyzed, and it
would have been preferable to analyze the complete production. Nonetheless, this analysis has allowed us to
obtain a reasonably accurate approximation of the questions under investigation. Second, the research was
centered on serial TV fiction and does not include different media formats and advertising, which also play an
essential role in creating gender stereotypes. Finally, the methodological tool that was used supports
descriptive statistics. Nevertheless, it would have been more enriching to combine quantitative and qualitative
methods. The quantitative method would have generated the data and the qualitative method would have
allowed for a more in-depth study on the representation of the female characters in television fiction.
In the future, it would be appropriate to carry out research comparing Spanish fiction series with
American series, because, according to Asenador (2020), the most-watched series in Spain in 2019 were
American productions. Also, it would be of great interest to carry out a gender study based on the present
research, but in conjunction with the comparison of Spanish and American series. Finally, it should not be
overlooked how important studies on gender issues in communication are, since this field has allowed
researchers “to illuminate certain dimensions of reality that cannot be identified from other interpretative
frameworks” (Cobo, 2009, p. 37).
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