Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 7/8, October 2004 (
Gender and Racial Stereotypes in Daily Newspaper
Comics: A Time-Honored Tradition?
and Catherine Preston-Schreck
This study was designed to examine gender and minority roles in daily newspaper comics.
Fifty comics from four daily newspapers were sampled during a month-long period. Gender
roles were found to be stereotypical; women were underrepresented, more likely than men
to be married and have children, and not as likely as men to have a job. More attention
was paid to women’s appearance, and female characters, when they did work, had lower job
status than did male characters. Activities and behaviors were also divided along gender lines.
Female characters did more of the domestic work such as child care and household chores,
and male characters did more yard work. Female characters were more verbally aggressive,
and most of the physical aggression was conﬁned to “adult dramas” where men dominated.
Minorities were basically nonexistent, save for a few strips that included or focused upon
KEY WORDS: newspaper comics; gender; minority roles.
Depictions of gender and minorities by the me-
dia have been of interest to researchers because of
the inherent social implications. For example, ac-
cording to cultivation theory, the majority status
given to men on prime time television nurtures the
view that women have more limited abilities and in-
terests than men do (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, &
Signorielli, 1986). Tan and Tan (1979), who also drew
on cultivation theory, found that frequent exposure
to stereotypical images of Blacks on television may
lead to a loss of self-esteem among Black viewers.
For decades the popularity of newspaper comics
has been evidenced by newspaper readers’ responses
to comic layout alterations or public criticism. For
example, in 1973 the Kansas City Star reduced the
size of its comic strips and omitted its editorial page
due to a newsprint strike and resulting paper short-
age. During the following 2 days the paper received
well over 100 phone calls; 122 complains about the
Department of Communication, Illinois State University,
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Communication, Campus Box 4480, Illinois State University,
Normal, Illinois; 61790; e-mail: email@example.com.
size of comics, but only two about the absence of
the editorial page (Gower, 1995). More recently the
Boston Globe received over 300 e-mail messages, let-
ters, and phone calls after a columnist criticized the
paper’s comic section, describing the comics as essen-
tially “recycled vaudeville gags that were not funny
the ﬁrst time around” (Astor, 1999a, p. 31).
Given the popularity of newspaper comics and
their use by newspapers nationwide, one might
project that depictions similar to those found for
other media would also reinforce stereotypical atti-
tudes and beliefs among readers. The objectives of
this study were to examine the current status of gen-
der and minority roles in daily newspaper comics
and to compare these depictions to previous stud-
ies of the comics as well as content analyses of other
Although newspapers have been somewhat re-
luctant to share local readership demographics, na-
tional surveys point to a need to attract more women
and younger readers, as circulation ﬁgures have re-
mained stagnant since the 1960s despite increas-
ing population trends (Strupp, 2000). In 2002 total
daily newspaper circulation in the United States was
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