Women currently in the broadcasting meteorology field have dealt with—and continue to deal with—restrictive stereotypes based on the public's perception of their physical appearance and intelligence, largely stemming from the “weather girl” stereotype developed in the 1950s. This sexist stereotype is best seen and often exaggerated in cinematic films and television shows; however, the public's ability to distinguish the truthful and fictitious aspects of these stereotypes is important because these stereotypes limit the level of trust established between female weathercasters and viewers while consequently impeding the public response to dangerous weather situations.
This study will evaluate the origin of the weather girl stereotype associated with female broadcast meteorologists throughout history and use this information to further understand the representation of women weathercasters in several films and television episodes, in order to determine if the weather girl stereotype is further perpetrated in popular cultural media. The study found that these films and episodes actually serve to diminish the role of female weathercasters by reducing them to nothing more than a weather girl.
This study evaluates the historical representation of women weathercasters in several films and television episodes.
The field of broadcast meteorology is plagued by deep-set stereotypes of little work/big reward, fusing forecast with the forecaster and resorting to desperate attention-grabbing stunts for ratings. Women currently in the broadcasting meteorology field have dealt with—and continue to deal with—even more restrictive stereotypes based on the public's perception of their physical appearance (Smith et al. 2013; Smith and Cook 2008) and intelligence (National Academy of Sciences 2006), stemming from the “weather girl” stereotype developed in the 1950s (Henson 2010; Malone 2011). The publically perceived incapacity of women to understand science fuels this stereotype (Flicker 2003; National Academy of Sciences 2006; Brann and Himes 2010; Henson 2010; Moss-Racusin et al. 2012), which is best seen and often exaggerated in cinematic films and television shows; however, because local TV stations are the most common source used by the U.S. public to receive weather forecasts (O'Malley 1999; Smith 2000; Lazo et al. 2009) and other scientific information in general (Wilson 2008), the public's ability to distinguish the truthful and fictitious aspects of these stereotypes is important because these stereotypes often limit the level of trust established between female weathercasters and viewers (Brann and Himes 2010), a trust necessary to ensure a public response to dangerous weather situations (Sherman-Morris 2005).
For this study, a list of films and television episodes featuring TV meteorologists with a focus on women weathercasters has been compiled, based largely on Ruggles's piece entitled “Weathercasters on film” (Ruggles 2002) as well as Potter's “He's not a weatherman… but he plays one on TV” (Potter 2008). Many of these films were cited by Ruggles (2002) as a way to “pay tribute to those who watch our skies and try to keep us safe from tornadoes, floods, winds, and hail,” stressing the value and importance of the broadcast meteorology profession. This study will evaluate the origin of the weather girl stereotype associated with female broadcast meteorologists throughout history (Henson 2010; Hartten and LeMone 2010; Wilson 2008) and use this information to further understand the representation of women weathercasters in these films/episodes, in order to determine if the weather girl stereotype is further perpetrated in popular cultural media. Do these films truly pay tribute, or do they perpetuate stereotypes?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN IN BROADCAST METEOROLOGY.
The bulk of stereotypical weather girl behaviors that still define present-day American female weathercasters have an origin in the “gimmicky” periods of weather broadcasting history, such as the 1950s and 1970s, periods in which overtly theatrical antics were implemented into broadcast journalism, due to a struggling American economy and increasing pressure on each station to gain more viewership and increase ratings to avoid going under (Henson 2010). To increase ratings, stations resorted to such gimmicks as puppets, costumes, and even the hiring of women weathercasters—for their sex appeal—into an exclusively male profession (Henson 2010; Laskin 1996). The first woman hired as a weathercaster in a major market was Carol Reed in 1952, who “had no qualifications aside from a cheerful manner and a knack for communication” (Laskin 1996), and thus the act was considered to be a station's ploy to steal viewers from a higher-rated competing station (Henson 2010).
Although more stations followed this hiring trend, these women weathercasters often had no education or experience and instead were overtly sexualized to draw even further viewership (Turner 2009), culminating in a widely used term, “weather girl,” that women weathercasters are still fighting today. As Henson (2010, p. 112) notes, “the clear emphasis on looks and style among many ‘weather girls' coincided with public skepticism of women's scientific skills and with programmers' eagerness to trivialize the weathercast.” Henson references an article in the 1956 Science News Letter, which stated, “Whether pretty girls or trained weathermen should present television weathercasts, long the subject of private discussion among weathermen, now is being openly debated,” and after which Henson astutely points out “whether a weatherman should be handsome or not wasn't addressed” (Henson 2010, p. 112). Several “television personalities” took the TV meteorology job in order to achieve stardom, including “sex symbol” Raquel Tejada (later Raquel Welch), who held the title “Sun-Up Weather Girl” (Henson 2010). In 1957, the American Meteorological Society initiated the Seal of Approval program (Wilson 2008) as an effort to combat both the obvious and perceived degradation of the broadcasting meteorological field (Henson 2010). To acquire the Seal of Approval, the weathercaster had to meet a series of requirements, including holding a degree in a science field and passing comprehensive meteorology examinations. A total of 95 seals were given to men until the first woman gained a seal in December 1972; of the first 200 seals awarded, 197 were awarded to men (Turner 2009).
Only after the U.S. women's rights movements of the early 1970s did women reappear in broadcast meteorology. Unfortunately, newly educated female weathercasters attempting to break into the broadcasting field at this time found that local news had taken on a new gimmick termed “happy talk” that forced all members of the news crew, especially the weathercaster, to intersperse large amounts of “friendly banter” between segments, largely cutting down on time available for delivering weather forecasts (Laskin 1996; Henson 2010). A few women, including Diane Sawyer, took the TV meteorology job as a step to achieving a more “superior” news anchor position (Henson 2010). Other women, like Barbara Walters, refused to take on an initial weathercaster role because of the degrading antics associated with the field, and June Bacon-Bercey, the first woman and African American to receive the AMS Seal of Approval (AMS 2012), was quoted as saying, “I did not want to do weather on television, only because at that time [the 1970s] I felt it was still gimmicky from women, and I didn't want to prostitute my profession by being some kind of clown” (Henson 2010, p. 115). Marilyn Turner, a weathercaster in Detroit, explained in a 1975 Parade article her objection to the sexist, stereotypical “weather girl” term still plaguing female weathercasters at the time, saying, “I don't believe anyone over 21 should be called a girl. You don't call a man a weather boy” (Henson 2010, p. 115).
The development of “green screen” graphics, Doppler radar, and the premier of The Weather Channel in the 1980s added public respect for and trust in the weathercaster position, and the implementation of atmospheric science degrees and technology resulted in more serious weather forecasts (Laskin 1996). Women weathercasters also began to repopulate the field as the women's movement slowly transformed the broadcast world, empowering women to pursue meteorology degrees as well as the AMS seal and providing job opportunities through affirmative action legislature; however, most of these women still had to endure sexism and harassment from their stations (Henson 2010). Rebecca Reheis began her career in 1984 while finishing up a degree in atmospheric science and revealed the overt sexism she experienced while at her first job (Henson 2010, p. 116):
I thought they were hiring me as a woman working toward a degree in meteorology. When I finally got my degree, they would not allow me to use the title “meteorologist,” because that demeaned the weekday guy, who was not a meteorologist. Since I was a woman, that made it look even worse. They said, “We'll give you business cards instead.” At that point, they started talking me into sweaters, opening up my neckline, and I knew that I was not hired as a meteorologist.
Even today, the field has not yet completely overcome some of the older female stereotypes grounded in decades past. A 2010 survey found the percentage of women in local weather broadcast positions is around 21.6% of all local weathercasters, a percentage up only slightly from the 19% of 1999 and the 21% of 2005 (Malone 2011). Upon comparing these percentages to the percentage of women sportscasters, which is about 19% and rising, Bob Papper from the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTDNA) stated, “You could make the argument that women are making more headway in sports than they've made in weather. It's just not a strong area for women” (Malone 2011, p. 13). Sandra Connell, a talent agent, has also found that “women frequently find themselves stuck behind a long-tenured male in a station's weather department. When that man finally retires, the news director will likely hire another male to keep the all-important gender balance on the weather team intact” (Malone 2011, p. 14). Another possible reason for the percentage of female chief meteorologists hovering around 11% is that only 21% of women hold the AMS Seal of Approval (Malone 2011), which was replaced in 2005 by the more rigorous AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist credential (Wilson 2008), of which only 14% of women hold in an increasingly competitive job market that yields for only the best of the best (Malone 2011).
Women are also lacking in prime-time weather anchor slots. A 2008 study found that women weathercasters filled only a quarter of prime-time positions but dominated the weekend slots (Wilson 2008). However, according to Malone (2011, p. 14), weekend slots are “far less influential roles in local TV weather” and women are often relegated to the “growing local morning programs, where a ‘perky' personality is often a bigger prerequisite than a meteorological degree.”
Another explanation for the current discrepancy between male and female weathercasters is ageism, illuminated by Valerie Voss, one of the first national-network female weathercasters, who raised the hypothetical question of “who's going to want a forty-year-old weather girl?” (Henson 2010, p. 119). Voss's question reflects the results of a 2005 survey, which found that the distribution of women in broadcast meteorology peaked in the 26–30-yr-old group and the oldest female cohort was 46–50, while the distribution of men was essentially flat across a 20-yr range (26–45 years old) and the oldest male cohort was 71–75 years old (Hartten and LeMone 2010).
Even though female meteorologists have recently made a slight comeback into the broadcasting sphere, the weather girl image will not go away. Kendra Kent, a graduate of Mississippi State's Broadcasting Meteorology program and one of the few female chief meteorologists in America, commented, “You're constantly fighting the ‘weather girl' stigma. Whoever came up with that term really jinxed us these last few decades” (Malone 2011). The term “weather girl” has been characterized as a sexist term that trivializes women, in that by referring to adult women as girls in a context where male adults are described as men implies, among other things, that women are not considered fully grown up (Lei 2006). The fact that U.S. women adults have historically been referred to as girls much more often than adult men are deemed boys (Magnusson 2008) and the fact that “weather girl” is still widely used today further show both the underlying sexism associated with women in the broadcast meteorology field and that this sexism has not changed much since the 1920s.
The weather girl stereotype is further fueled by even deeper-set societal stigmas regarding the intelligence of women versus men. Chief meteorologist Janice Huff explained: “A lot of people think something coming from a man's mouth is more authoritative. I still think that happens in society—people like it better if a man says it” (Malone 2011). This statement on gender specific credibility has been illustrated in a study by Brann and Himes (2010), in which a male and female newscaster were selected to read a 30-second weather-related newscast, after which undergraduate students rated the male newscaster significantly higher in competence, composure, and extroversion than the female newscaster. Another recent study has shown there to be gender bias at the academic level in physical science, as university research professors were more likely to hire a male science candidate, offering a higher starting salary and more mentoring support, than an identical female science candidate, who was perceived as less competent (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012). Additionally, the National Academy of Sciences (2006) has compiled a comprehensive literature review and discussion on these compounding gender biases, including explicit and unexamined forms of bias, impacting women in science-related fields.
The fact that female research scientists straight out of college are facing these biases leaves little hope for the female broadcast meteorologist also fighting the weather girl stigma on top of this bias. Thus, Malone explains that the summary of these culturally pervasive weather girl stereotypes, along with the realistic absence of prime-time chief female weathercasters, helps to perpetuate the female “freeze out” cycle (Malone 2011):
Some industry watchers believe the male-dominated world of weather on TV stations perpetuates itself, creating roadblocks for female advancement for years to come. Young girls don't see many females doing weather on television, or they see the undercertified “weather girls” from the days of yore. Many young women with TV-career dreams, seeing limited role models in weather, instead aspire to be news anchors.
This study seeks to determine how many of the current statistics and past stereotypes of the weather girl translate to films and television shows. While some aspects of the more general broadcast meteorologist stereotype can apply to both women and men, women were selected as the primary focus of this study because several implicit societal biases against women who pursue science-based careers already exist prior to the added biases associated with this profession and because these gender biases often lead to self-deprecation via stereotype threat(National Academy of Sciences 2006).
A list of films and television episodes was compiled from Potter (2008) and Ruggles (2002) and includes the following: To Die For (1995), Weather Woman (Otenki-oneesan) (1995), Up Close and Personal (1996), and King of the Hill (2005) episode “Gone with the windstorm.” Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and Weather Girl (2010) were also added to ensure that the most current films were represented in this study. Two major thematic categories based on the weather girl stereotype were used to analyze these films/episodes: portrayal of female weathercaster 1) intelligence and 2) appearance. The details of these categories were established in past studies that evaluated the portrayal of female scientists in popular media (Flicker 2003; Smith et al. 2013; Steinke 2005, 2013). Each category will be discussed with elements from their representative cinematic feature, and the findings have been summarized in Table 1.
The majority of these films/episodes have been marketed as comedies, which often arguably contain elements of satire, but the satirical elements in comedies are not always understood or interpreted by the audience as intended by the filmmakers (Bonnstetter 2011). Thus, these cinematic features were analyzed from a “face value” perspective. However, the possibility and implications of satire usage in these films and TV shows is briefly discussed in the study conclusions.
The historically based weather girl stereotype assumes “beauty over brains,” and perpetuates the lack of public credibility experienced by female broadcast meteorologists by implying that women weathercasters lack the credentials and education to analyze and predict the weather and thus must be dependent on the intelligence of men. Each of these stereotypical attributes associated with female weathercasters was found in the analyzed films.
In this stereotypical view of the weather girl, female broadcast meteorologists are degraded regardless of whether they forecast accurately. For example, if the female forecaster is correct, the field of broadcast meteorology is assumed to be “not that difficult,” implying that women would not be able to understand meteorology if it was a difficult field; however, if she is incorrect in her forecast, the female weathercaster is assumed to be fused with her incorrect forecast and deemed unintelligent. These degradations are also found in all films analyzed.
Lack of relevant education
In UpClose and Personal, To Die For, and Weather Girl, the lead female characters each have college degrees but not in meteorology, and they have absolutely no experience in weather-casting prior to getting the TV meteorologist jobs. The other extreme can be found in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, as Sam Sparks, the broadcast meteorologist, repeatedly has moments of excited scientific jargon followed by a moment of pause, mumbled stuttering, an “I mean…,” and a girly laugh or trite airheaded phrase typical of a weather girl. She is stopped after one of these moments and asked why she pretends to be unintelligent. Sam then explains that, as a child, she felt pressured to change her hairstyle, ditch her necessary glasses, and pretend to be stupid in order to both avoid bullying for being a “nerdy” child who only wanted a Doppler radar and to fit into the established role of a pretty weather girl instead. Although Sam Sparks does not lack the meteorological education, she feels pressured to “dumb it down” for the audience, contributing to the perception that weathercasting is not an intellectually difficult profession.
In an episode from King of the Hill entitled “Gone with the windstorm,” it is unclear if the female broadcast meteorologist, Nancy Gribble, has a degree in meteorology; however, it can be assumed that she lacks the degree because of her station manager's decision to hire a male degree-holding meteorologist to improve ratings.
Dependence on men
Yet another sexist notion expressed in the selected films is the strong dependence upon men that these women exhibit. In Up Close and Personal, initially a weathercaster, Sally Atwater is deemed her director's “protégé”; when she moves to a larger market as a news anchor, she has trouble presenting her newscasts until he shows up to help coach her through. In To Die For, weathercaster Suzanne Maretto gets advice from a male network director on how to break into the broadcasting field. He tells Suzanne the story of a female weathercaster who slept her way to the top by performing sexual favors for men and stresses that sexual abilities are considered more important than intelligence or broadcasting experience. While Suzanne is being told this story, this same director is sliding his hand up her thigh and asking if she would do what it takes to get the job.
Weather Girl's Sylvia Winters is put through multiple job interviews where the main focus is her ex-boyfriend and morning show host Dale Waters. When she is finally offered a job at her original morning show, the director stresses that the reason she got the job is because the audience loved her banter with Dale, who she would be forced to interact with on the show. Dale also self-proclaims to have made the suggestion of rehiring her to the director himself.
Another example from King of the Hill's “Gone with the windstorm” is weathercaster Nancy's initial positive reaction to recent college graduate Irv's arrival. As the director is carting in new forecasting technology, he says “Don't worry about how any of this stuff works, Nancy, that's what Irv's here for. Meet Irv Bennet, fresh from Texas Tech's meteorological school,” to which Nancy replies, “I'm just glad I have someone to do my science for me.”
Not only does this scene portray Nancy as being dependent upon a man, the scene also shows her to be incapable of “doing science” and thus unintelligent. She is also portrayed as the typical weather girl airhead when she requests a forecast from what appears to be a monitor cable and later asks a random news producer, “Are the puffy clouds good or bad?” Her lack of basic meteorological understanding is unrealistic and should not be tolerated by present-day station directors or viewers. This episode perpetuates the weather girl stereotype to viewers who have little knowledge of the meteorological field and is detrimental in establishing trust between a female forecaster and the public.
Finally, in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sam Sparks embraces her inner “nerd” only when the male love interest, Flint, who is himself characterized as a nerd, comments on how beautiful Sam looks when wearing her glasses and hair pulled back, giving her the confidence to be her “true” self. Sam relies on a man praising her appearance, which she changed specifically for him, in order to fully embrace and begin using her scientific skill set.
Perceived lack of difficulty of the broadcast meteorology profession
The common misconception of the broadcast meteorologist profession is that an in-depth understanding of science is unnecessary to succeed in this job position, leading to the portrayal of meteorology as not a difficult or “hard” science. This misconception is based on past historical antics associated with the field (Henson 2010). However, because women broadcasters lack the credibility and trust experienced by their male peers, this stereotype associated more generally with the weathercasting profession is even more degrading to the intelligence of women in the field.
In both To Die For and Up Close and Personal, the weathercasting job was only a steppingstone for women on the ladder to ultimate stardom, which could only be found in a “more serious” news anchor job. In To Die For, Suzanne's husband, Larry, degrades the science behind her broadcast meteorologist position, saying “I'm not selling short what you're doing now—the weather report stuff—which you are really good at—but let's face facts, it's probably not gonna lead to any big network offers.” In Weather Woman, both women forecasters debase their own broadcast position, stating that the TV meteorology segment is not as superior as the news segments and thus is often overlooked.
In Weather Girl, the public perception that the weathercasting job is not as difficult or as important as news journalism is expressed when a woman asks Sylvia, “This [waitressing] is what you're doing now . . . that's really sad. You couldn't get a job anywhere else?” The man accompanying the woman then interjects, “Well, it's not like there aren't a million people who can read the weather section and ramble on about it on some morning show. I mean, c'mon, it's not exactly hard-hitting journalism.” Sylvia also degrades her position by placing more importance on journalism than weathercasting. In Sylvia's initial on-air rant, she quits what she deems a “stupid, meaningless job” where every day she claims to have “stood in front of this stupid map, repeatedly trying to find new adjectives to describe the word rain.” Later, she corrects her friend Jane's comment about Sylvia's plan to send out resumes, when Jane says, “A weather girl resume? . . . What? She's a weather girl,” to which Sylvia responds, “I'm a broadcast journalist, Jane.” In both of these situations, Sylvia continues to strive for what she sees as a more respectable reputation in broadcasting than simply forecasting the weather. Sylvia even rationalizes accepting a position at the morning show she quit by belittling her previous position, telling her brother, who is opposed to the idea, “They are offering me a raise, and I get to coanchor. You know what that means, Walt? It means I get to deliver the news . . . real news, not just the weather. Well, I mean, I still have to do the weather, but I get to do other stuff too now.”
The perceived stereotype also perpetrated by the women weathercasters in these films, that journalistic news is “superior” to weather reporting, is not based on hard evidence. In fact, the weathercast is the most-watched part of the local newscast and the primary reason people choose a local television news product (Wilson 2008). Weather is also the most popular content on TV station websites, as well as the most downloaded information to mobile devices (Waldman 2011).
Also, although weathercasters have never in the history of their field read from a prompter (Henson 2010), the view displayed in movies and TV shows is strongly the opposite scenario, especially in the case of female broadcast meteorologists. In Up Close and Personal, Sally is a weathercaster for all of 3 minutes in the 2-hour film and spends absolutely no time formulating a forecast but instead reads word for word off a scrolling teleprompter that has been written by the male news director, Warren Justice. This teleprompter allows the news director to easily and forcibly change her name to “Tally” because “it's easier to say,” he claims, showing the female broadcast meteorologist submitting to the “better judgment” of her male boss. Similarly, in “Gone with the windstorm,” Nancy presents a sunshine-filled forecast for the weekend pork festival that proves to be stormy instead; while sitting at the festival signing autographs in the wind, she is confronted by two angry festival goers who claim that it is “her weather” that ruined the festival, to which Nancy responds, “It's not my fault I got the weather wrong. I just read it off the teleprompter.”
The weather girl movement focused on fashion and sex appeal instead of knowledgeable, science-based forecasting. Thus, female weathercasters were overtly sexualized while attempting to debunk traditional feminine roles, two concepts that are displayed in these films and will be further described in this section.
Sexualization of female weathercasters
The past and present-day importance placed on the sexual appeal of female weathercasters portrayed in film far surpasses that placed upon men and is predominant in all of the films analyzed. In Up Close and Personal, Tally is consulted to acquire sexier outfits and change her hair color to become more appealing to the audience. In Weather Woman, the main female weathercaster, made famous by flashing her panties on air to gain station ratings, also engages in five pornographic scenes, all while either scantily clad or completely naked.
To Die For could be described as a slightly more realistic version of Weather Woman, based on the amount of pervasive, overt sexuality exhibited in all aspects of the film. Suzanne wears short skirts and delivers the forecast with a tone and inflection reminiscent of female weathercaster Tedi “Miss Monitor” Thurman's “low, breathy voice” heard on the radio in the late 1950s (Henson 2010), while also being continually sexualized in descriptions such as “volcano,” “goddess,” and “gangbusters.” The main male character in To Die For also turns Suzanne's on-air weather report pornographic in his mind's eye.
In “Gone with the windstorm,” former weathercaster Nancy attempts to win her job back by seducing Irv, the newly hired male weathercaster who replaced her. The lengthy seduction scene includes a hair and clothes adjustment followed by a sexual swaggering approach to Irv's desk where, as she slides up onto the table, the focus stays on her legs and lower torso. This sexually charged scene follows earlier displays of Nancy's sex appeal, when her husband and his friends ogle Nancy as they watch her weathercast on his portable TV, saying, “Even an inch tall and ashen gray, she's beautiful.” While autographing pictures of herself for the picnic with the help of her neighbor, Nancy advises, “…try not to sign across my face. Oh, and don't sign across my cleavage either . . . or as one of my fans calls them ‘my warm fronts.'”
Even in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a children's movie, two male station directors discuss the appearance of Sam Sparks, the female intern weathercaster. One director makes the comment that “she's cute and she's super perky,” to which the other responds with, “well, those are the only things we look for in a TV weatherperson.” Also, the fact that Sam changed her childhood appearance—dyeing her hair, getting contacts, and wearing more revealing clothing—in order to break into the world of broadcast meteorology, speaks to the perceived appearance expected of women in the field. Also, research has shown that cartoon portrayals of women are more likely to be sexualized and more likely to have small waists and an unrealistic body shape (Smith and Cook 2008), which are all exhibited in this film.
In Weather Girl, Sylvia Winters is described by men throughout the movie as “a babe” and compared to talk show host, “Sally Jesse…but hot.” Out of all the movies reviewed, Weather Girl is the only film in which the female weathercaster actively fights to refute the stereotypes associated with her job, seen in one of her on-air rants, where she says,
I get to return to a demeaning position where myjob is to giggle and look attractive and trivialize the day's news . . . So let me just set you and the station and our viewing audience straight on a few things. First of all, my title “sassy weather girl” is inaccurate. I am not a girl, I am a woman. And I really hate the word “sassy,” it's stupid.
Although this rant attempts to confront many of these stereotypes, the overall film manages to belittle the weathercasting job in other ways, shown in the final section of this analysis.
Body image and feminine roles
Another stereotype associated with women in all careers, especially in a broadcast meteorology job, is that they are unable to have a normative family life, partially because of the workload and partially due to the fact that their bodies are always on display in front of the green screen. This stereotype seems to be somewhat founded in truth, as a survey of local women anchors found that they rank concerns with their physical appearance, conflicts between the roles of wife/mother and newscaster, and difficulties in balancing career and family as their major career challenges (Engstrom and Ferri 1998); these issues are transposed onto cinematic depictions of female broadcast meteorologists.
In To Die For, Suzanne responds to pressure from her mother in law to have children, saying “A woman in my field with a baby has two strikes against her . . . You can't conduct serious interviews with a big fat stomach—or say you've already had the baby and you've got this blubber—these boobs out to here—It's just so gross.” In another scene where Suzanne's husband, Larry, is discussing priorities of their future together, he suggests that her weathercasting job is getting in the way of “doing what a family is supposed to be doing,” placing more importance on his job than hers. In Weather Girl, Sylvia Winters is known as the “sassy weather girl” at a Seattle morning show. Throughout the film, Sylvia's friends constantly remind her of the fact that she is a single woman in her mid-30s with no boyfriend or children, cautioning her to be less picky in her choice of men because her life is basically over. In both of these movies, the female broadcast meteorologists are portrayed as workaholics without children, further reflecting the career challenges experienced by women.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS.
After reviewing the role of women in the history of broadcast meteorology, several stereotypes and their origins were found and categorized into themes. These themes were used to analyze a list of films that feature female TV meteorologists. The overall conclusion found in this analysis is that these movies are either not really about the weathercaster position, are too ridiculously absurd to be taken seriously, or are still riddled with the weather girl stereotypes from the 1950s and thus become vehicles for present-day sexism to subtly exist. Therefore, Ruggles's (2002) choice of films to “pay tribute” to broadcast meteorologists is misleading because these films depict female weathercasters as anything but the “unsung heroes” Ruggles claims them to be and instead diminish the role of female weathercasters by reducing them to nothing more than a weather girl.
As previously mentioned in the methods section, all films and episodes were analyzed from a direct, face-value perspective, without attempting to interpret the deeper and possibly obscured satirical messages that are often missed by audiences. However, after the face-value analysis was conducted, these films were again reviewed briefly to determine if possible satirical elements could be found and what this satire appeared to achieve in these films.
Satirical discourse is either progressive, if done correctly, or regressive (Bonnstetter 2011). The message of progressive comedic satire is to persuade the audience (Bonnstetter 2011); while satire functions by way of critiquing social mores, it also seems to be driven by the wish to change (or correct) such social configurations (Harries 2000). Progressive satire also sets up two winners: the group that was correct and the group that learned to be correct; this satirical form operates through an inclusive comic frame: it points out bad behaviors but also shows that everyone is human and everyone is capable of redemption (Bonnstetter 2011). Regressive satire sets up a winner and a loser: someone who is right and someone who is wrong; this segregation serves to condemn certain members of the viewing audience, making it difficult to persuade those members (Bonnstetter 2011). Also, regressive satire does not promote progressive thinking or challenge authority and instead serves to further oppress marginalized peoples (Bonnstetter 2011) by re-presenting the damaging humor and stereotypes (Epp 2003).
Using these two forms of satire as an analysis guide, the films were reviewed and found to be largely regressive in their usage of satire. Many of the films lacked a core focus on the weathercasting position, making it difficult to identify a persuasive satirical argument against the weather girl stereotypes, and instead only perpetuated these stereotypes. None of the films/episodes analyzed enabled the weather girl to succeed in the broadcast meteorologist position.
The two films that come closest to exhibiting a progressive satirical discourse are Weather Girl and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. However, as shown in the analysis section of this study, Weather Girl's Sylvia demeans the weathercasting position from beginning to end of the film. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs makes the best attempt to ridicule societal perceptions of the female broadcast meteorologist. However, while Sam is able to broadcast a breaking weather segment in her new, nerdy persona at the end of the movie, even using technical terminology in this on-air forecast, because she is not the main character of the movie and gives no other on-air performance after this segment the audience is unable to determine if she later succeeds in the broadcast meteorology profession as a scientist rather than a weather girl. Thus, the progressive satirical message of this movie cannot be fully realized by the audience.
Although current women weathercasters who have been educated in atmospheric sciences are striving to change the public's perception of the weather girl, deeply embedded stereotypes outlined in this paper are commonly reinforced through movies and TV shows. While more women are entering the fields of meteorology and atmospheric sciences, many refuse to go into the broadcast branch of the field, as a large, unexplained dropoff among women going from broadcast meteorology college programs to the workaday weather world at TV stations has recently been noted (Malone 2011), perhaps due to the residual weather girl stereotype; however, a more in-depth demographic analysis of the broadcast meteorology field should be conducted in order to determine if this dropoff pertains to women alone or impacts men as well as women.
Popular media plays a role in increasing gender equality and diminishing stereotypes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media 2013). Research has also shown that, when the public has no real-life example of someone in a particular profession to draw upon when viewing overexaggerated stereotypical depictions in popular media, the public perceives these flawed depictions as truth (Saltzman 2005; Johnson and Holmes 2009). Thus, instead of perpetrating these often inaccurate and destructive stereotypes that set back women in the field of broadcast meteorology, popular films and TV shows should express a more accurate depiction of the broadcast meteorologist profession, including depictions of successful female weathercasters. The viewing audience needs to see more rants against the weather girl stereotype, like that of Sylvia Winters, but from women with expertise in and a passion for broadcast meteorology.
We would like to thank Dr. Alan Gertler, Desert Research Institute; Dr. Paul Starrs, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. Tamara Wall, Desert Research Institute; Michele Swindle, Mckenzie Swindle, and Cassie Hansen.
*CURRENT AFFILIATION: Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno, Nevada