STUDENT SAMPLE – Perpetuating Gender Stereotypes in Glee

Research Report by Sean (WRTG 3020 – Spring 2011)



For the majority of Americans, this economic recession indicates a time when adults and parents are forced to work more hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, for less wage and spending less time at home with their kids.  As a result, middle-lower class children may have to turn to non traditional sources to learn normative behavior.  With the dawning of the media age, examples of such stereotypical behavior are becoming more readily available through mediums such as movies, television and music.  This paper will attempt to examine what gender boundaries people may be learning through two of these media sources at once by studying the music found on Fox’s relatively new television program Glee.  The show is based around a glee club at a high school in Ohio, so the entire soundtrack is sung by characters.  By examining what songs are sung by which characters, I hope to glean insight as to what certain demographics in the show are listening to and whether the song choices reflect any gender stereotyping.

This show saw its inception in 2009 and is currently in the middle of its second season.  Many of the themes presented in the show include exploring gender and sexuality boundaries as well as strong accounts of gender policing.  In just the first three episodes, all of the male characters who join the show choir are tormented by their peers and regularly have slushies thrown in their faces to humiliate them.  Such gender policing trends in the show may manifest themselves in peer relations among young viewers or at the very least, may reflect a current social climates within youth interaction in schools today.  Because of the small sample size, I will classifying each main character as gendered either male or female, and sexually oriented either gay or straight.


Music is pervasive through most forms of media, whether it be on the radio, background to advertisements, a soundtrack for television or movies.  Thus it is essential to good marketing and so it is important to know what music any target demographic prefers when making a form of media.  Gender is the first step to dividing viewership into demographic categories, which is why this study will focus on the gender differences in music genre and matching gender of the original artist.

Hypothesis 1 – a)  I think that male main characters will be most likely to sing songs that match their gender.  b)  I expect to find that females will sing the majority of their songs in the genres Pop and Show-tune, but that Hip-Hop will be evenly distributed between the two genders.

Sexual orientation

By examining the sexual orientation I hope to show that the homosexual characters are less bound by the trends set by their heterosexual peers.  Although there is only one open gay character and one open lesbian on the show, their inclusion still makes a statement about the norms attached to one’s sexuality.

Hypothesis 2 – a)  Homosexuals are more fluid in their gender conformity, showing  a more even distribution through artists of both genders and b)  they are less likely to exclusively select songs from one genre.


To collect data most objectively I will be taking a random sample of music from the first season of Fox Network’s hit show Glee and recording the following data: Gender and sexual orientation of the characters who solo in the song, gender of the original artist and genre of the song.  Since the show’s first season does not contain any original music in its soundtrack, every song that is featured will have an original artist to cross reference.  To ensure my sample is random, I will be taking data from the second and fourth song (only if it has a main character featured in the song) that appears in a given episode.  To help classify each song as a specific genre, I will first look at the original artist and try procuring the usual genre of the artist.  If the artist does not belong to any genre exclusively, or provides a fusion of different genres, I will dissect the song and determine the song’s genre from that.  I therefore provide the following definitions:

Main characters are defined as any character who appears in at least four consecutive episodes.

A soloist is any character who, during the song, exclusively carries the melody or countermelody of a song.  Therefore if a duet occurs, I will be counting it towards both character’s statistics.

The main character who chooses the song will be counted only if a specific character gives a decisive cue such as, “I think we should sing this song” or “I have the perfect song,” or if a character begins a solo and the lyrics of the song perpetuate the plot.  If these don’t occur, the song will not be counted towards any of my statistics.

Rock and Roll is classified as any song with a fast tempo, hits on beats two and four and a strong rhythm section (drums, guitar and bass)

Pop is classified the same as rock and roll but has a slower tempo.

Hip-hop is defined as any song with streaming lyrics and an electronic feeling to the back music.

Show-tunes are classified as any song which is originally from American musical theater.  This genre trumps any other genre, so even if the song has characteristics of the other three genre’s it will first count towards the statistics of show-tunes.


I compiled all of the data onto a table as a tabulation, then condensed all of that information into the demographic groups I wish to analyze.  Finally I worked all of the numbers as simple percentages of both musical genre and original artist gender so that the sum of all genre’s for any demographic added to 100% and the sum of the original artists’ gender for any given demographic added to 100%.

Based on the plotline for Glee, I determined that the main characters are as follows: 

Straight Male – Finn; Puck; Arty; and Will. 
Gay Male – Kurt. 
Straight Female – Brittany; Mercedes; Quin; Rachel; and Tina. 
Lesbian – Santana.

Table 1 delineates all of my results.  The most obvious trends exist where zero percent of a demographic sings a song from a certain category.  This occurs in both of the gay characters on the show, neither of which sang a single song from the genre Rock, and the one lesbian Santana did not solo in or choose any show-tunes.  Also neither of the gay characters chose to sing hip-hop songs.

The other strong negative trends include male characters soloing in very few show-tunes in comparison to any other genre and choosing very few pop songs.  Females on the other hand chose almost half of all their songs from Pop but chose very few from rock.

Gender matching had a very strong positive trend in every demographic, with females stepping outside of the norm most often by soloing in 36% originally male songs and Kurt, the only gay male, choosing 40% of his music from originally female artists.  Overall, Santana stayed the most aligned with gender norms, singing and choosing 100% of her songs from female artists.  Because she is a minor main character, the statistics from her trends may not be significant because of the very small sample size.

As this study is meant to examine the interactions of adolescents with respect to music, I decided to also examine the data discluding Will as a main character.  Because of his role as a faculty advisor to the Glee club, he does not contribute to the soloist statistics and his song choices reflect an unbiased song selection.  The modified percentages are displayed on Table 2 below.

As was mentioned, the removal of Will as a main character does not significantly affect the soloist section of the data but new trends in the straight male song selections arise.  The straight males choose songs exclusively from male artists and no songs from the genre hip-hop.


The most dominating trend throughout the musical genre data is the intersection between  sexual orientation and gender.  The fact that neither lesbians nor gays soloed in Rock songs and females did so infrequently shows the appearance of Rock as a masculine genre.  Likewise, where gender matching is concerned, lesbians and straight males seem to conform most strongly to their gender.  Both of those demographics on the show sing songs mostly from original artists matching their own gender.

Thus hypothesis 1 a) was confirmed.  Males on the whole were more likely to choose and sing songs originally sung by male artists.  This indicates a stronger notion of gender conformity for males on the show, which may be indicative of higher levels of gender conformity and gender policing.  Females on the other hand were more willing to select and sing songs from both genders.  One specific example from my sample set is Quinn singing “It’s a man’s world” by James Brown in Episode 21.

Although the song was most likely picked because it fit the plotline of the show at the time, the fact that she would adapt a traditionally male song to her vocal range comments on the willingness for women to adapt non-normative gender roles.

Similarly, my hypothesis 1 b) was confirmed.  While males stuck mostly to rock and roll songs, females were more likely to pick pop and show-tunes.  Hip-hop showed no gender bias.  This is exemplified by the entire cast of straight males singing Kiss’s “Shout it Out Loud” in Episode 20.

Kiss is known for their outrageous live performances including lots of pyrotechnics coupled with their intense heavy metal feel.  The band itself is all male and their style distinctly masculine.  The song in the show was a response to a girls versus boys challenge, where the only openly gay male in the group chose to be on the girls team.  That all of the straight males chose this song to showcase their masculinity and to beat the girls at the challenge.

My hypothesis 2 a) was only confirmed for gay males.  Lesbians exclusively matched their gender when singing and selecting songs.  To no surprise, Gay males were much more likely to sing show-tunes than any other demographic.  Hypothesis 2 b) was completely disproven.  Homosexuals were more likely to pick female songs regardless of their gender.  To me, this indicates pressure from peers for Santana to be more feminine and an over sense of non-conformity in Kurt’s character.  A prime example from my random sample of Kurt’s non-conformity and a summation of results from hypothesis 2 can easily be seen in Episode 19, when Kurt sings “Rose’s Turn” from the musical Gypsy.

A second example is Kurt’s solo in Episode 4 of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”

Both of these songs were sung and chosen by the only gay character Kurt.  Neither were a response to the glee club, but only acted as an emotional expression of how Kurt was feeling at the time in the series.  Thus these songs act as prime examples of how Kurt is more drawn towards the feminine show-tunes and pop, rather than conform to the other males by singing rock and roll.

While all my conclusions are solidly founded in the statistics taken from the show, there are a few concerns that must be addressed as far as how well they reflect the overall climate of American Youth, or even the show Glee itself.  First is the lack of a statistically significant sample size.  This is especially apparent in trends seen in Sexual orientation.  There were only two characters in this demographic, one from each gender.  The one gay male, Kurt, is on the more effeminate side of homosexuality and thus his song selections are affected accordingly.  The only lesbian I took data for, Santana, kept her sexuality hidden through the period of time which my data was taken.  Thus the statistics associated with her may have been an attempt by her to over-conform to gender norms to stay hidden.

The second concern that may have affected my data, especially in the gender matching, is the natural vocal range of each actor on the show.  It is much more natural for a female voice to take a male part up an octave, where generally speaking, a male voice taking a vocal part down an octave may make the song sound less natural.  Along those lines, Kurt’s song choices may have reflected the fact that his actor has a more naturally high pitched voice.


This study reflects upon the tends in music selection as a function of both gender and sexual orientation.  What I found was a strong grouping of Rock and Roll with the Straight males and Pop and Show-tunes amongst the other three demographics.  This clearly shows similar music taste among the different demographics, indicating some level of gender conformity.  Further studies for this area may include controlled testing among adolescents with the goal of finding out exactly what makes certain genre’s appealing to both specific sexualities and genders.  Why these types of music are appealing should be included as well.

These are small number statistics. With how few representative characters there are for each demographic, it would be impossible to generalize the characters decisions to wider American society.  Nonetheless, while the decisions made by the characters may not be a good reflection on the overall social climate, as media sources become more integrated into modern American life these kinds of shows surely affect the social norms found in society.  With the move away from traditional western family households (A husband who acts as a financial provider, and a wife who stays home to take care of the house and children), the family values that were normally instilled on youth by parents are now being shifted to other outlets such as: other youth peers, media and non-parental caretakers.