|Perpetuating the 'PR Bunny' Myth
By: Kimberly Shrack
Every now and then when I tell someone I work in PR, typically a male, I get the response, “Ohhhh, you’re one of those.” It’s said in much the same tone as someone talking simultaneously to a contestant in a Toddlers and Tiaras child pageant and as a regular on Girls Gone Wild. I sometimes check to see if I am wearing a sequined skirt with butterflies in my hair and a hot pink tube top that says something like “juicy” or “tasty,” but most of the time, I’m not.
So why this reaction? Why is being a young woman in PR akin to being a child pageant star and bead-starved co-ed? It’s called the PR Bunny stereotype, which is exactly what it sounds like. A PR bunny is a young, female PR pro characterized by a pretty face and a complete lack of management competence. Like the bunny name assumes, they are fluffy and cute (“shallow but lovable” as the official definition goes), and despite their propensity for throwing parties, rocking Louboutins, and flirting with clients, they aren’t good at much else.
This stereotype is a problem for me and every other young woman I know that works in PR. We have all, at one time or another, been treated like this by a client or co-worker. For example, while working at a Big Agency, one of my colleagues reported to me that she and some of our other co-workers were told by a client that they were certainly pretty enough to work in PR. Yikes.
But where does this stereotype come from and where is it being perpetuated? You already know the answer. Samantha Jones. Edina Monsoon. That awful woman from Arrested Developed who set Michael up and I’m still mad about it even though she was only in one episode. Yep, it’s TV and movies.
A study recently published in the Public Relations Journal examined the occupational roles of PR characters in movies and found some pretty interesting stuff.* Surprisingly, a majority of the characters were men, despite the field being dominated primarily by women. Completely unsurprisingly, the female characters were more likely to be involved in social activities, i.e. the parties and grand events, than their male counterparts. Even more troubling is that the female characters were often presented in very one-dimensional roles focusing on — you guessed it — their sex appeal rather than mental acumen. Imagine that!
So why is this bad? It’s pretty obvious. Stereotypes stuck for everybody, including those that make them. Those colleagues I referred to earlier? Among the top at Big Agency, including one who moved from AE to Manager in record time and another honored by PR Week as one of the country’s top 40 PR pros under 40. So, no slouches. If the client had been more interested in their qualifications rather than their attractiveness…well, I digress.
I can hear your argument now: “But this is true for most professional women, not just in PR.” Okay, yes. But the difference is how women in PR are consistently portrayed in movies and TV. Beyond the attractiveness and sexuality, women in the professional world are shown as little more than glorified party planners. Not a good representation of what we do, nor is it a good message to send our women considering entering the career. How are we supposed to get top talent if they think women in PR are viewed less as professionals and more as a Girl Next Door?
This is one media stereotype that needs to be put to rest. So film studios, I have a plea. Next time you have a female character that works in PR, let’s make her a little less glitter and a lot more substance.
Too much to ask?
* Full disclosure: this study was co-authored by one of my favorite professors at Boston University, Cheryl Lambert. But just because I am a little biased doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually rock.
Kimberly Shrack is a PR pro based in Philadelphia, specializing in writing and content development. She has worked in communication for a variety of industries including technology, travel, art, and healthcare. Follow her on Twitter at @kjshrack.
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