Sadly, gender roles are established early on in life. So, as mothers or guardians, we need to interrupt the dialogue of gender inequality that our children are exposed to on T.V., film and in books. Children see themselves in the characters they watch, so it’s important to make sure your children are being exposed to strong, intelligent, assertive, and confident characters.
Here are some tips:
- Choose books with a strong female character: The majority of children’s books feature a male lead character. Be very, very particular with what you read to your children.
- Avoid books that feature girls in stereotypical ways: E.g. the girls are helpless and need to be rescued, saved, helped, or found, and usually by a guy or prince. Girls are valued more for their appearance than their intellect or skills.
- Limit amount of technological exposure: Children aged 2-11, see an average of 25,600 commercials per day. Commercials for sugary snacks and treat and toys and useless products pop up constantly on YouTube…
- Avoid commercials: Skip over them so your children aren’t exposed to marketing urging them to buy, buy, buy.
- Watch and read interactively: If there’s no female characters in the book or show you’re watching, ask your children about this. “Where did all the girls go?” –“I wonder why there’s no girls in this story, don’t girls matter?” “Do you think a girl can climb a tree, be a doctor, save someone, etc?”
- Question the gender roles: Most children’s programming and books showcases boys in stereotypical ways also. Boys are usually encouraged to “toughen up.” “Save the day, “ & “Don’t be a sissy.” Encourage your boys to express their emotions, and your girls to know that they can help themselves, they’re capable of doing whatever they want, & they don’t need to rely on someone else. Why are all the male characters exhibiting leadership skills while working in areas such as medicine, business, and construction, while the female characters exhibit “caring” characteristics and encouraged to “be nice, don’t interrupt, look pretty.”
- Resist the Disney onslaught: I know Disney is everywhere…..but really, what is your daughter learning about being a princess? Disney has always had gender problems, emphasizing hyper-masculinity for the boys, and fragility with the girls. Why is everything always a “Damsel in distress” for Disney?
For further reading:
Do Rozario, Rebecca-Anne C. 2004. “The Princess and the Magic Kingdom: Beyond Nostalgia, the Function of the Disney Princess.” Women’s Studies in Communication27(1):34-59.
England, Dawn Elizabeth, Lara Descartes and Melissa A. Collier-Meek. 2011. “Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses.” Sex roles 64(7-8):555-67.
Peterson, Sharyl Bender and Mary Alyce Lach. 1990. “Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Books: Their Prevalence and Influence on Cognitive and Affective Development.” Gender and education 2(2):185-97.