You Can't Be What You Can't See
As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.
We at GenderAvenger were really struck by new research from Common Sense Media, that shows how gender representation (or lack thereof) can have a profound impact at a young age. Girls exposed to narratives that revolve around male characters are left without female role models. Given that characters on children’s programs are twice as likely to be male, this is by no means a small problem.
We know children learn by modeling behavior, so programming that features traditional gender stereotypes can be even more damaging than programming with no female characters at all.
When girls see female characters that exist solely to be the object of male affection, their sense of their own role in the world is limited. The report indicated that “having a view of oneself as a sexual object is linked to higher levels of depression and eating disorders, diminished cognitive efficiency, diminished sexual agency, and lower self-esteem”.
A quarter century after Thelma & Louise, women and girls continue to be sidelined in most media, particularly children’s media. That matters, because what our sons and daughters see on-screen shapes their beliefs about the world and themselves.
In fact, Common Sense Media learned that “higher levels of TV viewing are associated with 4-year-olds being more likely to believe others think boys and men are better than girls and women” and that this awareness “could affect the self-evaluations and mental health of boys and girls and the occupational and academic pathways that they approach or avoid”.
On the flip side, when children are exposed to nontraditional gender roles in media, both boys and girls are more confident and see a wider range of potential career paths, and girls are more likely to entertain STEM careers over stereotypically female jobs.
Traditional gender roles no longer apply, and content creators stuck in this rut need to catch up.
Our kids are watching, and we know you are, too. In fact, GenderAvenger Molly recently pointed us towards these educational stickers for children featuring “careers” with not even one female character to be found on a roll of 1,300!
We want to help girls and grown women alike see that they belong on stage, deserve equal air time, and are complex human beings with big ideas and stories of their own to share. We can support the work of organizations like Common Sense Media by keeping the pressure on to make sure that women are represented equally in the public sphere, and in the process, giving the next generation more role models. It’s time to smash the stereotypes and show the kids that girls can and should be seen and heard.