Ever wonder why girl’s play house with plastic kitchens while boys are playing cops and robbers with cap-guns? Or why little boys don’t think “real boys don’t cry?” Believe it or not, these ideas have been being reinforced since birth. From pink, frilly Barbie bedroom sets, to NASCAR racecar beds, children are constantly reminded that they should behave in certain ways and they should like certain things. Their genders are being reinforced constantly. According to www.plannedparenthood.org, children learn their roles through their parents, family, religion, and their culture, especially mass media. Even toys and literature children are exposed to help reinforce these roles given to them they are expected to follow. This blog is going to explore how children are destined to become a “true” boy or girl.
I become aware of the way children are encouraged to act in a certain way or liker certain things while taking a children’s literature class. One day, we looked at the Disney Princess website and it really opened up my eyes. Upon access the website, you are overwhelmed by a pink-themes barrage of “girly-ness”. “Welcome to the magical world of Disney princess. The loveliest place you ever dreamed of,” are the words you are welcomed with. All the princess featured on the website are slim, tall, long-haired, googly-eyed characters who look like the. According to Julia T. Wood’s book, Gendered Lives, women are supposed to be skinny. This is a desirable trait that media has shown to society. This website also reinforces the sexuality of the princess and how the Disney princesses use sexuality. The article The Princess and the Magic Kingdom: Beyond Nostalgia, the Function of the Disney Princess suggests that there is a constant underlying sexual theme in most of the Disney movies involving a female main character. They use their womanly attributes to take advantage of other characters and to overcome problems.
From Google Images
Along with these looks, the stereotypical way children, both boys and girls, are supposed to act and think are taught to children through literature, TV shows, and advertisement.
In a study called “The Gender-Role Content of Children’s Favorite Television Programs and Its Links to Their Gender-Related Perceptions”, researchers did studies to identify gender-role stereotypes in children’s shows and to identify a connection between children and the characters on the show based on these gender-roles. They did this by conducting two different studies. The first was to determine gender-role stereotypical message found in programs watch by first- and second-grade children. The children watched Pokemon, Rugrats, Doug, Arthur, Rocko’s Modern Life, and CatDog. The results of the test focused on the gender and personality characteristics of both lead characters and discrete narratives. The results showed that male main characters outnumbered female characters 2:1. The results also showed that the characters tended to be more neutral in the gender-roles and personality traits.
The second study aimed to link the results of the first study to the children’s attraction to the different characters based on gender-role values and interpersonal attraction based on interviews of the children. The results showed that the boys preferred content that included hard work and humor, which are considered to be male traits. In Woods’ book, Gendered Lives, she states that there are certain traits males are supposed to have including being successful (hard-working), being aggressive, and being self-reliant. This is an example of males being taught to grow up masculine.
In another study called “Children’s Responses to Gender-Role Stereotyped Advertisements”, the researchers wanted to look at how gender of preadolescence children had an effect on their perceptions of advertisement that used stereotypical male and/or female traits. . The subjects consisted of two groups, the first being male and females aged 5 to 6 years old and the second group being males and females aged 9 to 10 years old. The ads used were storyboards. One storyboard reflected independence, strength, and decisiveness. The other storyboard reflected nurturance, empathy, harmony, and need for affiliation. It was found that perceptions of gender appropriate behavior varied between males and females. Both sexes of the younger children did not favor any ad more than the other, however, the older group of girls responded more favorably to the feminine-based storyboard than the younger girls. There was no difference with the older boys than with the younger boys; they both favored the two ads equally. This is important because it examines how adolescence children view advertisement that depicts certain masculine- or feminine-community characteristics. It also shows the differences that age can have on these perceptions of advertisements. Woods describes a speech community as commonly understood goals about communication and commonly used methods of communication based on a person’s gender. This article exemplifies feminine speech communities when using nurturance, empathy, harmony, and need for affiliation as a way of being appealing to females.
Finally, the article “Books are Sexist and Enforce Gender Inequality”, looks at how children’s literature reinforces gender roles and gender stereotypes, such as males being the heroes and the females needing assistance. Many studies of children’s books from the 1900s-2000 showed that male main characters far outnumber female main characters. It also states that male characters’ names are more likely to appear in the title of children’s books than female characters. “Evidence of this inequality was noted in how readers ‘interpret even gender neutral characters as male’ and in the way mums ‘frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male when reading with their children.” By having so many male characters in TV shows and books, it is possible for children to assume that women have a less important role in society.
There are advancements being made about these roles being reinforced to children. The Men in Childcare Pilot Project was created to put males in the typically female role of childcare. Its goal was to desegregate a job that was mostly held by women and to teach children at a young age that not only women can care for other people, especially children. It was also meant to discourage children of seeing their mothers having what Woods calls a “second-shift”.
From Google Images
This second shift occurs when a women, after working at her “real” job all day, has to come home and work in the home providing meals and doing other household work. This project rejects the “traditional view” that childcare is to be done by women by encouraging men to take this role.
Based on the research above and the examples given, it is easy to see how children are introduced to the idea of gender roles and speech communities. They really have no choice but to perceive what they see as the way things should be. It is important to understand how the simplest things such as a Disney program or a television advertisement can really be giving subliminal messages of gender perceptions to children. It is important to not view these stereotypes as “facts” but rather as something to challenge. What is wrong with a boy who likes to play house, or a girl who wants to be a super-hero for Halloween? Hopefully this blog has explained that it is time for gender roles to be questioned.