Diversity and Stereotypes in Media

I previewed the readings this week a while back as I wanted to start investigating gender stereotypes in the media with my students. The fifth graders loved the Gender Remix tool that focused on Lego ads. This is the tool I used to introduce students to the blatant gendered messages that appear in media around them every day.

After experimenting with the tool for a while, the students became very aware of the gender messages around them and were able to pick them out easily in other advertisements. The students picked up on messages for “boy toys” that aimed at violence, darker colors, action sound effects, and more construction opportunities with the toys. They also noticed that the “girl toys” focused more on animals, singing, bright colors, and friendship. Before remixing the ads, these messages wouldn’t have been nearly as apparent.

One of the ads that was available for remixing was a Lego Friends ad. The students were very critical of these ads and I became frustrated by the blatant stereotypes interwoven into those advertisements. After experiencing this with my students, I loved seeing the Feminist Frequency videos surrounding the Lego Friends line. The woman in these videos was able to articulate the exact frustrations I was feeling while watching these advertisements and speaking with my students. My fifth graders thought it was surprising that the girl advertisements were the only ones that focused on animals because many of my boys love animals. They were discouraged to see that they were considered “girl toys”. This is one of the many things that Feminist Frequency brought up.

Often, I think that people worry about the stereotypes being pushed on young girls. I worry about these too. Girls are forced into the confines of care-giving, relationship building, in-home tasks such as baking, and beauty products. This leaves out many career options and skill sets that are valuable for young girls. However, we really need to think about the stereotypes that are pushed on young boys as well. They see messages that push them toward violence and away from cooperation. Just as girls aren’t being exposed to messages about the importance of science or creative thinking, boys aren’t being exposed to the importance of care-giving, friendship, and teamwork. These are all important ideals that should be internalized by children of any gender.

This week’s readings also focused on diversity within media. As a teacher, I often see curriculum that tries so hard to be diverse that it comes across as “token diversity”. The goal when thinking of diversity in media (especially children’s media) is to make sure that media is representative of the real world. For example, if 50% of the people in the world are women, shouldn’t 50% of characters in various forms of media be women? It’s important for children to be exposed to characters that are similar to themselves, yet they also need to see characters that are different from themselves.

By making sure that multiple cultures, races, religions, languages, and so on are represented, we ensure that students see the many different types of people and families that exist in the world. Students live in an isolated bubble of their own experiences. They are very engaged with the media around them. This media should be widening their experiences and opening their eyes to the diversity of our world. However, right now the messages of diversity that students see often put diverse characters in side roles or wedge them in as token characters that are there just for the sake of diversity.

We have a long ways to go when it comes to diversity and avoiding stereotypes in media. For now, the best we can do is make sure that our students are prepared to view media critically and ask questions about what they’re seeing and what is being left out.

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