Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Common Sense Approach to Watching How Gender Stereotypes Impact Student Development

Educators know that when it comes to gender roles, the media can do a better job of promoting more positive, accurate gender representations that give kids the freedom they need to be themselves. Parents agree. According to a study done by Common Sense, they are concerned about what their children see in the media.

5 Qualities Parents Want for Role Models

Here is what the Common Sense study shows Americans want for their children in terms of role models.
Female Roles
Male Roles
Skillful communication
Skillful communication

This comparison shows the ideal role model looks pretty much the same regardless of gender and the responses were from parents across various ethnicities.  

The Bechdel Test

It is helpful to be intentional when thinking about the shows students are watching through what it is adults see as important qualities of role models. A popular way to look at this is via the Bechdel test which looks at the following criteria:
  • It has to have at least two women in it...
  • who talk to each other, about...
  • something other than a man.

A large number of programs don’t pass the test much less engender the values parents want as role models for their children.  Common Sense Media has a strategy to change that with a system that will rate programs based on how well they develop positive gender representations.

Gender Equity Guidelines from Common Sense

These criteria provide a powerful lens through which to speak with children about what they are viewing. Where are examples of each of these qualities in their favorite programs. Which programs are ones that represent these qualities? Who is making these programs? Why? What is important to these producers? What are they saying on social media? What does the media say about them? What drives them?

Key Findings on Gender Representation in the Media

It is important to be aware of which gender representations are positive and which are not.  Key findings Common Sense Media lays out include:
  • Media promote the notion that girls should be concerned about their appearance and should treat their bodies as sexual objects for others’ consumption.
  • In adolescence, media use is associated with more tolerant views of sexual harassment and more support for the belief that women are at least partially responsible for their own sexual assaults.
  • Youth of color may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of media use on gender-role development.

Combating Gender Stereotypes

The good news for educators and parents is that there are several ways to combat gender stereotypes and promote positive gender representations. This includes:
  1. Presenting counter-stereotypes
  2. Talking to children about media content
  3. Providing media-literacy education

So, for example, shows that counter-stereotypical content challenge gender stereotype. In her book, “Screening_gender_in_childrens_TV,” Dafna Lemish provides these suggestions:
  • Presenting female characters who are
    • strong and capable…
    • who are not obsessed with their appearance and with attracting males
    • who initiate and lead, and
    • who enjoy outdoor activities, sports, science, and technology.
  • Presenting male characters who
    • collaborate with girls,
    • respect them as equals,
    • demonstrate empathy and emotions, and
    • resolve conflict in nonaggressive ways
    • Lemish, D. (2010). Screening gender in children’s TV: The views of producers around the world. New York: Routledge

Teachers Have an Important Role

There are activities in which teachers of subjects such as social studies, language arts, and library could engage their students. For example, challenge students to find such characters in historical or current events. Challenge students to find examples of this in books or digital media. Ask students to write or revise current stories and present characters in such ways.

Additionally, innovative educators are becoming increasingly aware of the research around the importance of media-literacy education which can be used to activate and improve children’s critical-thinking skills so they can be better prepared to analyze and challenge media messages. (Pahlke, Bigler, & Martin, 2014; Puchner, L., Markowitz, L., & Hedley, M. (2015); Wade, Wilksch, Paxton, Byrne, & Austin, 2017). These media literacy programs are linked with a weaker internalization of media ideals, increased awareness of discrimination in the workplace, a greater ability to identify sexism in the media, and an improved ability to respond to peers’ sexist comments.

So what do you think? Are these guidelines useful? Might they help shape what content providers create? How are you addressing the positive representation of gender roles with your students? How are you helping to educate and support parents in this work?

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