The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Media: Where Are We Now?

 

By Olivia Dickinson

Digital Consultant

and

Diversity and Inclusion Representative - CMF Executive Group


Seven years ago, back in November 2013, I produced one of the Children's Media Foundation’s first live events. Those were the days where you could come along in person to drink some warm white wine, listen to panellists and have a chat afterwards with new and old friends. The topic of that event was ‘Representation and Gender Skew’.

The Let Toys Be Toys campaign was just one year old, the Hopster streaming app was in its infancy, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations and my then 3-year-old son was mostly watching Octonauts - a show with 8 or 9 main characters, only 2 of whom are definitely female, though one was Tunip: half animal, half vegetable - the first non-binary animated character...?

 

 

 

Fast forward to Covid-year 2020, where Brexit has happened and Donald Trump is US President, and what has changed in the children’s TV landscape around ‘representation and gender skew’? Are TV shows still ‘skewing’ to only boys or only girls? Are there now pre-school animations that feature groups of characters with an equal mix of male and female characters? Is the merchandising and apparel of shows like Octonauts still removing female characters from the boys’ pyjamas and making all the girls’ toys and clothes in pink? Sadly, the answers, respectively, are yes, no and yes, as Let Toys Be Toys and Hopster detailed for the Children's Media Conference in their videos for the Inclusivity Now strand.

Hopster’s report last year, Is TV Making Your Child Prejudiced? focused on all sorts of representation across children’s content, but within the section on gender stereotyping they found that across the 50 different shows for pre-schoolers that they surveyed, over a third of the episodes perpetuated gender stereotypes: boys who fight, girls who are image orientated; males as the knowledge and power bearers; girls being undermined, or doing the cleaning. Let Toys Be Toys has always focused on gender stereotypes and the harmful effects of those stereotypes on children from an early age, making the connection between how girls are portrayed in TV ads, TV shows and in the toys marketed to them and the subject choices they make in their school careers, the career choices they make after GCSEs.and how they feel about their appearance.

Girl Guiding survey: 39% of girls aged 11-21 feel unhappy they can’t look the way they do online.

 

Girls are still being told that themes of beauty, imagination, caring, cooking and cleaning, and stories about princesses or romance, are for them. And boys are absorbing that too, that those themes are not ‘for them’ and are somehow ‘girly’ and therefore lesser. Boys meanwhile are expected to always be a child who loves action, adventure, science, space and transport, and not be interested in reading, arts and crafts or playing role play.

Of course there has been progress, and some of that has been accelerated by #MeToo and Black Lives Matter – this year Viacom has committed to its global no diversity, no commission pledge. But is that any different to the production requirements homegrown BBC and Sky have had in place for much longer around diversity?

And of course there are female leads in pre-school shows for little girls to emulate (we’ve always had Dora the Explorer, and Doc McStuffins since 2012, now joined by JoJo in JoJo and Gran Gran), shows like Hey Duggee show mixed families and very little ‘pinkification’. But what about the equal groups of boy and girl characters, or some boy heroes who aren’t into action and adventure and pre-school licensed clothing that isn’t pink?

The Hopster report noted that subscription and streaming media services were more likely to perpetuate negative stereotypes than ‘free-to-air’ equivalents, so wherever you make your content available, please note the #just4asks from Let Toys Be Toys for retailers and apply them to your own content and commissioning.

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