The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood: New Report by the Fawcett Society

By Olivia Dickinson

Digital Consultant and Diversity and Inclusion Representative

CMF Executive Group


On 15th December, the Fawcett Society published the final report of their Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood.

The report, Unlimited Potential, is the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, co-chaired by Professor Becky Francis, now Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and the Rt Hon. David Lammy MP.

Full disclosure… I was a witness at one of the commission’s evidence sessions, talking about the work I have done at Lifting Limits in challenging gender stereotypes in primary education, and previously, when I was at Let Toys Be Toys, I was also involved at arm’s length in the initial literature review and recommending experts to become commission members. All that aside – the final result has caused quite a stir in the press and media and there are recommendations within it with clear relevance for the Children’s Media Foundation, as they relate to children’s TV, YouTube children’s channels and online gaming for kids.

The Fawcett report refers to pre-school streamer Hopster’s July 2019 report on gender stereotypes in kids’ TV, and the IZI report on children’s TV in eight countries.

 

Andrew Bazeley, Fawcett’s Policy, Insight and Public Affairs Manager has said:

“Kids’ TV has an important part to play in challenging stereotypes, yet representation of female characters hasn't improved in a decade, and stereotypical depictions remain the norm.”

 

 

These are the report’s main findings relating to young children’s  media use:

  1. RECOMMENDATION: Use Government funding to drive change. Department for Culture, Media and Sport funding to support home-grown children’s television should carry with it a requirement for content creators to ensure gender balanced representation, and a commitment to tackle stereotypes within the content.
  2. RECOMMENDATION: Ofcom should audit gender and minority representation in children’s TV. As part of its remit to ensure that broadcasters provide content that appeals to diverse audiences, Ofcom should build on its Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report and commit to conducting and publishing a regular audit of gender and minority representation in children’s television, using the insight from this work to inform its insight from this work to inform its regulatory role.
  3. RECOMMENDATION: Diversify online video content. Platforms should actively support new children’s content creators whose content challenges gender stereotypes, through seeking and promoting new creators. In the case of YouTube, this could include supporting them with access to the Partner Program and other resources, and promoting them on YouTube Kids and the homepage.
  4. RECOMMENDATION: Further research into gender in online video platforms is needed. Our analysis of a small sample of videos suggests a significant problem, but we recommend that funders enable more detailed analysis of the issue and potential solutions.
  5. RECOMMENDATION: Further research is needed into the games younger children play, the online worlds they inhabit, and how they are gendered. Academics and research funders should commit to exploring the representation of women and female characters in video games as well as the user experience of online worlds.

The current BFI Diversity Standards applied by the Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF), encourage “equal opportunity in the screen industries and tackle under-representation as to disability, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and geographical location.” The Standards insist upon “50/50 gender balance among: other characters / contributors / presenters / voice artists / competitors.”

CMF would recommend that the YACF examine their Standards against the aspirations listed in recommendation 1. (above) and in particular consider whether the Standards as they exist can guarantee avoidance of stereotyping.

“It's time for commissioners and content creators to pick up the baton, think creatively, and make a change" (Andrew Bazeley, Fawcett Society).

Many UK commissioners are already doing that, with representation audits and commitments to behind the screen diversity from public service and commercial broadcasters. BBC 5050; Viacom’s no diversity, no commission policy, Project Diamond from the Creative Diversity Network and the BFI Diversity Standards all set a high bar for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky.

But children are consuming content on more and more platforms - Netflix and other streamers and YouTube in particular. So CMF was pleased to see platforms - where there is little or no regulation at the moment also came under scrutiny – including a review of ten YouTube channels (three of which are also on Netfix or Sky Kids - Little Baby Bum, Cocomelon, and Ryan’s World). Recommendations 3 and 4 are practical routes to improved balance in the content of the newer platforms and, as such, have our support.

Overall, from a CMF perspective, we welcome the recommendations, and have already reached out to work with the Fawcett Foundation in 2021: we know the influence good quality, home-grown TV, video and gaming content has on children, and how the sale of toys and other child-friendly products is often bound up with licensing and broadcast deals.

As the Fawcett report says:

“Gender stereotypes continue to be widespread and deeply embedded. A concerted effort by parents, educators, companies and Government is needed for that to change. Each of these influences on children is connected and woven together. That is why no one part of society can make the change needed when it comes to gender stereotypes – we all have to pull together. Unless we all do so, each of us will fear that changes they make in one area will be overridden elsewhere.”

 
We would agree – and would add ‘broadcasters, online platforms and content creators’ to those who are starting to make a ‘concerted effort… but could do more.

Industry Policy Research

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