Although the media is a pervasive and profoundly influential
socializing force, parents and teachers can make a difference. Young
children are especially vulnerable to the teachings of media because
they don't have the critical capacity necessary to distinguish
between fantasy and reality, to identify persuasive intent, or to
understand irony and disregard stereotypes. The cumulative and
unconscious impact of these media messages can contribute to
limiting the development of a child's potential.
Much of children's knowledge and the experience of the world is
indirect, having come to them through the media. Media are not
transparent technologies; they do not offer a window on the world.
In mediating events and issues, television, film, video games and
other media are involved in selecting, constructing and representing
reality. In so doing, the media tend to emphasize and reinforce the
values and images of those who create the messages and own the means
of dissemination. In addition, these values and images are often
influenced by commercial considerations. As a result, the viewpoints
and experiences of other people are often left out, or shown in
Male and female images
As one dramatic example, the image and representation of women and
girls in the media has long been a subject of concern. Research
shows that there are many fewer females than males in almost all
forms of mainstream media and those who do appear are often
portrayed in very stereotypical ways.
Constantly polarized gender messages in media have fundamentally
In everything from advertising, television programming, newspaper
and magazines, to comic books, popular music, film and video games,
women and girls are more likely to be shown: in the home, performing
domestic chores such as laundry or cooking; as sex objects who exist
primarily to service men; as victims who can't protect themselves
and are the natural recipients of beatings, harassment, sexual
assault and murder.
Men and boys are also stereotyped by the media. From GI Joe to
Rambo, masculinity is often associated with machismo, independence,
competition, emotional detachment, aggression and violence. Despite
the fact that men have considerably more economic and political
power in society than women, these trends - although different from
those which affect women and girls - are very damaging to boys.
Research tells us that the more television children watch, the more
likely they are to hold sexist notions about traditional male and
female roles and the more likely the boys are to demonstrate
In fact, images aimed at children are particularly polarized in the
way they portray girls and boys. In advertising, for instance, girls
are shown as being endlessly preoccupied by their appearance, and
fascinated primarily by dolls and jewellery, while boys are
encouraged to play sports and become engrossed by war play and
Furthermore, children are increasingly being exposed to messages
about gender that are really intended for adult eyes only. These
images also help shape the notions little girls and boys have about
who they should be and what they can achieve.
In the context of some of society's real life problems, the constant
reinforcement of polarized gender messages has fundamentally
anti-social effects. Research tells us that the more television
children watch, the more likely they are to demonstrate aggressive
behaviour. Furthermore, the linking of sex and violence -
increasingly evident in everything from mainstream advertising to
slasher movies - is particularly troublesome in the context of a
society struggling to overcome real life violence against women.
The role of media education
Media education can play a crucial role in counteracting the impact
of these messages. Helping children to understand that media
construct - as opposed to reflect - reality; that they communicate
implicit and explicit values; and that they can influence the way we
feel and think about ourselves and the world, are vitally important
lessons towards achieving a society in which women and girls are
seen and treated as equal to men and boys.
The media tendency to link sex and violence is alarming.
Nevertheless, the good news is that parents and teachers can have a
much greater impact on a child's development than the media to which
the child is exposed. Real life modeling of alternative ways of
being male or female, or of resolving conflict; time spent engaging
children in imaginative play, and in activities which teach pro (as
opposed to anti) social values, ultimately have the most lasting
Mass media uses stereotypical characters to make it easy for the
audience to identify the good guys or gals and the bad guys or gals.
It is easier to create programs around stock characters than to
develop varied personalities. Stereotypes limit our views of
ourselves and others and of the reality of the world. The media
construct their own version of reality. The point of view of the
message presented is driven by ethical, political, economic and
social standards of the producers. Characters of ten reflect a
narrow range of roles.
The elderly are under-represented. Women and girls are both under
represented and portrayed in a very limited set of roles. Victims of
violence are usually portrayed a young and beautiful women. Visible
ethnic minorities often appear in limited roles. People depicted as
intelligent (especially children and adolescents) are often
portrayed as unattractive as well.
A stereotype is a view or a characterization of a person or a group
of persons based upon narrow and frequently incorrect assumptions.
Although children will be able to recognize some examples of
stereotyping, this concept is very sophisticated and can be
difficult to grasp at a young age.
- Using TV or video clips and magazine or newspaper pictures, chart
similarities and differences in appearance and body size for the
good and bad characters. Look again at the clips and make note of
the type of camera shots used for the good and bad guys or gals.
Compare the characters with self and peers and family members.
- List the jobs that TV mothers have such as teacher, doctor. Do we
ever see them working at their jobs? Does your mother have a job? If
she works outside the home do you ever visit her there?
I'd rather be me
- Form two groups - one of boys, the other of girls. From various
media have the boys list female traits and interests that are most
commonly featured, while the girls do the same for male
characteristics and concerns. Form new mixed groupings and discuss
how boys and girls feel about the stereotypes by which their gender
has come to be represented. What is artificial about these
stereotypes? An appropriate video resource available from TVO is
Behind the Scenes.
- Examine the media to determine how certain occupations are
portrayed, and then interview people in those occupations to
ascertain how realistic portrayals are. Count the number of women or
men portrayed in jobs. List the types of jobs for women and men
portrayed. How do these findings compare to the jobs held by the
parents of students? Stereotypes limit our views of ourselves and
others and of the reality of the world. They limit our perceptions
from infancy to old age.
Posed vs. natural
- Select pictures from newspapers and magazines that show the
difference between posed and natural photographs of girls and boys,
and men and women. Describe what is emphasized in each.
What's wrong with this picture?
- This video is available from MediaWatch and has accompanying
educational materials. It can be used to discuss gender issues and
concepts such as nonverbal messages. Does body language differ by
gender? Make your own collection of pictures or TV clips for each
gender and explain the message perceived.
A Real Princess
- Introduce stereotyping by brainstorming words to describe a
princess. Read the book by R. Munsch, A Paper Bag Princess.
Discuss and compare with the image we have of Princess Anne or
- Make a series of slides of witches, using illustrations from
children's books. Use these to encourage discussions about
stereotyping of women and witches and the male equivalent.
- Rewrite fairly tales from the point of view of the opposite
- View literature-based films. Compare the films with the books for
the handling of gender roles. Does one media form rely more on
stereotypes? Why? Generate more examples.
- Design a video game for girls and boys that is not stereotypical
- Video and workbook, Minding the Set - Making Television Work for
You. From the Alliance for Children and Television, 344 Dupont St.
Suite 205, Toronto, M5R 1V9.
Shari Graydon and Elizabeth Verrall
adapted from mediawatch
For MediaWatch’s guide to taking acation on media violence, go to: