Television watching has slowly become a central and pervasive activity in our modern lifestyle. Many families plan their daily routines, conversations, mealtimes and even furniture arrangements around the television. Television serves as a primary source of information, especially for young children. Most parents take advantage of the mesmerizing property of television programs to engage children as an electronic babysitter.
With this early exposure to television watching, children greatly rely on the television as their first educator in life, gradually influencing and shaping their social skills regarding behaviors, attitudes, and values. Did you know that an average child may spend nearly 1,250 hours per year watching television, which is a higher than hours spent in school work?Given the massive influence, TV watching has on the earliest development of a child; it is crucial for parents and caregivers to understand the scope of children programming regarding the content displayed.
An important angle to explore is the growing issue of gender-based stereotyping. One Saturday morning, which is a favorite day to air almost all children programs, I sat down to watch a children’s program aired on one of the major networks. Winnie the Pooh is one of the most watched programs by children. Amid all the silliness and inconsequential cuteness that oozes from old sweet Pooh and the crew; a huge presence of gender stereotyping hit me hard. For the millionth time, I could see that all characters are all male, even good old sweet Winnie who is often considered as a female character.
Image courtesy of Wikia
With a new realization, I was perplexed at how the issue of gender stereotyping is commonly portrayed in many programs with a higher number of male characters and few female characters. In Winnie the Pooh, all characters are male, and the only female character is defined only by her motherhood. Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Christopher Robin, Rabbit, Owl, Roo are all presented as male characters. Kanga, who is a mother, is the single female character in the program. This representation goes a long way to show the inadequacy in our pop culture to balance out genders in many kids stories, with a high frequency of male than female in central characters.
Despite the knowledge that television content is a microcosm representation of our culture, such portrayals of a more preferred male character serve to reinforce the stereotype that males are superior to females. With television watching altering beliefs and values, gender stereotyping influences young children’s views on males and females, determining their perception of the roles of each gender.
Additionally, the use of male pronouns and masculine behaviors is another profound gender stereotyping in the program Winnie the Pooh. The use of titles and character traits in the program such as daring, clumsy, smart, and strong are some of the defined pronouns used to refer to all male characters in their daily activities, where the only female character in the program is simply referred to as a mother to identify find her gender. Such titles are used to express a broad range of behaviors and traits among males, indicating that males are more exciting and adventurous than females.
The female character lacks a detailed insight into her characters, thus insinuating that females are less interesting and important in life.Moreover, Winnie the Pooh displays gender stereotyping by giving the female character nothing more than a mothering role. As such, Kanga is seen to serve no other purpose than providing gentle mothering scolds to the males around her when the need arises.
She is not given any other traits apart from a maternal character. It is quite rare for a female character to have a strongly themed character in many kids’ television programs. Even if she is a leading female character, plain pronouns are used to describe her personality, which is frequently based on physical appearance such as pretty or beautiful. In a nutshell, such gender stereotyping portrays the societal view of the girl child as a great persona with emphasis on outer appearances and not inner attributes.
It is quite disheartening to see gender stereotyping in our pop culture today. Only few non-traditional programs are willing to invest in female leads without creating assumptions of superior male and inferior female roles. Considering the amount of time our kids spend watching television, which unfortunately makes up as part of today’s pop culture; we cannot overemphasize the need for conscious characterization in kids programming. In a world where trends shape beliefs, values, and attitudes, it is important for content writers to ensure that the right frame of reasoning is instilled in young children from an early stage.
Showcasing an environment of gender stereotyping, where girls feel inadequate and inferior only continues to open doors to the many life issues facing many females today. Issues such as inferiority complex, low self-esteem, depression are part of the battles the female gender has to fight in a perceived male-dominated world. Therefore, sensitivity to gender equality is vital in children TV programming as a way of eliminating stereotypes and creating a positive environment for young children to grow.