When I started researching media sexualization, I was really focused on the impact on girls and women. But as I’ve been reading more about it, I’ve realized that boys are just as involved in responding to these messages as girls.
One of the things that’s really bothered me as I explore the media for young boys is the huge amount of stereotyped images that they’re seeing about what it means to be a boy. In children’s programming boys are overwhelmingly shown as being loud, active, and rude. Those who don’t fit this stereotype are portrayed as geeky and unlikable. In the Disney Channel’s “Suite Life” series, there are two twin boys. One brother is loud, disrespectful and popular, while the other is kind, smart, respectful and……unpopular. Hmm……what does this tell our boys about what makes them successful socially?
As they get older, boys see that they are supposed to be obsessed with girls and getting into relationships with them. Is this really something an 11-year-old boy should be thinking about? Sure, some boys are interested in girls at this age. But for a lot of boys, it’s very normal for romantic interests not to begin until they’re much older.
One middle school boy told me that he was asked by a peer if he was “gay” because he didn’t have a girlfriend. This really upset and confused him. He said, “I just want to hang out with my friends, boys and girls, and have fun. Why does it have to be about having girlfriends now?”
The media may send these messages, but all of us who spend time with kids and kids themselves can choose our response. Let’s be intentional about this issue. No, it’s not expected that you have a boyfriend or girlfriend as a child, or even as a teenager. In fact, going out in groups and spending time connecting with each other as friends is much safer and emotionally healthier way to begin exploring romantic feelings. Let’s not let the media tell us who we are or should be. Let’s be transformers in the world around us.