Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Girls are More than That: Media and Gender Stereotypes

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Brave Girls Want is an alliance of parents, experts, advocates and small business owners who believe that girls deserve to have healthy media options. We’re asking media makers and corporations to take a step back and consider the social impact that their products and campaigns have on their young target audience and on society at large.

Our alliance isn’t alone in wanting to see companies think about the impact that they’re having on the world around them. A recent global survey conducted by Neilsen (2013) shows that consumers care about the social impact that a product or company has, and they’re willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies!

We’d love to see fewer stereotyped representations of girls, and more complex, well-rounded characters. I’ve heard people say, “But girls and boys are different, these companies are just giving girls what they want!” It’s important to know that culture and experience shape a child’s understanding of how they’re supposed to behave and what they’re interests should be much more than biology does.

In her book Pink Brain Blue Brain, Dr. Lise Eliot (2009) points out that there are very few real sex differences that are biological, and these differences are very small. When it comes to academic and social emotional abilities boys and girls have more similarities than differences.

So why are so many people convinced that girls need and want only pink, frilly, princessy toys, products and characters? Maybe because in the past fifteen years or so marketers and media makers have drawn very clear lines between boys and girls. Rigid gender portrayals in marketing and media send a clear message to kids that certain toys, interests, and behaviors are only “for” boy or girls.

Tinker Toys for Girls

Tinker Toys for Boys

Media and marketing for children present an overwhelming array of gender stereotypes (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010; Johnson & Young, 2002) that depict girls as cooperative, nurturing, and passive while boys are shown as competitive, active, and destructive. The words used in marketing to girls and boys are even different! Verbs that show agency and control and the simple use of the word “power” are used significantly more in ads directed at boys than those directed at girls (Johnson & Young, 2002).

So why does all this matter? It matters because research tells us that when kids are used to seeing boys and girls as separate and different, they tend to have more gender stereotypes themselves, have less positive feelings about opposite-sex peers, and not play with those peers as much (Hillard & Liben, 2010). But here’s the good news: Research also tells us that girls and boys both like media and marketing that promotes agency, independence, and community building (Bakir, Blodgett, & Rose, 2008).

Brave Girls Want is asking media makers and companies to show that they care about the way their products impact society, and especially the young and impressionable children in their target audience. Girls need to see that there are many different ways to be a girl. Girls can love pink, frills, and nurturing but they can also love blue, green, yellow and black, being active and competitive. Our girls are complex human beings with a wide range of interests, and they need to see media that depicts girls in more realistic ways. We’d love for you to join us in our campaign. Together, we can make a change!

Bakir, A., Blodgett, J.G., & Rose, G.M. (2008). Children’s Responses to Gender-Role stereotyped advertisements. Journal of Advertising Research, 255-266.

Eliot, L. (2009) Pink Brain, Blue Brain How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

Hilliard, L.J. & Liben, L.S. (2010). Differing levels of gender salience in preschool classrooms: Effects on children’s gender attitudes and intergroup bias. Child Development, 81, 1787-1798.

Johnson, F.L. & Young, K. (2002). Gendered voices in children’s television advertising. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19, 461-480.

Kahlenberg, S.G. & Hein, M.M. (2010). Progression on Nickelodeon? Gender-role stereotypes in toy commercials. Sex Roles, 62, 830-847.

Miller, C.F., Lurye, L.E., Zosuls, K.M., & Ruble, D.N. (2009). Accessibility of gender stereotype domains: Developmental and gender differences in children. Sex Roles, 60, 870-881.

Nielsen (2013). Do consumers care about social impact? Retrieved from www.neilsen.com on 8/6/13.

Pike, J.J. & Jennings, N.A. (2005). The effects of commercials on children’s perceptions of gender appropriate toy use. Sex Roles, 52, 83-91.

3 comments on “Girls are More than That: Media and Gender Stereotypes

  1. Jen K
    August 9, 2013

    The converse is true too, boys like toys that are for ‘girls’, but are often turned off because it is all pink and purple and they have been told that is ‘girlie’. My boys liked to play with baby dolls, especially when I was pregnant or they had a new little brother, but it was hard to find ones that weren’t pink and frilly. Then trying to find a doll stroller or baby bed for these was impossible at that time that wasn’t pink and prissy. The purple with butterflies doll stroller was one of the most used toys in our playroom- it pushed dolls, stuffed animals, carried trucks and Thomas the Tank engine. I finally found my old wooden doll bed for them to use. Something I found funny was when they had a choice between riding the yellow/red/blue car or the pink/purple one they would pick the pink one every time. I asked why one day and was told ” I don’t have anything pink, it is my favorite color”.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      August 9, 2013

      Jen, you are so right! Boys and girls need broader images and narratives about gender. Stereotypes don’t benefit any of us.

  2. Pingback: What harm can media do? | Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2013 by in Acting, Cooperating and tagged , , , , .

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