I just had lunch with a good friend in the entertainment industry and this question came up. I have been thinking about it for years now, even before I professionally started thinking about kids and kid culture on a daily (if not hourly) basis and I have fallen on both sides of the issue.
Up until and during the time I was taking Women’s Studies classes in undergrad, I fell firmly on the side of children’s media becoming more gender neutral. I think this is because I was grasping onto my identity as, not a tomboy, but definitely a girl who liked “boy things” – computers, math and science, sarcasm – and hated “girl things” – pink and frilly, make-up, polite conversation. I saw the world as sets of extremes and I blamed the existence of stereotypes on the society of extremes and strictly dictated roles that I was raised within. (Of course, I didn’t think about how the very fact that I wasn’t a cookie cutter cut-out of one of those extremes proved that my upbringing was not dictated by said restrictions, but I digress).
Gender neutral children’s programming seemed like the perfect, big, first step to helping fix all the gender stereotype issues that existed. I figured if everyone started from the same neutral place, we could all come into our own identities on our own time and in our own ways.
After undergrad, I spent a couple years doing 3+ jobs at once, one of which was being a professional nanny with an agency. During this stint, I saw tons of families of means raising their children according to my dream of gender neutrality – primary colors instead of the pink/blue, blocks instead of dolls/trucks, and television shows that were balanced in gender representation or with whimsical creatures of indeterminate gender. I was ecstatic! Here there were, making it happen. I was so excited to see how these children of a new era turned out.
And I did see how those kids turned out – exactly the same as we all did. They were mostly subscribing to the same stereotypes that we all did as we were growing up, in pretty much the same ratios. Of course, the scientist in me knows that this was not a controlled experimental set-up and I initially looked for all the outside variables that were contributing to the kids falling into those traditional girl or boy play patterns.
I definitely found those random variables, but I soon realized that those “random variables” are exactly what make up a culture. Every little girl and boy will try out multiple identities as they grow up; some of them will be uber-girlie, some uber-boy and others neither. It’s just the way it is – no matter if they are watching GI Joe and Strawberry Shortcake or Teletubbies.
Which brings me to the point of this rant. PLEASE, entertainment industry professionals, continue to put gender-extreme programming on the TV. Don’t stop with the gender neutral, but don’t turn down a show because it’s too girlie. The mentality that “boys control the remote” is silly. For every boy who controls the remote, there is a gaggle of girls rehearsing a ballet routine to perform for their family at a holiday gathering or developing elaborate story archs for their collection of dolls and horses.
And if you MUST make it gender neutral, please make it good. If we have to watch it with our kids, why not put a little effort into making it actually watchable. Sure it may take a little longer to find someone who can make kids and adults laugh, but the program will have more staying power in the end – and it will be good – you do care about that, don’t you?
But most important of all – let them be kids and on their own terms. We were able to. It’s only fair.
… steps off her soapbox and turns back to her RSS feeds …