Steve Bullin

Here’s a discussion that comes up rather frequently: what do our children’s movies and entertainment, teach them?

There are many facets to this discussion, not simply because of the amount and variety of entertainment at children’s disposal, but because of the complexity of how entertainment effects development and because of how little is really known in this field. To keep this concise we’re going to discuss the ideas brought up in TEDtalks footage, featuring Colin Stokes, who asks the question- what are these classics of children’s cinema teaching our children about their gender or gender roles? What are the heroins teaching young girls about being female? And likewise what are the male heroes teaching young boys about being a male?

Colin argues that while Hollywood’s inability to consistently pass the Bechdel test with quality works does limit young girls from having as many heroes, it might more so impede young boys’ development. For those of you who don’t know the Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction and should not be confused as an all or nothing gauge of a film’s merit, simply as a way to identify if a film’s portrayal of women is gender bias. Originally from Alison Bechdel’s feminist comic strip, Dykes To Look Out for, the test was first conceived for gauging film but has gone on to help identify gender, even race, bias in most forms of popular media.

The test is comprised of three simple rules. One, there must be at least two women characters in the film. Two, they have to talk to each other. And three, they have to talk to each other about something other than a man.

Try to think of your collection of favorite movies in relation to this… not many are left right? The discussion that’s normally attached to this is that young girls aren’t given a suitable variety of realistic female role models in their entertainment. Colin Stokes sees a more alarming problem with this; maybe as well as depriving girls of role models it, more damaging, deprives boys of models for interaction. Girls are exposed to examples of a somewhat realistic model boy; the humanly flawed but underneath it all good-natured, young child we can all relate to. Where as more often than not, boys are shown girls as the pretty, sometimes shy, mysterious, motivation that drives the hero through his struggles. Boys aren’t given that relatable female representation to operate the coed world. Think about it, when a boy first goes to school they assume the other boys to be exactly like them and they view the classroom with that perspective because that is what the environment they have been presented with has endorsed. In film and television that girl perspective is rarely and poorly shown; as terrible as it sounds females are mostly represented as objects, goals. Luke saves the girl, the Rebellion, gets a wink and a metal, roll credits. Now lets have it very clear right here, entertainment is not the cause of women abuse, or any violence, or delinquency in any form anywhere. There is no legitimate argument that says otherwise. We can go more into that later, here we are talking about what entertainment is not adequately teaching children.

It’s not adequately teaching children how girls are more than just damsels to be saved or the big-sister/little-sister killjoys they are painted out to be. Given the chance they’ll rough house and shoot Nerf guns with the boys just as soon as they might play house or play with dolls. And most times if these young female characters portray traits that are decidedly un-feminine they’re labeled as “tom-boys”; as if the existence of an enjoyment of sports with a competitive attitude, or the lack of ribbons and bows in their hair determined gender. Female characters become so easily homogenized into these small rolls that simply exist to create a dynamic for the protagonist, it deprives our youth from seeing both sides of the relation. While it isn’t the fault of our entertainment per-say, play is a crucial part of childhood development for building empathy; without the learned ability to step out of your own perspective and see from another person’s view -regardless of gender- our youth will grow up oblivious to a great deal of the world around them.


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