You may have heard about the Lego debate, or the mixed reviews about Goldieblox , or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominate, which, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children.
And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.
When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to her for making the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein. I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.
But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.
I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.
I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why? Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!
When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience. Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention?
- What do the women/girls look like?
- What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
- What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
- What do the men look like?
- What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
- What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
- How do women and men interact with each other?
- What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
- What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
- What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?