The first was the BBC's 'No More Boys and Girls' where plans were put in place to counteract negative gender stereotyping in a class of seven and eight-ish year-olds*
*yes, 'ish' because I really can't remember. They were smol, ok?
The phrases and ideas these kids had absorbed before the programme were... wow.
These British kids in the 21st Century thought that girls are weaker than boys, boys are smarter, boys are natural leaders and 'become president more easy,' girls are hairdressers, cooks, and look after children, boys are astronauts, footballers, doctors, and basically whatever they want to be.
It was jaw-dropping.
Even more worrying was that the boys struggled hugely with their emotional vocabulary - explaining how they felt - except when it came to anger.
They understood anger completely.
Could it be, I wonder, that there's a link between this and the statistically significant number of men who end up in prison, struggle with mental health problems, or commit suicide?
(If you're struggling and need help, regardless of gender, please GET HELP. There's a list of helplines here, and people in the UK can get in touch with the Samaritans at any time to talk about anything.)
If we don't allow our boys to feel, then how are they going to be mentally and emotionally healthy later on?
How are they going to learn to avoid aggression and anger if those are the things that make sense to them?
This division of how kids can express themselves - of how they can act, what they can read, what toys they can play with, what jobs they can do - limits children without any explicit rules having to be written.
This can't be good for kids.
Kids suffer when forced into restrictive gender roles.
LGBTQ+ kids, especially transgender and non-binary kids, suffer doubly from the weight of unspoken (and sometimes spoken,) expectations of how they 'should' be.
The attitudes of the kids in 'No More Boys and Girls' was backed up by a similar class in Mary Portas' programme about Barbie 'The Most Famous Doll In the World,' this week.
These kids already had a set idea of what toys, colours, jobs, etc. were for boys, and which were for girls.
Their parents, doubtless, would never dream of turning to their little ones and prescribing what they can and can't do - but kids are like sponges, and with society being the way it is, they just soak it all in.
So, am I advocating that we get rid of all the pink and the blue? All the princesses and pirates?
Hell no! I've always loved pink, and princesses, and all that stuff! But I also have nothing against blue, and am a huge fan of pirates!
What we need is a balance.
Yes, girls can have pink - but that isn't the only thing they should have. And boys can sure as hell have pink too.
It's not only the toys - it's the colours, the clothes, the films, the books, that we expose children too. As a society we limit them without even realising that we are doing.
So show both your sons and your daughters things that have strong women - Wonder Woman, Ghostbusters (2016,) - and sensitive men... *struggles to name media portrayals of sensitive men*... Finding Nemo...? Ratatouille...?
And show everyone the BBC's adaptation of David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress. Just do.
Try to show kids that's it ok to break out of gender roles.
That doesn't mean that their media has to be monitored by you 24/7 - that's a) creepy and b) impractical.
But if you can introduce them to portrayals of women in high-powered roles, to portrayals of men as care-givers, and encourage this type of media.
And, importantly, try to target their viewing to include lots of things that pass the Bechdel Test.
The Bechdel Test is by no means perfect - but it's the most basic of marks for whether women are being portrayed as human beings, instead of props.
There's three parts to the test:
- Are there two or more named female characters (this can't be 'the waitress' - they have to have a name)?
- Do two or more women talk to each other in the course of the movie/TV show/whatever?
- Do they talk about anything other than the male characters, or men/boys in general? (It can be as simple as, 'how do you like your sandwich?')
Seems simple, doesn't it? You'd be surprised how many movies - including big, family movies, fail miserably.
I'm not saying to analyse everything to the tiniest detail - just try to be a little more aware of the media you and your kids (if you have any) are exposed to.
(You can check out my list of 100 family films from the 2010s which pass the Bechdel Test here.)
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