Children get ideas about how boys and girls “should” act, or what it means to identify with one gender or another, on a near-constant basis. Kids are inundated with so many types of media: television, movies, music videos, advertisements, toys, games and a tremendous amount of digital media. While media can be empowering, they can also send confusing, limiting or even harmful messages about gender and what it means for a person to defy gender stereotypes. Children need explicit strategies for viewing media critically, and for sorting through the messages they receive.
This lesson helps students analyze and critique messages about gender that they get from various media. Students in younger grades will focus on toys and toy advertisements, challenging themselves to think past what advertisements tell them about their gender identity. Older students will begin to consider the notion that gender is, at least to some degree, socially constructed. They will also critique media that constructs gender in limiting and sometimes debilitating ways.
Applying What You Learned
At home, watch a television show, read a magazine or browse at a website you frequently watch, read or view. Keep your eyes open for how this piece of media might contribute unfairly (or fairly) to the social construction of gender. Answer these questions in your journal or notebook:
- What piece of media were you watching? What do you usually like about it?
- What did you notice about gender in this form of media? How did that make you feel?
- What messages do you think you and others usually receive from this form of media? How does that make you feel?
- What, if anything, do you wish the creators would do differently in terms of the messages they communicate about gender?
Share your answers with your classmates.
The article "Children, Television and Gender Roles" examines some aspects of how media impacts children's sense of identity.
The "Media Awareness Network" article on Media and Girls addresses how girls in particular are affected by what they see in the media. It includes numerous links to other relevant articles and studies.
Various articles examining the ways that media can negatively impact transgender children or youth seeking a more complicated gender identity include "Serious Media Failure on Transgender Youth," "How Transgender People Experience the Media," and the "GLAAD Media Reference Guide."
This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
CCSS SL.1, SL.4, SL.6, W.3, W.4, W.5