Children pick up messages everyday from the world around them about what it means to be a girl or a boy in our society. Throughout childhood, children are very influenced by messages from outwith the family, particularly from TV, films, cartoons, adverts etc. and they need you to talk with them about what they see and hear. While there are some great influences, a lot ofthe commercial content they see and hear has a very narrow ‘script’ of how boys and girls look and activities they are involved in:
Gender is a mixture of biological sex and the influence of social and cultural ideas of how males and females should be – it is not set in stone from birth!
Children’s understanding of what it means to be male or female in our society is shaped by what they see and hear around them and the commercial world is a powerful influence, as this Australian film clip parodies well.
The ‘script’ that children learn from these influences can limit their expectations of themselves e.g. prams and dolls are mainly marketed at girls which can give boys the messages that caregiving/parenting are not valid skills for them to be interested in and to practise. And mechanical toys are usually marketed at boys giving girls the message these skills are not for them. There’s some great story books that have boys and girls in different roles.
Here’s a US toy company started by a female engineer to encourage girls in to engineering:
Products marketed towards girls have an emphasis on how they look and how pretty they should be in a way that you don’t see with products marketed towards boys. This emphasis on approval through looks starts very young and increases in the teenage years, when it has an impact on young women’s self esteem and wellbeing to an extent not seen with young men. But it doesn’t have to be this way – parents can dilute this influence by encouraging their children to think differently:
What do children need from us?
To provide a bit of balance; pink is not just for girls, boys can dress up as fairies and push prams, etc….