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Gender Stereotyping in Childrens Television

Updated on January 9, 2013

The belief that boys are rough and stuff and girls are weak and defenseless, is the misconceived, preconceived notion of gender roles. Also referred to as gender stereotyping. This stereotyping of gender starts as early as birth. Our parents find out what sex we are and immediately put us in the correct gender clothing. For some girls its pink everything, and blue for boys. They provide us with either girl toys (dolls, make-up, dress up clothes) or boy toys(monster trucks, race cars,building sets). This may have been the case 20 years ago. In today's society it seems to have changed quite a bit. Not only are children seeking individuality, parents are too. There is more equality among the sexes this day and age. Girls are far from being considered the weakest of the sexes, and it is more acceptable for boys to be on the feminine side. Children's television seems to provide much influence regarding children learning gender roles.

True gender role differences become more pronounced around age 3. Children around this age have taken an interest in who they are and observe their role models around them closely. It has been proven fathers treat their children different than mothers, and it hasn't changed that fathers want their boys to be manly, and their girls to be feminine. Parents are not the only learning tool for children. The outside world plays an important role; especially from television programming and video games.

Between the ages of 3 and 5 most parents have exposed their children to educational programming, and fun commercial cartoons. They not only provide entertainment but can be a great way for young ones to learn math, reading, science, and social skills. Take for example Sesame Street. This well rounded program has been on the air for many years. It has assisted millions of children all over the world in learning the alphabet, counting, encouraging imagination, and proper use of manners. In a recent episode about cookie monster, he is being accused of being a “veggie monster” when he is caught eating carrots and celery instead of cookies. He doesn't like being accused of not being cookie monster, so he dresses up in a girls blonde wig and calls himself Rosemarie so he can continue eating vegetables. This might conclude that only “females” are vegetarians. Later in the episode there are fairies both male and female. They go on an adventure to find captain hooks treasure. They then transform into make believe pirates. One of the male fairies says he cannot be a pirate unless he has a frilly puffy pirate shirt. Even though this is not a gender stereotype, it still shows that as children we are taught what items define who we are with the type of clothing we wear or jobs we choose. Another popular educational program is Super Why. In this television series the children turn into super heroes that go on reading adventures. Wyatt is the main super hero character. The other kids assist him. One of the girls wears skates and dresses more like a “tomboy”. I didn't find a lot of typical gender stereotyping in this show. What I did notice when comparing both programs is there is more equality amongst the sexes. I did notice that overall in both Sesame Street and Super Why is males are typically super heroes or villains, not females. In my opinion this is saying that the position of a super hero, villain, pirate or fishermen, can only be filled by a male.

Now lets take a look into the commercial cartoons on television these days. Spongebob is one of the most popular. In this genuinely funny kid/adult cartoon most of the characters are male. Females don't seem to play much of a role. There is a girl squirrel scientist, Spongebob's grandma that bakes cookies, Pearl which is Mr. Crabs daughter, and Mrs. Puff the boat instructor. All of these characters show typical female gender roles. However, the males characters tend to possess female qualities and job positions. There are quite a few underlying innuendos in reference to the homosexual community. Another favorite of today's youth is Phineas and Ferb. In this cartoon there is a teenage girl named Candis and her two younger twin brothers Phineas and Ferb. They are always inventing grand creations that would be unrealistic in the today's world. Candis witnesses these inventions on a daily basis and tries to show their mother but never can prove what is really happening. There is also a pet platypus that is actually a secret agent; very farfetched in reality. Candis is portrayed as the typical female teenager; female attire, a boyfriend and always on her cell phone. Phineas and Ferb are always constructing or building something amazing. This puts the male/female gender roles in their proper stereotypical place, including the platypus as a male secret agent role.

In comparison, I would conclude that commercial cartoons contain the most stereotyping. People today are striving for equality. Women want to prove they are strong individuals, and can do just about anything a man can do. In turn men want to be accepted for the femininity that they might possess and be able to take a less strenuous job role. Overall gender stereotyping as we have known it to be is fading. Everyone wants to be accepted. No one wants to be told they “can't achieve” what they set out to do, or “become” who they want to be. This starts with our children. Even at a very young age these thoughts and feelings are present. As parents we try to mold our children into who we want them to be. Unless a child is continuously forced, it doesn't matter how we dress them, what toys we provide them with, or what television shows they watch. Each child will find their own individuality and become whomever they were physically and mentally meant to be.

As a parent this research has taught me that even though children see things in television and from their parents, it isn't always their greatest influence. They watch the educational shows because we make them and they find favor in the fun things, and don't even realize they are learning. The cartoons provide them with ways to laugh and free time to do nothing which is what children want. In this time of “nothing” they associate pleasurable visual stimulation to the world around them. Good or bad they are always learning who they are and how to interact with their parents and other people. These things even if they are gender stereotypes do not necessarily make them into who they become but give insight into who or what they might like to be.


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      Cassandra 

      4 years ago

      I completely disagree with you. My daughter has recently become obsessed with Super Why! I started doing research after watching it with her because 1) I feel this program is super stupid and 2) I don't like the gendered roles. Whyatt is the main protagonist/superhero and I agree that one of the problems is men are shown as the superhero or villain in this show, like they are the only ones with the potential to do so. Another problem however is The main character is a boy and his background characters are two girls (one as a stereotypical princess) and a random talking animal. The women and this animal are on the same level, and notably in a substantially lower position than any other male. They would be nothing without the direction of their beloved superhero male.

      I also agree with you when it comes to Phineas and Ferb, however I think Spongebob goes against all gender norms. When asked who is the strongest, smartest character in bikini bottom? A child will tell you Sandy Cheeks. Other than Larry the Lobster, Sandy is probably the most masculine character on Spongebob. When there is trouble, she is almost always the heroine that saves the day. And even though the amount of male characters in the show is greater than the amount of female characters, almost every male exhibits some sort of feminine qualities. For example, Squidward enjoys dancing, music, bubble baths and sunbathing. Hypermasculinity is not an issue in this show and it encourages following interests rather than what "boys" are supposed to like and what "girls" are supposed to. Although the show in its entirety can be inappropriate in other areas, I feel it excels when it comes to breaking the gendered norms of our society.

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