MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Pardon Me, Your Bias is Showing

I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts on gender and media since a luncheon at the Sarasota Film Festival, when Geena Davis, representing her Institute on Gender and Media, gave a speech about the mission of the organization, which was announcing a partnership with the festival to promote the creation of films in which gender roles are portrayed equitably.

A fellow journalist who was at the fest noted that the speech Davis gave was very similar to what she had to say in a speech from Newsweek’s Women in Media Conference held in September, 2010, and when I looked it up, sure enough, she was right. No matter, though … Davis certainly delivered the speech passionately and eloquently, and the points she raises about how kids are exposed to ideas around gender from the time they’re old enough to be plopped in front of television to watch Dora the Explorer are surprising.

I’m not going to enumerate a bunch of boring stats for you here, you can read those in the research papers yourself, if you’re so inclined. To sum it up: television and movies pretty much suck when it comes to equitably portraying girls versus boys. I’m a pretty strong-minded woman, and I don’t think of myself as being unaware of these things, but in reading through some of the research on the institute’s website, I was surprised — and properly chagrined — to realize that I’d not been nearly aware as I ought to have been about what my kids watch, and how that might be impacting both their worldviews, and their views of themselves.

For instance, my daughter Veda, aged nine I’m-almost-ten-now!, has asked me several times lately to arrange for her to get together with some of her girlfriends. My kids are enrolled at a choice school — a “homeschool resource center” — that’s intended as a resource for homeschooled kids in our district to take some classes and have that all-important socialization that non-homeschoolers are always so concerned our kids don’t get enough of. Because I balance work and homeschooling four kids, I use the center more as a full-timer; this year my kids had classes every day from 9am-2pm, five days a week. I work in the family room (thank you work-at-home-gods for noise reduction headphones) while they go to class.

For a couple of years, when we lived across the water in Seattle and attended the homeschool center there, Veda had an awesome girlpack to hang with. There was a whole gang of little girls around Veda’s age, and every day you’d see them walking to classes, arms wrapped around each other, or playing games in the commons, or eating lunch together. Sometimes they would play with the boys, too, but mostly the girls liked to stick together.

Our house was the frequent site of after school adventures with the same pack of kids, and at home, too, they tended to divide off. If the boys and girls did play together, it was almost always as some very physicial battle of gender, the girls playing twice as rough, running twice as fast, as if all the honor of femininity rode on the outcome of a game of flag football or freeze tag. Never would the boys in my kids’ gang of friends use the phrase “playing like a girl” in a derogatory sense.

This year the jolly little gang broke up, as one family moved two hours north, we moved across the lake to suburbia, and several other families left the Seattle homeschool center over various issues. Veda’s surrounded by boys in this house, with two brothers and two stepbrothers and a couple brotherly friends who’ve been around since the kids were all small fry. So by default, she always ends up playing the boys’ games.

Even when it’s just Veda and one or two of her brothers, it’s almost always Veda who ends up bending on what she wants to play, or has to choose to either play the boys’ way with them, or by herself alone. She revels in those rare moments these days when her older sister Neve will put aside grown-up concerns for a while and revert to her not-so-far-in-the-past girlhood joy in playing with plastic ponies or creating dresses for dolls out of finds from the half-price remnant bin at the fabric store, bits of ribbon, and a hot glue gun … but those moments are rare these days, with Neve on the cusp of high school, head full of more serious teenager concerns.

I finally became aware of this evolving pattern in our household, and it bugs me, and I’m wondering how much the media they’ve been exposed to, with its statistically skewed portrayal of gender balance and gender relationships, has wormed its way my kids’ brains, molding the way think about themselves and each other.

We’ve never been one of those hard-core “gender bias-free” households like some of our Seattle neighbors aspire to be, but neither have we ever told our kids, boys or girls, that they could only play with these kinds of toys or engage in these kinds of games because of their gender. Mostly, our kids gender-bended a lot with the toy selection and games when they were younger, but the older they get, the more their divisiveness starts to show.

But gender bias influences us as adults, too, with messages that shape how we view each other, and how we treat our kids. What subtle messages are we giving our sons and daughters without even realizing it, about who they are and what’s important about them?

One Response to “Pardon Me, Your Bias is Showing”

  1. Change says:

    All the money is going to the Corporations and Top 1%, That’s the REAL problem with this country. Get money out of politics and you will have a Government for the people.


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