Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gender Stereotypes In Movies & School

I've always made a conscious attempt to avoid imparting gender stereotypes on my kids, but just like trying to avoid sweets, not exposing them yourself doesn't mean they won't be constantly bombarded wherever they go. Whether it's family, friends, or media, these messages are all around. Some obvious, and some subtle.

It was easy to avoid movies like The Little Mermaid, but we watched Beauty And the Beast many time before it's insidious message was driven home in shocking fashion.

Recently my 4th grade son came home from school and very enthusiastically told me about how the town's youth advocate visited their class that day. He told me all about the discussions they had about gender stereotypes. Afterwards we went on to talk about it further for quite a while. We talked about gender stereotypes and moved on to racial and class stereotypes, and how stereotypes may often be based on observations that become generalizations, but we have to remember they're not rules and should not be used to discriminate.

He mentioned to me that he made some contrasts to √Čowyn, from the The Lord of the Rings (which we recently finished reading.), and Hubert Hawkins, in The Court Jester, played by Danny Kaye (we had recently a few Danny Kaye movies). In The Court Jester, the beautiful female captain of the rebel guard, played by Glynis Johns, explains to Hawkins, who is no warrior, that "maybe it's kindness that makes the man." I had contrasted this to Tarzan, which we had watched recently, explaining that even though you could make excuses for Tarzan's brutish behavior, in real life it's not that realistic for someone like Jane to expect that she could change him into someone that treated her kindly.

I'm grateful my kids have such wonderful resources available to raise their awareness. Having had the benefit of weekly visits from Stephanie Low in my son's fourth grade class. Every Wednesday my son would come and excitedly tell me about Mrs. Low's lessons, which included diversity, understanding and overcoming gender, race, and class stereotypes, bullying, empowerment, cooperation, conflict management, and more. Within hours her lessons directly resulted in significant understanding and personal development. The material she developed and covered left lasting impressions and we would often reflect on them long afterwards. To quote my son "Ms. Low makes us better people." (I would highly recommend her for any position related to mental or social development and education.)

The Representation Project is committed to advancing the discussion about how gender limits the freedoms of both women and men. Their latest video examines how stereotypes constrain all people from the moment they are born. Take the pledge.

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