2/2 Critical Media Literacy in Preschool Years – Gender Bias

Continuing from my previous post on critical media literacy in preschool years.

I think compared to Turkey, where the gender bias is kind of “in your face” in many aspects of life, in the UK the biases in popular media tend to be more hidden. For example, in Peppa Pig, Mummy Pig does work, but from home (we don’t know what she does) – not like Daddy pig who works in an office with colleagues as an architect. Yes, Daddy Pig can’t fix a computer but we all know he is being a bit silly. Miss Rabbit is very good at handling multiple jobs, but at the same time she is this eccentric character who is a workaholic with no family of herself. Or take Paw Patrol for example, which is all about team work and problem solving. In the program, six of eight puppies are boys and so is their leader. These characters are important for my daughter–everything she plays with is important for her. When we are reading a book or when she is watching something on TV, she pays great attention to gestures, clothing, manners, how people react to situations and what they do.

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Peppa Pig. A typical work day for Mummy Pig.
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Paw Patrol. Can you spot the two girl puppies?

So it’s no surprise that we often hear from our daughter things like, Football is for boys, That’s a boy’s game, I won’t do such and such because everyone will think I’m a boy…

Such comments always make me a bit unsettled because although they are often very sweet and naive comments, it shows how she already has constructed a binary world of boys and girls. I believe, and I hope I’ll be proven wrong, this construction is only going to get stronger if there is no purposeful intervention; I mean small ones like ours (having a chat about something, asking questions) or formally as a program in school. This really bothers me because I want her to know that the distinction we see in media between girls and boys is really nothing but a social construction, and even sometimes, a political project. That construction is simply wrong and things should change because it is destructive in many ways. So when I see gender bias in children’s programs, this genuinely makes me sad. It makes me sad to see how little thought and care is given to little girls’ agency in the production process.

Programs like Do you Know are good at having kids explore the science and technology of everyday things but how about teaching kids the sociology of everyday things? It’s a mistake to think that closing the gender bias in STEM is simply an issue of resources and a love of tech, math and science, and that the precondition for success in these areas is simply engagement with those subjects and the determination to succeed. If we want more girls–a lot more girls–going into STEM careers, what we need is critical media literacy to help both girls and boys understand how and why things are produced in the way they are, in a social world, and that things can change, because the inquiry into “why we live as we do,” can be life changing and open many previously closed doors.



4 thoughts on “2/2 Critical Media Literacy in Preschool Years – Gender Bias

  1. Isn’t CBeebies “Let’s play” such an anti-gender stereotype? Like I think the ballerina and nurse were Syd (the man) and the chef and racer and footballer were Rebecca. Paw Patrol bothers me coz it would have been so easy to balance it a bit more. And even Everest is not a main character so really only one main female dog. Like, whyyyyyy?

    On Peppa, I kinda feel it has a lot of feminist undertones because the dad is constantly silly. You’re right about the women’s jobs, though. There is Miss Rabbit the workaholic and Mrs Rabbit who doesn’t work but has lots of kids. And mummy Sheep who only works out but doesn’t work. There are other issues w Peppa (the snort alone is what turns many people off here in Egypt when their kids mimic it).

    Wait til she is older and watches stuff that’s got even more issues. But the early stuff is really important in the unconscious messaging that kids will absorb if we don’t unpack and discuss them critically.

    1. Thanks for the comments Maha. I think cbeebies is much better at gender issues than other for profit channels. Biggleton is really good too, except “Frankie the business woman” always wears a dress suit and high heels (don’t know why they think it’s OK for growing girls to wear high heels). About Peppa, Daddy Pig being silly also reflects gender bias too, just like Homer in Simpsons. Dad is silly, Mum is sensible. Dad is childish and fun, Mum is caring and patient. I should go back to your older posts and read how you unpacked things with Hoda when she was little:)

      1. I put these kinds of posts usually under the Parenting category on my blog. https://blog.mahabali.me/category/parenting/ would love your feedbck on any you find interesting

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