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.