On Tween TV, The Message Is Girls Need to Look Good, Boys Are Brave

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The message that girls & women are not capable of everything boys & men are capable of is slowly being phased out of our media, here and there. We have Katniss at the box office, lady cops on tv, and real-life female CEOs making the news. But as a new study points to, this isn’t the whole story. from an early age, girls are still being told that their appearance is the most important thing about them.

 

The study looked at how gender is portrayed in American television programs created specifically for tween viewers between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.  This is the age group that watches the most TV, and many of their ideas about identity and gender are being formed at this time. According to the researchers, the major finding is that “girls can participate in everything that boys can, but while doing so they should be attractive.”

 

Of course, attractiveness is a double edged sword for women. Girls and women who internalize the message that their appearance is central to their value are then often judged for being too focused on looks, or considered less serious than men because of it. In fact,  a (female) Army Colonel recently stepped down after suggesting that less attractive women be used on marketing materials, because unattractive women are perceived as competent while attractive women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.

 

The solution, of course, is to move away from media and messages that tell girls and women that being beautiful and thin is more important than being smart or capable or kind. Media literacy workshops are a valuable tool to help girls analyze and get perspective on media messages. Parents shouldn’t overlook what an important role they play in helping their daughters (and sons) deal with the expectations society has for them in a healthy way.  Here are some tips for talking to your kids that can help.

Vanessa Wright