Ending Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Advertising

During my research I found that there are many different factors which can influence the formation of gender stereotypes and roles, but generally, they are “the product of the interactions between individuals and their environments” (Blackstone 2003, p. 335). This includes both the media as well as everyday influencers such as parents, teachers, doctors, etc. Therefore, I think it is important to address both types of influences in my mobile technology. I believe the best way to accomplish this is through an app due to the GPS and tagging technologies as well as its ability to connect people through multiple platforms.

The first part of my app would include a community in order to get people talking about the problem and working towards a solution. This community would be intended for adults interested in the cause of gender stereotypes in marketing towards children. I imagine the app would mostly be for parents, however, anyone interested in the cause would certainly be welcome to use it. For this aspect of working towards change in marketing, community members would be able to post pictures or videos of gendered marketing they see, and would even be able to tag where they saw it. This could include anything from mailers from toy stores, to television commercials, to “girls” and “boys” aisles in toy stores. People would then be able to share these findings via social media, making the issue more prominent. Ultimately, through sharing the gender stereotype scenario, enough people could come together to address the company directly and have a stronger impact. Though it may not cause change immediately, I believe this community aspect and working together will increase chances of getting gendered marketing towards kids changed.

The second part of my app would still include the community, but this aspect would address the influence of people, not the media. Being that our past generations have been raised with gender stereotypes, they are often engrained with what we know to be ‘normal’. Therefore, people may not know how to talk with their kids about gender stereotypes. For this reason, I want my app to include a community forum in which people can find tips on how to start the conversation about gender stereotypes, what to do in specific situations, etc. This would allow users to search from the tips already there, or to ask a question and then have the community respond. This would help at least a portion of people to be more cognizant of their actions and the influence it has on children’s development of gender identity and gender stereotypes.

Both of these ideas for my app work in conjunction with Hannah Goodall’s theory of media literacy. However, in her article she focused on teaching our children media literacy to better understand what they are viewing rather than being passive consumers. I, on the other hand, am suggesting media literacy be taught more to the adult influencers in a child’s life, so they can recognize the stereotypes and know the negative effects they produce. As a result, these adults will have a better influence on children in how they talk to them about stereotypes as well as not reinforcing them. In a way, being taught about gender stereotypes and seeing how they differ from the media, children will also be learning media literacy because “ they may be able to actively distinguish which messages are more stereotypical and disregard them” (Goodall 2012, p. 162).

Gender stereotypes have been found to have a direct and very impactful effect on children. Though they may not start to understand gender characteristics until they are about ten years old, they still make stereotypical gender associations starting as young as two years old. A study found that two-year-old children associated traits like emotionality, helplessness, passivity, and gentleness with girls, whereas they associated things like aggressiveness, strength, and playing actively with boys (Browne 1998, p. 84). It is obvious that children are influenced very early in life; however, I’m not sure teaching a two-year-old about gender stereotypes would be effective. For this reason, I am also thinking about adding an interactive component to my mobile technology that is designed just for kids. I think this could be something as simple as a game. However, unlike many gendered games today, this game would allow children to dress their character how they like without specific ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ closets. The game would encourage kids to style their characters how they like as well as perform whatever activities they choose. For instance, a boy character could play a game in which he babysits and a girl character could be a firefighter, two examples which would often be reserved for specific genders. I’m not sure how I would be able to incorporate this, or if I would need to design something else entirely. However, I think it is very important for children to learn hands-on, and this would be a great way for them to express themselves with no restrictions.

Gender stereotypes can be learned through the media as well as environmental influences, such as other people. With this app, it would address both issues by pointing out stereotypes in marketing as well as teaching people how to start the conversation and teach their children about gender. Though I think this would mostly be used by parents, it is an app that would certainly be available to anyone interested in ending these stereotypes. At the same time, I would like to develop something specifically for children so they can not only learn about this issue, but have a restriction-free platform to play. I think all of these uses combined will help to spark change in how we portray gender in marketing towards children.

Works Cited

Blackstone, A. (2003, August 1). Gender Roles and Society. Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children, Families, Communities, and Environments, 335-338. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/

Browne, B. A. (1998). Gender stereotypes in advertising on children’s television in the 1990s: A cross-national analysis. Journal of Advertising, 27(1), 83-96. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com

Goodall, H. (2012). Media’s Influence on Gender Stereotypes. Media Asia, 39(3), 160-163. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com

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