This week I had the opportunity to speak to a class taught by board member Preston Daniels. Discrimination and Diversity is a popular course at Des Moines Area Community College, and it was refreshing to see the nods of recognition of the pervasive gender stereotypes presented in the media.
We realize that rigid gender roles play a significant role in pervasive sexism. A recent report on CNN noted that the Journal of Adolescent Health has connected enforced gender norms in children with increased lifelong risks of mental and physical health problems. This is an important finding, given that the majority of adolescent health risks can be well-established by the time a child is 10 years old.
When the idea that girls are ‘vulnerable’ and boys are ‘strong’ starts in early childhood and is continually reinforced by school, parents, and media, the onset of puberty pressures kids to conform to stereotypical sex-typed roles and identities. Parents become much more concerned about sexual experimentation and relationships, and often place responsibility on girls not to dress too provocatively or go out of the house alone, for fear of ‘attracting the wrong kind of attention.’
These restrictions are linked to girls’ reduced knowledge and power, potentially causing girls to be more susceptible to violence, loss of self-esteem, and objectification.
Boys suffer as well, the report notes, if they try to challenge or fail to live up to masculine norms they continually see there is an increased risk of substance abuse or suicide. Youth of color see more media characters that look like them in evil, violent, and villain roles, not as positive gender roles.
It is the work of Chrysalis to help parents, caregivers, and youth workers understand the powerful effect media can have on a child (teens average 9-11 hours a day of media time), and to steer them away or talk with them about what they are seeing. Help them focus on educational engagement, not mindless consumption of media of all kinds.