Dec
11
2012

What do we want for our children?

I want my daughters to believe that they can do anything that they want to do..within reason.  I want my daughters to learn everything they need to know to go out into the world and make a difference.  I want them to learn, 1st & foremost, what will make them happy. Especially as an Executive Producer in Children’s TV, I am uber aware of the influence that media has on all of us, including my daughters.

“Kids spend nearly 55 hrs a week watching television, texting or playing video games.”  -The Daily Green

What they see & hear truly affects their view of the world.  I give careful thought to even the smallest details in my shows – what the characters eat, how they feel, what they do, which character traits go with which character, and whether or not they should be boys or girls.  It’s important to me that we don’t show our characters eating sugary snacks and cakes for a “special occasion” because, truth be told, it’s always a special occasion on a television show. In addition, one study found that 98% of food ads seen by children on top-rated shows were for junk food  -Health & US News

We know that boys are more reluctant readers, so we intentionally chose our main character, Super Why, to be a boy. We know that there are much fewer girls on television so we made our main character, Blue, a girl.  And we made sure that she didn’t have long eyelashes nor a cute little bow. She is blue. And she is a girl.

But when I look at media as a whole, for my own daughters, I worry. As much as I can talk with them and model for them the type of women I would like them to grow up to be, I find that in media, women are still typecast in traditional roles, while men are portrayed as the more dominant figures. Women are stereotypically represented as dependent and emotional. Women are the mothers, and men are the bread winners. Women are under represented in television about 3:1.

The fact that a majority of voice-overs on television are male, that there are more male news readers on TV & that many of the major film directors are men indicates that it is the male who has the authority & the control of the world of TV.” -Elena Beasley

This presents a male view of the world. When women are featured, their voices in commercials are often used to sell products such as laundry detergent, diapers & jewelry. And it should also comes as no surprise that advertisers typically use women as sex objects to sell a wide array of products.

We know there are no limits to what our children can do. So why are we feeding our children the idea of limits in the form of media?

And what can we do about it?

A lot.    [Thanks for joining us Bonbon Break friends!]

 

  1. Model behavior in your own lives that needn’t be so defined by gender

  2. Talk with your kids about such issues when opportunities present themselves in your day to day

  3. Limit the amount of questionable media our kids ingest..the same way in which we limit the amount of sugar they eat.

  4. Keep their dreams and expectations for themselves free and unrestrained

And I’ll do my part by continuing to write strong, smart female characters that create their own destinies!

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Comments

  1. avatar Michael says:

    Hello, Ms. Santomero!

    First of all, I want to say God bless you for creating “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”! I am not a child, nor do I have children, but I very much appreciate the show! It helps me to remember to keep a child’s perspective on life–something I desperately need even though I’m blessed enough to remember what it was like being a child and how I thought differently. (Case in point, I used to think women gave birth to girl babies and men gave birth to boy babies.) Too much media nowadays makes me forget, combined with the fact that I live in the moment (which I guess means I still think like a child).

    In particular, I loved one line from the first episode: “How would you feel if your cake got smushed?” I loved it because there was only sincerity in Daniel’s voice: usually I’m used to hearing that question being asked of the one who smushed it, like “How would you like it if I did that to you?!” But Daniel wasn’t talking like that. Children don’t “play games” with language, they say what they mean. I’ve gotten too much into the habit of that. God bless you for using your creativity and love to continue Mister Rogers’ legacy in such a creative way. It’s not at all what he would have done–and that’s exactly as it should be!

    I’d like to agree to disagree with you on some of what you’ve said here (some, not all by any means). Since finding my Catholic faith again I have come to understand why traditional gender roles exist, and so (at least intellectually) I have come to have a greater respect for them. Certainly we are all individuals and our unique situations must be respected: what we’re good at, what we like and don’t like, what we can contribute to the world. And it’s wrong to lock people into certain ways of being if God didn’t mean for them to be that way. (Case in point, while I believe in traditional gender roles, I very much admire Saint Joan of Arc, who was certainly not acting in a traditional gender role! Hey, God’s allowed to make exceptions to His own rules, isn’t He?)

    As regards traditional gender roles, I think perhaps a good idea as far as children are concerned is to explain (in ways they can understand and are ready for) why those gender roles exist, and explain that exceptions don’t mean there’s anything wrong with you (like there was nothing wrong with Saint Joan of Arc!), just that we are all special, with something good in us that we can share. And in particular, teach them the difference between exercising a gender role responsibly and abusing it–there is a difference between a gentleman and a sexist, for example. The former is to be commended and admired, the latter’s behavior is unacceptable.

    Having said that, however, I like how you talk about giving so much thought as to whether a character should be a boy or a girl. I like the fact that the only way we know that Blue is a girl is that female pronouns are used to refer to her–that’s the way it is with real dogs. The only part of the body clearly identifying them can’t be shown in a preschooler’s show–and the only other way to identify is if it’s a mother dog nursing puppies, and that would be very limiting if you had to do that to show that a character was female. It is good for children to know the difference between boys and girls but they shouldn’t have to only resort to things that aren’t biological in order to identify the sex of a character, like hair length or clothing styles, especially since those change with place and time. I like to do that with my own characters.

    Anyway, thank you for letting me speak my piece, and please continue to write excellent quality shows for children and adults alike! We need it–you may not even realize how much!

    Sincerely,
    Michael

  2. Angela, it is SO reassuring to know that TV execs are tuned into these issues and wonderful to have a woman who “gets it” helping to shape the shows our children watch!

    A huge issue for me – and for many parents of children of color – is the lack of shows with children of color in central roles, especially African-American children. There are definitely exceptions and that is a good thing, but I find most of the shows my boys watch have white people in lead roles and that concerns me for the same reason it concerns parents when girls are not depicted in empowering ways. I also find that the characters “of color” are often ethnically ambiguous. I understand why this happens and as mom of two biracial boys I realize that in our increasingly multiracial society many children of color do not match the “prototype” we have in our minds of what a black person looks like. BUT, I also think there is enormous value to kids of all races in seeing tv characters that are very clearly African-American and also dark-skinned characters, and having these characters not be the rare exception or relegated to supporting roles.

    The other piece…I haven’t found any shows yet that depict mixed race families. Now that would be AWESOME! :)

    I would love to talk more about this & hear your thoughts!

    • Thanks for commenting Ellie. “Some” TV execs get it ;) & from doing a little homework, you find out pretty quickly which programs are created/produced by which ones.

      I couldn’t agree more about this being a very diverse world and the more people grasp that, the more they can truly celebrate the differences in others. And the proof’s in the pudding, check out Super Why! and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood where the worlds are not as homogenous as others you might have viewed..you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

      Let me know what you think please

  3. Dear Angela, thank you for such an incredibly insightful article! I came over to you and am now following you thanks to Bonbon Break! As the mother of a 15-year old daughter Melissa, this topic hits so close to home. We have always tried to show her that she can do anything. My husband works from home, so she grew up seeing daddy make dinner, and mommy clean up – in other words, it was a partnership, not typical gender roles. Also, my step-daughter worked on Hilary Clinton’s campaign, and often brought her little sis to events, so Melissa now EXPECTS that a woman will someday be president! Also, for my dear friends with sons – I hope they grow up being comfortable with who they are, that’s it’s ok to like sports, but they can also enjoy ballet, and shopping and baking. And one last thing Angela, even though it has been 9 or 10 years since Melissa stopped watching Blue’s Clues, whenever I hear the familiar “ding” alerting me that I have an email, I dance around the house singing: “I just got an email, I just got an email, I just got an email, I wonder who its from?” Thank you for creating a show with such amazing staying power, and for making such a positive difference on the lives of our children – I am now following you on Facebook!
    Lisa Weinstein
    http://www.lisagradessweinstein@blogspot.com
    I write about parenting a teen, who thinks I am a moron!

    • Thanks so much Lisa. Relationships are indeed a partnership, and it sounds like our setups are quite similar. Limitations are so very passé. Thank God!

      I’m so glad that my characters have been in your home for the long haul & hopefully that’ll continue ;) All the best to you my new friend!

  4. Angela I love this article! What an important subject for parents, especially when our kids watch so much TV. We are thrilled to share your words at Bonbon Break and I love coming here and getting even more great info! Thank you so much!!

    • Thanks so very much for commenting Kathy. I love my work & am so passionate about what we put out there, so to have people that match my passion and concern for these issues is so very refreshing. I love my new Bonbon Break friends & am proud to be a part of your family.

      Merry Christmas to you!

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