Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Princess, Housewife; King, or Naught: What the hell are children taught?

There are many things in this world I find annoying. Unthinking bigotry, thinking bigotry, willful ignorance — all the major peeve groups. But perhaps above them all, what annoys me most is gender inequality. Yes, for those of you who just looked, that is a male name on the byline.
Confused? Good. Me too.
See, there’s still a huge gender bias towards women when it comes to things like payscale, job opportunities, and choice of profession. It’s starting to level out, but only just, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.
What confuses me is the hypocrisy represented in media regarding gender inequality. Which is to say that if you read, watch television, or go to the movies, not only is gender inequality non-existent, but women are so much better than men!
Nearly every movie I’ve been to in the last few years that wasn’t part of a franchise (and many that were) had a female protagonist. Of the few that didn’t, most had bumbling male leads who were supported by their far more awesome female co-stars. And then, just occasionally, we get a guy who kicks butt and takes names. But only if he’s seriously angsty, or somehow socially maladjusted.
Turn on the TV, same thing. Chicks with powers are in. Women will be accepted in any profession, and will either make the same or better than their male counterparts unless it’s sweeps week and the network has to admit gender inequality exists to have a handy ratings plug. Plucky girls that just keep fighting for their dreams can always succeed, especially against boys, right?
Gender equality is a wonderful aspiration, and one we should be working towards wholeheartedly. But what the purple blazes are these executives smoking?
That would be money. They’re smoking $20 flavored cigars wrapped in $100 bills for color and lighting them with $10’s.
Couple problems here: one, this is a really sucky range of options for girls. On the one hand, we’ve got fluffy pink princesses teaching horrifically outmoded values like obedience, and reliance on men. On the other, we have a huge number of role models telling girls that self-reliance and sheer pluck will see them through, because boys aren’t really any competition, and anyway if they just prove they’re bright they’ll win by default.
And then we turn around and wonder why kids listen to peer magazines that encourage eating disorders.
Problem number two is as follows: boys are buggered. No seriously, we’ve got markets screaming for gender equality, and the media portrayals are doing a great job in quantity, if not message, for girls. In the last twenty years years alone, there’ve been more female leads, more in-depth roles...more everything.
But...where are the boy’s role models? Where’s the characters that boys can look up to and say, “I wanna be him when I grow up?”
Girls may be getting mixed messages, but boys are getting negative feedback, if they’re getting any at all. I mean, even if a kid sits down long enough to watch TV or a movie, he’s mostly going to get that his sister is way more awesome than he is. And if she isn’t, it’s because she hasn’t tried, and the moment she does, he’s done.
Which leaves videogames. Nothing against video games here. Love ‘em. But that’s not really any kind of role model. Nope, doesn’t matter which one, what type, or which genre, it’s still not a good role model.
So, having thoroughly confused all and sundry: a conclusion.
Gender bias exists, it’s not in girls favor, and the various forms of entertainment media are feeding them four different flavors of lie. One: that their gender is a magic ticket; two, that men are the gateway to success; three, that gender bias does not exist, and that all is equal and fine; four, that when they find out about the first three lies, popularity and a size zero figure will save them.
Boys are on the other side of the curve, being fed either the same three lies as girls (women are magic conquerors who will rule the world without blinking, women need men to amount to anything, or that there’s no practical difference and gender inequality is a laughable tradition of a quaint era that no longer exists) or a special lie of their own.
That special lie? Boys should be tough enough to get through all this on their own. Who needs role models, right? A boy left in a vacuum with peers in the same situation will turn out great, without any odd neuroses and great self esteem!
So yeah. At the end of all this ranting, a point looms.
Gender inequality is getting better for adults. But the training we’re giving the kids means it’s going to continue.
Raise the friggin children. Teach the friggin children. Stop using the television, and the movies, and the brand name toys as placeholders for parental affection. Stop using counseling and psychiatry as a stopgap for discipline and teaching manners.
Pay attention to what they say. Listen for trends, listen for new thoughts. Address issues openly wherever possible, instead of saying “because I said so” to everything.
And above all, remember that gender is not a barrier to merit. A girl can play soccer, a boy can do drama, or vice-versa. If they’re good at it, and it’s not illegal, let ‘em at it. Don’t praise a son for succeeding in football, then bar a daughter from playing. Don’t praise a daughter for artistic talent, then complain a son isn’t manly enough when he tries his hand at the arts.
Teach them. And maybe we can deprogram the poor suckers enough that when their kids sit down in front of a television or go to a movie, they really do see no difference between a boy doing a job and a girl doing a job. And maybe, when they grow up, they have the joy of finding it’s true.

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