CHILDREN: Helping Children Challenge Male Stereotypes


This article originally appeared in Issue# 48

Stereotypes and over-generalizations characterize the way young children think. In line with that tendency, children learn expected sex roles early and apply them liberally. They learn sex roles from many sources, but the media are among their prime teachers.

In order to challenge narrow sex-role images of men, watch TV with kids. Look at magazines together. Identify blatantly stereotypical representations of men. Make a "play" out of those messages, but change something. Make the man in the vignette a woman, or vice versa. The result will probably be humorous to the child, but the humor may open the door to discussion and insight. Why does it seem funny? Why can't a woman say or do those things? Even preschoolers can play this game.

Have older elementary-age children think about their favorite TV show. What if one or two main characters switched gender? Would it be possible considering the way the show is written? In what ways would it seem silly? In what ways would it be fine? What does the switch say about our images of men and of women as well?

Author Bio: 

Judith Myers-Walls, PhD is associate professor of child development at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.