How Media Hurts Girls (& What To Do About It)

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As parents and caregivers, we all want the best for girls. But sometimes the very things we give to girls to make them smile can end up harming them. We tend to think of tv shows, movies and books as fun ways to blow off steam and even learn a bit. The truth is that media can seem innocuous, but be damaging to girls in the long-run. Today we’re breaking down how media can hurt girls and sharing tips for limiting this kind of damage.

How does media hurt girls?

Common Sense Media did a great job of pulling this all together in their 2017 report Watching Gender: How Stereotypes in Movies and on TV Impact Kids’ Development. In short: media can reinforce gender stereotypes and limit what girls see as possible for themselves. It can also push girls to focus on their bodies/appearance, and see themselves as "sexual objects for others’ consumption.”

What kind of media is harmful?

  • The most damaging TV shows, movies and books:

  • Use storylines and characters that “reinforce the idea that masculine traits and behaviors are more valued than feminine traits and behaviors”

  • Emphasize appearance and being sexy

  • Show women and girls engaging in stereotypical behaviors (like talking about clothes/outfits)

  • Show men and women in stereotypical romantic situations/relationships (ex: men treating women as sexual objects or avoiding commitment/attachment; or women using their looks to attract men or focus on commitment)

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How can we limit the damage to girls?

Harmful media is all around us, and eliminating it altogether seems unrealistic for most families. Luckily, there’s still plenty we can do to limit the negative impact on girls. Common Sense Media has some great research-based ideas for combatting this in your own household. Specifically, they recommend:

  • Presenting counter-stereotypes and "positive gender representations" (ex: balancing things out with media that shows girls doing things/acting in a way that is not stereotypical, like enjoying "outdoor activities, sports, science, and technology”, or boys "who collaborate with girls, respect them as equals, demonstrate empathy and emotions”)

  • Talking to children about media (letting them know if something seems stereotypical, how that makes you feel, etc.)

  • Educating children about media (intentionally teaching children about how media can promote stereotypes, focus on unrealistic bodies, sexualize girls, etc. and teaching them to think critically about media messages)

At Hopscotch Girls, we’re committed to using media to empower girls, and strive to make it easier for parents and caregivers to do the same. Thanks for reading!

Melissa Foley