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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Episode 50 (Epilogue): Raising Boys, Raising Girls

We dedicated Episode 50 to the more than 100 women who were carrying babies of husbands or boyfriends killed in the attacks on September 11, 2011. For a downloadable resource on how to speak with your children about the events of that day, please visit

Our first guest was Ms. Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, and Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture. We asked Lisa about her popular piece "How to Talk to Little Girls," and squelching the societal impulse to speak to little girls first (or only) about their appearance. She suggests asking about their favorite book, for example, instead. We talked about her "Dumb American Syndrome" theory, during which she pointed out that many college students can name more Kardashians than current wars in which the U.S. is engaged. We discussed the damaging effects of screen time, from lack of activity to negative violent influences to self-depricating media messages. Lisa suggested that we as parents speak to our children every time we see a media message that can be damaging or lower the self-esteem of our kids. Ryan mentioned again the film Miss Representation for our listeners that would like to learn more about women and girls in the media.

Next we welcomed Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. We talked about our society's too-narrow definition of masculinity, and the idea that this is driven in part by marketing (Dr. Thompson referred to the idea of "packaging" boyhood or girlhood as theorized by Lynn Brown). We talked about the lack of adequate outside play at most schools, that children, especially boys, are underexercised and overconfined. Boys learn better with more time for physical activity (Dr. Thompson referred to David Elkind's The Power of Play). We talked about the fact that girls are excelling at every grade level and boys are falling behind. He suggests honoring a boy's internal language by teaching him how to develop his emotional vocabulary. To teach empathy, model empathy. Dr. Thompson also talked about athletic groups and boys, and the value of a positive male role model. He referred listeners to football coach Joe Ehrmann's InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives. Dr. Thompson and his Raising Cain co-author Dan Kindlon said, "Strong and healthy boys are made strong by acceptance and affirmation of their humanity. We all have a chance to do that every day, every time we in the presence of a boy and we have a chance to say to him, 'I recognize you. You are a boy — full of life, full of dreams, full of feeling.'"

Finally we had a fascinating discussion with Emily Fairchild, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at New College of Florida. She helped us understand the difference and distinction between sex, gender, and orientation, and the confusion over the amount of influence one has over another. She reinforced that we need to accept a wide range of behaviors in boys and girls, and understand that gender is a culturally created phenomenon. She encourages her students to "see gender everywhere."

The Flirtations took us out with a song called Everything Possible. The lyrics read:
Some girls grow up strong and bold
Some boys are quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some grow in their own space and time.

Gender in Media: The Myths & Facts (from the Geena Davis Institute)

MYTH: Boys and girls are equally represented in film and television.
FACT: Even among the top-grossing G-rated family films, girl characters are out numbered by boys three-to-one.
That's the same ratio that has existed since the end of World War II. For decades, male characters have dominated nearly three-quarters of speaking parts in children's entertainment, and 83% of film and TV narrators are male. The Institute's research indicates that in some group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. These absences are unquestionably felt by audiences, and children learn to accept the stereotypes represented. What they see affects their attitudes toward male and female values in our society, and the tendency for repeated viewing results in negative gender stereotypes imprinting over and over.

MYTH: Family entertainment is a safe haven for female characters.
FACT: Astoundingly, even female characters in family films serve primarily as "eye candy."
Female characters continue to show dramatically more skin than their male counterparts, and feature extremely tiny waists and other exaggerated body characteristics. This hypersexualization and objectification of female characters leads to unrealistic body ideals in very young children, cementing and often reinforcing negative body images and perceptions during the formative years. Research shows that lookism still pervades cinematic content in very meaningful ways.

MYTH: Things are looking great for females behind the camera.
FACT: Females behind the camera fall far behind their male contemporaries and are at a distinct disadvantage in the entertainment industry.
Only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. With such a dearth of female representation in front of and behind the camera, it's a struggle to champion female stories and voices. The Institute's research proves that female involvement in the creative process is imperative for creating greater gender balance before production even begins. There is a causal relationship between positive female portrayals and female content creators involved in production. In fact, when even one woman writer works on a film, there is a 10.4% difference in screen time for female characters. Sadly, men outnumber women in key production roles by nearly 5 to 1.

MYTH: Girls on screen compare favorably to their male counterparts.
FACT: Messages that devalue and diminish female characters are still rampant in family films.
Gender stereotyping is an inherent problem in today's entertainment landscape, and children are the most vulnerable recipients of depictions that send the message that girls are less valuable and capable than boys. The Institute's research illustrates that female characters who are lucky enough to garner speaking roles tend to be highly stereotyped. From 2006 to 2009 not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in the law, or in politics. 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real-world statistics of women comprising 50% of the workforce. With repeated viewings, young audiences may fail to realize this lopsided view is not, in fact, reality and believe there is no need for gender parity or industry change. Today's children will be our future business leaders, content creators and parents and the ones who need to lead the charge for future generations.

MYTH: Gender imbalance issues have gotten better over time.
FACT: Statistically, there has been little forward movement for girls in media in six decades.
For nearly 60 years, gender inequality on screen has remained largely unchanged and unchecked. Without an educational voice and force for change, this level of imbalance is likely to stay the same or worsen. Only through education, research, and advocacy both from within the studio system and entertainment industry, and with parents and kids, can we effect real change in this heavily gender-biased media landscape.

Much of the research we cited at the top of the show came from the websites of our guests, as well as the 'Raising Boys' and 'Raising Girls' sections of the PBS Parents website.

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