Being a responsible parent just got one step easier.
A child’s mind is a precious thing, highly susceptible to everything it encounters as if it were the world’s largest sponge. In our youth, what we see, where we see it, and who we see it with all affects the person we become. And our environment dictates a vast amount of our mind’s development, whether the things experienced are real or artificial. That’s why it’s a serious matter that kids today are consuming media at higher rates and increasingly younger ages.
Being that media is such a common factor in our society, it’s an obvious requirement that it should be monitored for what is and isn’t okay for children to watch. The duty of raking through every program may seem daunting, especially to a busy parent, but there’s relief to such a task. The nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media was founded in 2003 to help assist parents in selecting shows and movies they deem appropriate for their children in the form of varied ratings. Through an online survey, parents can pinpoint programs that promote admirable character traits like courage, empathy, and perseverance. This week, the organization introduced a new metric: the portrayal of gender.
The gender roles that television characters act out can actually have a huge affect on how young people view themselves. For example, if a girl grows up watching a large amount of media that features traditional female gender roles such as cooking and cleaning, she’s more likely to believe this is the status quo and follow suit. The same thing rings true for men: if a boy grows up consistently watching shows of a violent or insensitive nature, he’s likely to repeat these behaviors. On Common Sense’s website, a symbol with the phrase “positive gender representations” will appear next to a film or TV show if their reviewers rate it so.
The problem, according to Common Sense, is there aren’t enough spellbinding portrayals of females in media, including content for children. Thus the spawn of such a resource was to apply pressure to programs that lack diversity and lend knowledge to parents in search of it. Actress Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, is an advisor on Common Sense’s new ratings. She explains her personal interest as a parent to the New York Times: “When my daughter was a toddler, I was absolutely floored to see that there seemed to be far more male characters than female characters in what we’re making for kids in the 21st century.”
The fact that parents have such a hands-on choice is the best part; as a parent, one can decide if and how much gender representation is necessary. Common Sense doesn’t aim to bash any film or show, nor do they believe something lacking the seal of approval for gender representation jeopardizes its quality. Bridesmaids, 2 Broke Girls, and Aladdin could all find themselves withheld from this list, not because they’re bad programs but because they lack characters partaking in unconventional gender roles. While all options listed above are funny or entertaining, they push no boundaries in what a woman’s capabilities could be. Meanwhile Freaks and Geeks, MasterChef Junior, and Hidden Figures each passes the test with flying colors by respectively depicting women as math magicians, chefs, and scientists — all challenges to the common roles of women we see in media.
The desire to expand gender expectations extends to men as well, as Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media’s executive editor for ratings and review, has praised Moonlight for its depiction of male roles. “I can’t think of any title that has prompted more talk about what it means to be an African-American young man, about opening up more possibilities, than that movie,” she says in regards to the 2017 Best Picture winner.
This feature could be especially beneficial to African Americans, who, after a survey of 993 parents, were revealed to be the most worried about what their children watch compared with white or Latino parents. While being concerned about the amount of violence or aggression that boys are subjected to, parents were also revealed to be worried about girls obsessing about their appearance.
It’s still unclear how big of an effect, if any, this resource will have on revenue gains or losses for shows and films considering how Common Sense says it has five million visitors every month and has a reach of more than 45 million households monthly by leasing its ratings to cable companies such as Comcast and AT&T. Ratings will also be available to some advertisers, as well, so they can tactfully pick and choose shows they want to support financially.
Common Sense is aware that not all programs wish to defy stereotypes, but they hope to shed light on those that do. Doc McStuffins, Glee, and Bones are all titles listed as gender-defying series, and while this information is useful and important, it’s not the full extent of topics discussed on the organization’s website. Parents themselves also have the option to review and rate shows, video games, and books for the benefit of others.
With so manyTwentieth Century Fox Film Corporationways to define and represent oneself, it’s important that all media, but especially the shows and films made for kids, reflects the complexity of gender identification and sexual orientation. Common Sense is contributing to the progress of this matter by providing a positive service and system that could, hopefully, make a difference.