Stories offer vital opportunities for children to make sense of the world around them, and children will come across stories and storytelling all the time, in books, TV programmes, films, online videos and video games.
TV and Films
When watching TV, children learn a lot about society, values, who matters and what they can aspire to. In pre-school TV shows, often the males are the main character, with females in supporting roles. Popular TV shows ‘merchandise’ their characters, so you can buy your child pyjamas, T-shirts or toys based around their favourite character. However, female characters are often not included in the clothes and toys that are created, or are marketed separately only in pink. Paw Patrol, Octonauts, PJ Masks, and Blaze and the Monster Machines are all recent popular shows where this has happened.
A 2019 study from the US, from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, found that:
- Female characters in TV shows are seven times more likely than male characters to be shown in revealing clothing (8.9% compared to 1.2%).
- Even in children’s TV, female characters are shown in revealing clothing three times more often than male characters.
- Male characters are also considerably more likely than female characters to be shown as violent (34.3% compared to 18.6%), and twice as likely to be shown as criminal (20.3% compared to 13.7%) in children’s films.
- In children’s films in 2018, male characters made up 67.2% of leads, compared to 32.8% female leads.
- But there has been a dramatic rise in the number of female leads/co-leads in children’s television shows – from 42% (in 2008) to 52% (in 2018).
Videos to watch with children
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: a 1 minute clip from Dove that illustrates how even after her make-up and hair are done, a model’s image is Photoshopped before being used in an ad…
Body Evolution – Model Before and After Photoshop: a clip that shows how even after her make-up and hair are done, a model’s whole body is Photoshopped before being used in an ad…
Always #LikeAGirl: reclaim ‘like a girl’ to be empowering, not an insult
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake trailer: men can do ballet too
How girls and boys are treated differently
Gender pay gap explained in sweets: ‘She was just as good as me so we should get the same reward’ – 2 minute clip explaining the gender pay gap using sweets… The Norwegian trade union Finansforbundet’s campaign shows children being asked to fill two vases with blue and pink balls.
Do adults stereotype girl and boy babies?
Girl and boy babies swapped clothes and names – what toys did adults then give them?
The clip is from the BBC 2 documentary ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ and you can watch the full episode online. If you go to 37 mins 34 secs and watch till 41 mins 28 secs the presenter explains the boy / girl clothes swapping clip really well in voice over, with less editing and more explanation from the participants.
Boys and girls: clothes and expectations
Also from the BBC programme ‘No More Boys and Girls’, this clip shows how different the slogans are on t-shirts for girls and boys. What does this tell children about what it means to be a boy or a girl?
Redraw the Balance
This video captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female…
No More Female Professionals
This video asks whether the language we all use when talking about jobs, contributes to the problem of unconscious gender bias which then limits children’s aspirations and opportunities
Videos for parents and carers
Men and emotion: in this powerful video, Tony Porter makes a call to men everywhere: don’t ‘act like a man’ (11 mins)
We Should All be Feminists: author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asks that we plan for a fairer world (29 mins)
- Rylan: How to Be a Man, BBC Radio 4
- The Friday Morning Break with John Gibbs: Making Sense of gender in schools. Teachers Talk Radio
- A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard, Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College London
- Now and Men podcast, Men, Masculinities and Social Change
- Soft Lad by Nick Grimshaw, BBC Sounds
- Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
Explore more resources
- Read our Guide for Families
- Resources for schools and families
- Resources from other organisations
- Research and evidence