Harmful Cultural Messages

cultural messagesWelcome back everyone who had to make a bit of effort to resubscribe to this blog, and welcome new subscribers!

Those who’ve been here for a while know that I write about my real life with my real children, with added tips for parents. The usual subtext is ‘Chill! The kids will be fine!’ Occasionally I get angry about something and go on about it, just so you don’t get bored with chilling.

That’s what I’m going to do now. This week I’d like to talk about the harmful cultural messages our kids imbibe (with added tips for parents..).

So first off there’s Disney with their makeover of Merida, communicating to our daughters that it’s more important to look pretty than be active. See what they’ve done to her? They’ve sexed her up, lowered her neckline, narrowed her waist, and replaced her bow and arrow with curling tongs by the look of it. Now she can just ‘be’, she can no longer ‘do’.

Also this week we’ve seen how Facebook are unwilling to moderate the awful images of women and girls posted on its site, which find their way onto our kids’ news feeds.

So, deftly linking these two issues on the continuum of society’s underlying and not-so-subtle cultural messages to our daughters and sons about the role of girls and women, I’d like to say ‘Resist that makeover Merida! Wear the dress with the higher neckline that won’t look so bad if it gets dirty! Put away the curling tongs, take back your bow and arrows and fire them at Facebook until they learn some respect for women!’ And parents I suggest we metaphorically do the same.

The report out this week from the children’s deputy commissioner highlighting the effects of online porn on children and young people is shocking but I think it’s the drip-drip of sexualisation of girls in mainstream culture, including t.v. and newspapers, that conditions all kids to be more susceptible to the influence of what they may see on smartphones at school. And there’s a lot we can do about that as parents. Turning our anxious faces towards our children and worrying about them never really helps, but looking outwards at the cultural messages and challenging them can have a big effect.

When I take action on something I feel passionately about and tell my children about it I can see how it empowers them too. They say things like ‘Wow, cool mum. Respect bro’ (that really is the way they talk sometimes). They like to watch me go about my life shooting my arrows.

The cultural messages our children receive help them to construct a reality in their minds which is ‘normal’. Imbibing culture’s ‘norms’ is what socialises our kids. As parents we provide access to an alternative reality and a different set of norms when we let them in on the world of adults campaigning against harmful cultural messages and tell them about what’s happening. It makes for an exciting ongoing story with all the ingredients of a blockbuster – Action! Rebellion! The good guys getting one over on the bad guys! Irresistable. But most important, we are providing a model of active questioning in place of passive influence which stands them in good stead for when they’re in the playground and the smartphone is being passed around.

It thrills me that parents are joining in with the action all over the place these days. A wonderful group of mums led by Kathy McGuinness of Local Mums Online set up a group called Child Eyes which campaigns to move newspapers with sexualised images on the front page from children’s eye-level in newsagents and supermarkets. The No More Page 3 team is a group of women of all ages including students and mums – and a dad – who go from strength to strength, recently winning the support of the girl guides in their aim to remove soft porn from ‘family’ newspaper the Sun. ‘Let Toys be Toys’ confronts the manufacture and display of increasingly gender-specific toys and has won recent victories at Tesco and Boots. (The M&S campaign ‘Not Just Sexism, this is M&S Sexism’ is ongoing…).  ‘A Mighty Girl’ (LOVE that name!) are campaigning to ‘Keep Merida Brave’. A group of men got together and created the Facebook page Great Men Value Women. And a whole bunch of women’s groups, including Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism fame have launched a massive challenge to Facebook and all its advertisers which is going mad all over the internet.

Exciting things are happening out there. People are working to change the harmful cultural messages which children internalise. Let’s – age-appropriately – let our children in on it. Let’s grin like Merida before she had the makeover, and stride forth with our arrows.

3 Responses

  1. Erin @mktgchildhood
    | Reply

    Nicely said, Stephanie. It’s important for parents to know about these harmful messages so they can help their kids to be aware, and not just accept those messages. Media literacy education in schools can also help children navigate the messages in this media-saturated world.

  2. Thanks Erin, I think you’re absolutely right. We live in a time when the media has unprecedented power to influence and condition us and I don’t think education has caught up with that yet. Teaching kids critical awareness of media messages seems to me to be a key curriculum area, and I’m hoping the whole online porn debate will facilitate its implementation as a core part of the PHSE curriculum in schools.

  3. Fi
    | Reply

    Thanks again Stephanie – for putting it so succintly and getting the message across. Am spreading the word.,…

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