Tuesday, July 26, 2011

US website: "it's particularly depressing we can't vote for Jo Swinson"

American website Jezebel.com has heaped high praise on Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson for calling for speaking out against gender stereotyping on television. 

Margaret Hartmann wrote:
We get a bit jealous anytime we hear about a nation in which all political candidates have a solid grasp on reality, but it's particularly depressing that we can't vote for British MP Jo Swinson. The 31-year-old Liberal Democrat led the effort to restrict airbrushing in advertisements, and now she's speaking out against sexism in television programs for children.
I wouldn't go as far as to say every politician in the UK has any sort of a grasp on reality - but I guess we are quite balanced when compared to the "right wing nutters" in the US Congress as the Almighty Vince called them, who are holding the global economy to ransom. It is a weird thing - it's not Middle Eastern oil sheikhs or the dreaded Communism Ronald Reagan spent so long condemning that's causing such a huge threat to families and jobs in America, it's old fashioned home grown Republicans. There are no words for the contempt in which I hold these people. Playing political games with people's lives is despicable.

But going back to Jo, she is so right about the way in which programme makers make girl characters all pink and precious while the boys get to do the action stuff. The Disney princesses are starting to improve, slowly - in Tangled, Rapunzel does a lot of the action herself, although she does seem to think she needs a bloke to show her the sights of the outside world when she's more than capable herself.

I think the first images kids get are particularly important in forming their expectations of what life has to offer them. If kids see that the norm is for boys to have the leadership roles and all the fun, as they do in 2/3 of tv aimed at them, then that doesn't help anyone. Boys grow up thinking girls naturally take a subordinate role and they have a sense of entitlement to power and girls' confidence and expectations are limited.

Jo cites Dora the Explorer as a good example of kids' tv - although I think the programme used to be better. I wasn't particularly impressed when they brought her cousin Diego in and now I see they have a rather sickly tutu clad Dora ballet iPhone application. Why can't we just go back to the good old days, when Anna was week when it was just Dora, Isa, Backpack and Boots against the cunning of Swiper the fox? Dora was just becoming popular when Anna was a toddler and there was literally no merchandise available here - I spent a fortune buying games and stuff on eBay for her. Anna grew up with Dora - and she certainly picked up a fair smattering of Spanish from her.

I hope that tv executives take note of what Jo is saying but I won't be holding my breath. They won't listen to her alone, so they should actually hear from other people who feel strongly about this, each and every time we think there's an example of this sort of stereotyping. They don't listen when we take them to task repeatedly about gender balance on Question Time - but that's no reason why we should give up.

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