Category Archives: Gender


More Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

In my last post on this book, I discussed some articles that critiqued Thanksgiving, historical fiction books, and movies. After returning from spring break, I continued to read Rethinking Popular Culture and Media during my train rides to and from school.

I finished reading part two that focuses on the framing of historical events and actors. Ozlem Sensoy and Elizabeth Marshall’s article, “Save the Muslim Girl!” revealed the bias in portrayal of Muslim girls as victims of violence who must escape to enjoy the freedoms they see in the Western world.

The next article, previously read in another publication, analyzes the American Girl messaging and commercialization. The author found that the characters in the books, “The girls rarely participate in historical events in any substantial way.”(p. 130) They looked on from the windows of their houses or heard about events from fathers or brothers. Additionally, the catalog of high-priced items, “undercut the lessons about empowerment that the books offer.”(p. 131)

Besides avoiding lessons on social activism to fight gender and racial discrimination, the “Corporations play on the feminist and/or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption.”(p. 133)

Part Three, Examine Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Histories in Popular Culture and Media, starts with an article about a teacher’s attempt to respond to second grade girls declaring they were too fat and needed to diet. This is something I have seen in my years teaching in elementary school, and it is one of the driving forces that led me to develop a health curriculum that included materials on body image, nutrition, and many other pieces to combat the incredible pressure young children feel from media. One of the books referenced, Stories for Free Children, has come up several times in my reading. On impulse I looked it up on Amazon: $269.95, but used for$5.18. I found it even cheaper on Better World Books, so I ordered it. More resources for my kids that will balance out their immersion in sexist, stereotyped, racist media that surrounds all of us.

Our few books and media can’t hold back the flood of damaging images and messages that pour incessantly over our children; nothing can. It is not a case of a finger in the dike or a twig in the dam. Instead, I hope to equip my kids with aqualungs that can help them breath in such a suffocating environment; a tool that lets them analyze and live in their culture rich world.

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Targeting Gender

Today, I went to target to purchase a gate for the bottom of my parents’ stairs. My son is determined to climb these stairs any time regardless of adult supervision. He has now started going down stairs, too, using the backwards feel and slide method. A long, slippery set of wood stairs is not what he needs to learn on right now, so I went to get this gate. While at Target, I walked by the toy section where not only the packaging screams out gender, but the backing to the shelves themselves are color coded pink, blue, and even green for outdoors.

What stood out at first was the action figures. I walked by the girl’s section first. Barbie and Ken stared at me vacantly from behind their individual blister packaging. Both are caricatures of men and women. I became interested in what the gender norms for figures of the opposite gender would be for each section. There were several versions of Ken along with other male figures of the different sets. The pink shelving clearly stated that these figures were for girls.


One thing that struck me was that these figures seem much younger than the Barbies and Kens of the ’70s and ’80s. They look almost teen/young twenties. Maybe because their hair was just molded plastic, or the clothes they wore were more conservative. It just seems that Ken and Barbie have become younger.

Next I walked the blue boys’ section looking for female action figures. I found one. This was a small scale supporting character for G.I. Joe who stood at attention nearby in his fatigues. His uniform looked fairly convincing. Hers, not so much. The men from the WWE were completely different from the Ken dolls. Though the one with the water bottle seemed almost contemplative while staring at his beverage, the images on the packaging showed the rage and violence that did not appear in the girls’ section.

Looking down the sporting goods aisle, there was a definite place for girls’ gear. You could spot it by the splotch of pink amidst standard gear.

Plenty of people have written eloquently about this phenomenon, and here I am at 11:00, on the road, tired to the bone. What I observed:

  • Men are portrayed as nice and cute in the girls’ section while the boys’ section shows rage, violence, and lots of muscle.
  • Women are shown as breasted versions of men in the boys’ section. In the girls’s section, it seems that men are just another accessory for the bedecked women.
  • Girls can now play sports because there are pink versions of sporting goods for them.
I worry about the self image created by the same gendered toys, but the stereotypes promoted by opposite gender toys are also powerful. Unsurprisingly, none of this stuff is in my house, yet. I want both my children to make their gender observations based on people we know, on my wife and me, and on books and other media we choose for them and that portray complexity and depth for both male and female characters.

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How Popular Culture and Media Frame Historical Events and Actors

The second section of Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, one of the books I am currently reading, delves into how historical events and people are misportrayed especially in children’s books and movies. So far I have read essays on Rosa Parks, Columbus, Helen Keller, Thanksgiving, Mulan, Pocohontas, and My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl.

Much of what I am reading is not new to me having been introduced to it through diversity trainings, previous reading, and working with teachers who critically analyze culture and media for the many messages they present to children.

A passage in the article on Thanksgiving, written by Michael Dorris, struck me:

As parents, our lot is often to watch and worry and cheer and commiserate, curbing throughout our impulse to intervene. The world of children interacting with children is in large part off-limits.

Passivity ends, however, with relation to those adult-manufactured and therefore wholly gratuitous problems with which our children are often confronted. We naturally rise against the greed of panderers of debilitating junk foods; we reject dangerous toys, however cleverly advertised; and we make strict laws to protect against reckless motorists. We dutifully strap our children into seatbelts, keep toxic substances out of reach, and keep a wary eye for the dangerous stranger.

With so many blatant dangers to counter, perhaps it is unavoidable that some of the more subtle and insidious perils to child welfare are often permitted to pass. …

Attitudes pertinent to “racial” or “sex-role” identity are among the most potentially hazardous [deficiencies of our own attitudes and training], for these can easily be internalized–particularly by the “minority” child. Such internalized attitudes profoundly affect self-concept, behavior, aspiration, and confidence. (pp. 101-2)

This article and the others concretely lay out how each example of popular culture and media has just this effect on children. If these ideas resonate, I highly recommend this book. As with most publications of Rethinking Schools, it is an outstanding collection of writing from thought-provoking authors.

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Those Are Pliers, and Those Are Channel Locks

This evening, my daughter and I did quite a few chores around the house as my wife, her father, and my son went off to do some grocery shopping. The first thing we did was set up the bread maker to bake a new loaf. She carefully measured out and poured flour, whole wheat flour, a sprinkle of a whole grain hot cereal, salt, yeast, water, butter, and molasses into the bread pan. The only one I had major assistance on was the molasses. We spent quite a bit of time getting the right amount of water. This involved teaching her how to read the two cup liquid measure. She filled it to the brim and then poured out microscopic drops, checking between each one, until she had one cup. I also taught her how to scoop and level the flour. Periodically through the rest of the evening, she asked to look through the breadmaker window to see what was happening; this was especially interesting when the paddle was mixing the dough.

We then worked on fixing the gates that keep my son from wandering into the kitchen unattended and hurting himself on the myriad unchildproofed drawers, tools, and appliances. One gate had become loose from the repeated opening by adults and shaking/swinging upon by children. The gate has never stayed open, so we rigged a magnet attached to a handle that will catch the gate and keep it open when we need it to stay that way. We then turned the other gate around to allow a door to more fully close.

Lastly, we went upstairs and used hex wrenches to tighten all the bolts on her bed and my son’s crib. Both pieces of furniture get their fair share of shaking, pushing, and knocking about. I noticed both were getting a little wobbly, so my daughter identified which size wrench to use, inserted it into the bolt head, and turned it to tighten each bolt. When she grunted and put her effort into it, she got them pretty tight, too.

It is a high priority of mine to have my daughter and my son very comfortable around tools. I want them to know which tools to choose for which projects, how to use those tools safely, and how to take care of the tools, as well.

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These Shoes Were Made for Walking and Walking Again

 Yesterday, in one of those strokes of obvious brilliance, I suggested that we open up the shoe storage container to see if any would fit our eager-to-walk son. Sure enough, he has become size 6 without our knowing it. Mostly he rambles around the house in a sleeper, but now that he really wants to get on his feet outside, shoes are in order. This necessitates not just adding shoes to the wardrobe, but also putting him in pants because the sleeper feet just don’t fit inside shoes that well. Since we bought all of our daughter’s shoes as gender neutral as possible, they are available for him to wear. Gender neutral really means from the boy’s section without sharks, guns, camouflage, or other testosterone driven imagery. It is really sad that everything in the girl’s section tends to be at best sparkly and pink and at worst non functional, pink, and sparkly. 

So today, my son stomped, assisted, in his shoes for a little while and then rode in the stroller to pick up his sister from preschool. He really enjoyed taking off his mittens, shoes, and socks repeatedly on this trip.

It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the preschool at a brisk pace. Once there, my daughter was surprised by the single stroller. There was no second seat for her to slide in and get pushed home. With the promise of a bagel at the grocery store (where the last day for a game they are running happens today and the possibility of two cute kids to get more tokens was a possibility), we set out. She did really well considering she doesn’t get much walking in these days. At 2 years old, she regularly walked a fair distance. Two hours later with a stop at the store included, we got home. The son, barely shod by this time, was cranky and tired for his afternoon nap, and he went down without much fuss after a brief meal. The daughter curled up on the sofa with me to read books in a very calm manner. I think I really gave her enough exercise today.

I know I gave myself enough because I promptly fell asleep after reading four books to her and was only woken up by her playing a drum a few feet from my head.

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Another good article

From the Good Men Project, not always something I agree with but a source of interesting stuff.

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NYT Op Ed on Gender and Toys

Someone posted this on facebook, so I read it.


This piece is written by Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book I highly recommend.

In the article, she comments on the issue of Lego putting out a pinked version for girls. I would love to see Lego take a good look at the gender representations of their figures as they are now. There are many more male ones, and the female ones often do not have good roles. That is where they could make changes to engage girls more.


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