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Media Smarts: Gender and Racial Stereotypes

Media Smarts

Sadly, there is still a great deal of racial and gender stereotyping in the media. This is not necessarily outright racism and misogynism (a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women). However, stereotypes can be harmful but are not as obvious. Stereotypes are ideas that people may have about a certain person, or group that may often be untrue or only partly true. 

Have you ever gone to a fast-food restaurant that gives away a free toy for children? The staff will ask “Is the toy for a boy or a girl?” The boy’s toy may be a truck, while the girl’s a small stuffed animal. We know that there are lots of girls who would prefer a truck and boys who would like to have that stuffed animal. This is stereotyping. It sounds like a small thing – but it creates a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when a message is put out and then it becomes reality because people believe it. In this case boys may be reluctant to ask for the stuffed animals because the message was ‘boys play with trucks’, so they will choose a truck in the future.

Media stereotype messages are more subtle, but there are loads of them.

Be aware of them. Point them out to your children.

Are these messages stereotypes?

  • Every girl would love an Easy-Bake Oven! 
  • Men are strong and do all the hard work.
  • Men tend to be physically larger and possibly stronger.
  • Girls are not good at sports.
  • Men who read too much are nerds and probably not popular.
  • All Arabs and Muslims are terrorists.
  • All Asians are good at Math.
  • In the Asian culture, math is an important part of the school curriculum. 
  • People of colour work harder because they come from poor backgrounds.
  • Aunt Jemima (on the pancake syrup bottle) is a black and jolly maid. 
  • Girls like reading.
  • In fairy tales, the pretty princess is rescued by the square-jawed, strong, and brave prince. 

Stereotyping is hurtful, wrong and can lead to bullying.  If a boy wants an Easy Bake Oven he may be ridiculed for that choice. Muslims have been attacked on the street and called ‘terrorists,’ when in fact they may not be terrorists at all. 

Watch out for stereotypes in all media: commercials, video games, movies, and even romance novels. Try to find at least one example today. Call it what it is – a simplified and unfair idea that groups of people are all a certain way and that they are all the same.