Monday, November 19, 2012

Reinforcing Gender Norms - Male is "Normal"

Toys, teachers, and of course media like books, television, and movies, are constantly reinforcing the gender gap. "Wait, wait, wait," you think, "toys and media, sure, but teachers?" Why am I picking on teachers? I have my reasons. I'll share those reasons in my next post, but first, here's a heartwarming story from a six year old girl trying to buck those gosh darn gender inequalities seen even in games that are supposed to be "fun for the whole family!"

The article is about a six-year-old girl who writes to Hasbro about the horrible gender inequality seen in their timeless classic, "Guess Who?" Here's her full letter:
Dear Hasbro,

My name is R______. I am six years old. I think it's not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won't give little girls much care.

Also if girls want to be a girl in Guess Who they'll always lose against a boy, and it will be harder for them to win. I am cross about that and if you don't fix it soon, my mum could throw Guess Who out.

My mum typed this message but I told her what to say.
So astute! She, as a six year old, sums up what a lot of research says, research that not everyone believes. Hasbro also didn't seem to get what she was saying in their response. Here's an excerpt:
The game is not weighted in favour of any particular character, male or female. Another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using gender or ethnicity as the focal point, and to concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences.
As in her letter, it is in fact weighted in favor of some characteristics: if your first question is "Is it a male?" and the answer is no, you're down to 5 possible choices rather than 19 for a yes. Also, if gender were not a factor, make it equal (like in real life!) and that way gender is truly not a possible focal point. Her mother responds in an excellent manner as well, alluding to the common idea that male is the normal, while female is the "other":
Why is female gender regarded as a "characteristic", while male gender is not?
All in all, an excellent question asked by an excellent child, and a not-so excellent response by a company who would probably be doing itself a favor by updating the game to include the same number of women as men. They could also update it by adding race as an equally balanced factor, but that's where things can really get tricky. I applaud this little girl for writing to Hasbro, and just wish they'd taken her question and the implications she mentions as seriously as they should have.

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