Gender in children's and youth television

>> Overview gender in children's and youth television


Picture letters to television producers (2017)

In the context of a media education unit, 223 children aged 8 – 10 years wrote to television producers to say what they disliked about the way girls and boys are presented on children’s television. The children drew a picture of what bothered them about children’s television. They also wrote a brief sentence explaining what exactly this was and how they would change it. Analysis of the picture letters gives an insight into the gender-critical perspective which children can have if they are given the skills and the opportunity to critically scrutinize gender roles in children’s television. 

Results: The most frequently criticized aspect of the girl characters on children’s television is their physical appearance. Other terms used to criticize them are “tussig” (superficial, overdressed, excessively feminine), “schickimicki” (fashion-obsessed, trendy, or snobbish), and “zickig” (catty, bitchy, or moody). Nearly one in ten children criticizes the fact that girl characters mainly wear pink, while others complain that they always have to be beautiful, and that they always need help and have to be rescued.
Most often, “nothing” about the boy characters is criticized. Boys in particular usually find “nothing at all” to complain about in the boys on television. In other words, many boys feel they are well represented. Occasionally, however, they do also express a deeper criticism of the image of boys on television, e.g. of the fact that boys are always presented as especially cheeky – an important indication that boys want a range of boy characters, going beyond the prevailing notions of masculinity as active, dominant, combative and rebellious.
Girls express a much more nuanced criticism of the boy characters. The things that bother them most are that boys are always depicted as “cool”, and always play heroic roles, and that there are simply too many boys in children’s programmes. These boys are always expected to be strong, and are often boastful. 
These indications suggest that children wish for a stronger reflection of real diversity. In the case of the girls characters this relates mainly to physical appearance and clothing, but also to behaviour; for the boy characters it is about personal attributes. Here it would be worth taking a look at the reality and diversity of girls and boys today.