Gender Representation in Children’s Media

Introduction to Feminism

The specific research philosophy chosen for the Ph.D. project is feminism. Seidman, Fischer, and Meeks (2016) explain that there are various definitions of feminism but the most common definition, that will be used in this essay, is the advocating of women’s rights based on the principle of equality of both genders (Case 2016). Indeed, there have been both a misrepresentation of both genders and the upholding of gender stereotypes in children’s media. It is important to note that children are exposed to media more in this day and age. They have access to children’s media through television, phones, and other similar hand-held gadgets. The issue is made direr by the fact that the children can access these media at any time due to their ease of access. This essay looks into the reasons why feminism is a viable philosophy for discussion in line with gender portrayal in children’s media. This paper will also compare the chosen philosophy with others that were considered but identified as less suitable.

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One of the main reasons feminism is a viable philosophy is the fact that children’s media has enhanced gender stereotypes in society. Several child movies will be used as examples to explain this concept further. The movie Inside Out, released in 2015, focuses on the life of Riley, a young girl who relocated from her hometown in an attempt to enjoy her life. However, her emotions, namely joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness (which take up the form of characters in the film) push her to make different choices throughout the movie. There are two things that one can identify that relate to feminism in this example. The first is the fact that girls are associated with being emotional. Shannon (2015) explains that the stereotype that girls have to be emotional has furthered patriarchy in society. In a patriarchal society showing emotions is associated with weakness. Shannon (2015) explains that patriarchal societies are the core of gender inequalities. The scholar defines patriarchy as an ideology that supports the fact that the male species is more superior to the female one. One can argue that exposing children to media that supports patriarchy would ideally shape their perception of when and why to show feelings.

On the same note, the movie suggests that girls have more negative emotions compared to positive ones. These emotions are highlighted through Riley’s reactions. For instance, at the end of the movie, Riley can enjoy her life in the new city. However, the build-up of the story is based on how she allowed fear, anger, disgust, and sadness to rule her life. Additionally, the plot relies on her mistakes. Analyzing the movie, one can argue that the main character makes decisions in haste. This is another stereotype that has been used to differentiate genders over the years. It is wrongfully believed that women cannot make sound decisions due to their emotional nature and this is reiterated in the film. It is crucial to point out that exposure to such perceptions early in life also affects how the child will view both genders when he or she grows up thereby continuing the circle of patriarchy (Schlesinger & Richert, 2019).

Still on the same issue of gender stereotypes, one can argue that children’s media portray boys and men as heroes while girls and women take a back role. The example of the film The Jungle Book comes to mind in this regard. The stated film is about the boy Mowgli who is raised by wild animals after he gets lost during an animal attack in his village. The debate is not on whether Mowgli should have been male or female but on the other characters in the story. For example, the villain of the story, Shere Khan, is a male tiger. Additionally, the leader of the wolf pack is also male and has several female companions. The development of these characters can create the perception that men, or the male gender, are more important than the female one across different species. The same can be said of the film Lion King. Even though the film Lion King has three sequels, they all focus on the male characters (Child, 2018; Samer & Whittington, 2017). These male characters are not only presented as strong but also as leaders and advisors. Case (2016) confirms that feminists have been fighting for equal rights that allow both men and women to become leaders based on merits and not gender. However, exposure to such media shows can make these efforts futile as the younger generation still gets entangled in the patriarchy.

Another justification of the use of feminism in the discussion of gender representation in children’s media is the issue of socialization. Miller et al. (2018) note that children are socialized immediately from birth. In the beginning, they are socialized by the parents and next of kin. As they grow older they are also influenced by their peers. However, due to the magnitude and ease of access to media, children are now also socialized by media campaigns and shows (Kirsch & Murnen, 2015). This is especially the case in this day and age where many parents prefer their children to remain indoors as opposed to playing outside (Kirsch & Murnen, 2015).

The media channels are used to offer various types of entertainment and learning materials. To ensure they capture the attention of the children, such videos and learning materials use common representations that the children would recognize easily. For example, they can use animals to tell a story as children easily identify such and so forth. It is common to find that the socialization of children through the media – is not gender-inclusive. Additionally, the same children are socialized on how each gender should behave in certain situations. The choice of, for instance, animals in these media videos is also affected by perceptions of gender. For example, the bravest lion has to be male while the gracious giraffe is female

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One can argue that indeed, feminism was a viable philosophy in the discussion of gender representation in children’s media. One can argue that children’s media has used a societal representation of gender since its inception. However, there have been strides made regarding gender equality across the board (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015). These efforts appear to have been ignored in children’s media (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015). The implication of this is a backward and patriarchal way of things among the younger generations. In turn, the attempts that are being recorded now concerning the same topic will be rendered futile. Parents need to review all the media files their children watch as they might contradict family principles. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the media to also have a better representation of gender in the videos.

Krijnen and Van Bauwel (2015) offer studies and arguments on the use of feminism in discussing gender representation in children’s media. The scholars divide their arguments to cover the representation, coverage, and consumption of media materials in children. For purposes of the assignment, only the representation and consumption will be discussed. According to Krijnen and Van Bauwel (2015), children’s media tend to represent men more than women. The authors explain that this is mainly done in the choice of the attributes of the characters. The definition of how a male should be is emphasized in these characteristics (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015). The two critics argue that the representation of gender in children’s media is affected by the producers of the content. Therefore, if the producers have biased perceptions of either gender, then their characters will show the same biases.

Comparison with Other Philosophies

Indeed, many other philosophies could have been used in debating gender representation in children’s media. A list of nine other philosophies was rejected for various reasons. This section of the paper looks into why the nine philosophies were deemed not suitable for the discussion. The first philosophy is positivism and interpretivism. Hasan (2016) argues that the best application of this philosophy is through scientific studies and data. However, the study did not have a designed data collection approach thereby, making this philosophy irrelevant. If the work was a scientific paper then the philosophy would have been one of the viable choices for discussion.

Critical theory and critical realism were also considered as possible philosophies for the discussion. Belfrage and Hauf (2016) explain that critical realism is the combination of transcendental realism and critical naturalism. Thus, one can define the concept as a group of philosophies that supports the idea that the object of any experiment has to be real and with the ability to be manipulated. The object of this investigation is the child (real and can be manipulated). Using this definition, the theory can be applied in the discussion. However, it was not used since it does not consider the impact of the relationship between the variables or elements involved in the experiment.

Fox (2016) explains that post-structuralism is the discussion of a problem as a part of a system. Indeed, one can argue that the philosophy is applicable since society can be defined as a system in this regard. However, one of the reasons post-structuralism does not apply in the discussion is the fact that it is not suitable for the topic. The topic focuses not only on children but also on gender representation. Gender representation in the media cannot be defined as a structural issue due to the nature of the medium itself. Additionally, post-structuralism divides the different structures that can be identified in an event or concept. However, through the topic selected, one can only identify one formal structure (family) and one informal structure (media). This would have made it difficult to compile and properly articulate the arguments.

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Knowledge, power, and civilizing processes were considered as one philosophy as well. The three principles suggest that knowledge and power are influential in the shaping of human behavior over a while. One of the reasons this philosophy was considered is the fact that it allows for the analysis of behaviors that have been developed over a long period. Despite this, the philosophy was not deemed fit as other things also impact the civilization process over the years. Regarding gender representation in children’s media, other aspects such as the reaction of the parents, other peers’ views on the same, and the amount of time the child is exposed to the media have to be considered as they affect the civilization process.

Postcolonial and decolonial approaches are both forms of critical theory. There are debates on whether they refer to the same thing but for purposes of this assignment, they will be considered as one philosophy. Therefore, they will be taken to refer to the view of “us” versus “them” (Fox, 2016). There are several ways this philosophy can be applied to the topic. For example, the “us” versus “them” argument would suggest that males and females are different and should be seen as such. Again, the fight between who is responsible for the socialization of children, parents, or the media, provides a similar debate. Despite this, the philosophy is not viable due to its range of applicability. The philosophy cannot be used to explain the various ways in which gender has been represented in the media due to its limited applicability. In turn, it becomes equally difficult to measure the impact of these representations.

One can argue that the science and technology studies philosophy is valid when discussing gender representation in the media. This is because it allows for the consideration of society, politics, and culture. Indeed, these are elements that affect gender representation. For instance, culture determines whether a group of people is patriarchal or not. Additionally, both society and culture decide how roles are affected by gender. Patriarchal communities, for instance, define females as nurturers who should cook, clean, and take care of children. Other, more liberal communities do not determine roles by gender, and both men and women can perform different functions without bias or shame. However, the philosophy was not used as it is only applicable when partnered with a scientific study (Schlesinger & Richert, 2019).

Fox (2016) argues that new materialisms highlight the relationship between humans and nonhuman things as displayed within a given culture. Indeed, the two main elements of the philosophy that can be identified in the topic are that children are the human element while the media is the non-human element. Despite this, the philosophy was not applicable as it is very specific. Fox (2016) explains that the philosophy relies on the stability and independence of the person in question. However, one cannot apply these two aspects to a child. The subject matter in question is neither stable in terms of thinking capacity nor independent to make sound decisions. It is this fact that has been used to blame parents for the poor socialization of children through constant exposure to the media.

The philosophy of social constructionism does not apply to the topic at all. The concept can be defined as the development of meaning and perception following others (Miller & Holstein 2017; Zukauskiene, 2017). Social constructionism is not an individualistic approach as there has to be a group of people involved in shaping each other’s behaviors and beliefs. Even though children watch television with parents, siblings, or other children, the impact of the shows watched is usually individualistic (Hallmann, 2016).

Lastly, relativism and realism were both considered possible philosophies for discussion. The two concepts are different but have been put together as one philosophy for this assignment. Saatsi (2017) defines relativism as the assumption that right and wrong aspects of life can only be judged based on the circumstances surrounding the act. Therefore, what might be considered wrong in one context can be right in another. On the same note, realism is the notion that society is more important than the individual people that make it. The premise supports the argument that the whole is more relevant than the sum of its parts. The two concepts were not considered for discussion as they are contradictory to the topic. For relativism, there is no set circumstance, such as the relation to one culture, to refer to and this makes the application of the concept difficult. On the other hand, realism suggests that the individual children who are negatively affected by the exposure to the media are fewer compared to those who are not affected by the same exposure.

Overall, there are various pros and cons that the nine philosophies have. Indeed, some philosophies can be sufficiently used to explain gender representation in children’s media such as realism, relativism, postcolonial, and decolonial approaches. However, some elements of the representation might be left out when using some of the said philosophies such as the importance of socialism and the impact of individual creation and ideation of perceptions, in the nine approaches that were discarded. Feminism was selected since it can be applied fully to the discussion topic. The theory is relevant as it addresses the reasons why gender representation in children’s media has negatively affected the perception of males and females in the younger generation.


In conclusion, there is a significant fault in how gender is represented in children’s media. The current representation enhances stereotyping and discrimination towards females. Cartoon characters have been developed based on the image society has on both genders. This is unfortunate as it interferes with all the efforts that have been made so far concerning gender equality and equity. One can argue that the representation of gender in children’s media affects how these exposed children interact with other people in the future. The changes in perception regarding gender can indeed manifest at a later stage in life but the socialization of the same begins at an early age. There are arguments that children’s exposure to the media should be limited to lower the chances of such negative influences. Indeed, others argue that the media sector should be heavily monitored to discourage such influences. It is important to note that there were several philosophies provided for discussion. However, feminism covered all aspects of the topic, and this is the main reason why it was selected.

Reference List

  1. Belfrage, C & Hauf, F 2016, ‘The gentle art of retroduction: critical realism, cultural political economy, and critical grounded theory, Organization Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 251–271.
  2. Case, AK 2016, Intersectional pedagogy: complicating identity and social justice, Taylor and Francis, New York, NY.
  3. Child, B 2018, ‘Is Disney’s remake of The Lion King too nostalgic?’, The Guardian, Web.
  4. Fox, NJ 2016, ‘Health sociology from post-structuralism to the new materialisms’, Health, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 62–74.
  5. Hallmann, AL 2016, Food advertising to children: a critical evaluation of public, governmental and corporate responsibilities in Germany, Anchor Academic Publishing, Hamburg
  6. Hasan, NM 2016, ‘Positivism: to what extent does it aid our understanding of the contemporary social world?’, Quality and Quantity, vol. 60, no. 1, pp. 317-325.
  7. Krijnen, T & Van Bauwel, S 2015, Gender and media: representing, producing, consuming, Routledge, London.
  8. Kirsch, AC & Murnen, SK 2015, ‘“Hot” girls and “cool dudes”: examining the prevalence of the heterosexual script in American children’s television media’, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 18-30.
  9. Miller, G & Holstein, AJ 2017, Constructionist controversies: issues in social problems theory, Taylor and Francis, New York, NY.
  10. Miller, ID, Nolla, MK, Eagly, HA & Utta, HD 2018, ‘The development of children’s gender‐science stereotypes: a meta‐analysis of 5 decades of US draw‐a‐scientist studies’, Child Development, vol. 89, no. 6, pp. 1943-1955.
  11. Saatsi, J (ed.) 2017, The Routledge handbook of scientific realism, Taylor and Francis, London
  12. Samer, R & Whittington, W 2017, Spectatorship: shifting theories of gender, sexuality, and media, University of Texas Press, Austin, TX
  13. Schlesinger, AM & Richert, AR 2019, ‘The role of gender in young children’s selective trust of familiar STEM characters’, Media Psychology, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 109-132.
  14. Seidman, S, Fischer, LN & Meeks, C 2016, Introducing the new sexuality studies, 3rd edn, Taylor and Francis, London.
  15. Shannon, C 2015, Tough turtles and pretty princesses: a content analysis of gender representations in popular children’s media, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  16. Zukauskiene, R 2017, Interpersonal development, Taylor and Francis, New York, NY.
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