Boys vs. Girls Social-Justice

Girls Count! Tackling Underrepresentation of Girls in the Media

Did you ever notice that MOST of the avatars in video game apps are male? Did you know that in many cases, you have to either earn points in a game or PAY MONEY to play as a female character?

Before Maddie took on the video game industry, you had to pay to play as a girl. (?!)

It’s OK to Count…

According to this AWESOME story, a 12 year old girl named Maddie noticed this while playing one of her favorite games, Temple Run, and decided to do something about it:

“It’s not fair,” Maddie said. “Because if I’m being forced to play as a boy, like, why?”

Maddie decided to test her claim with a research project. She downloaded the 50 most popular games in the same category as Temple Run. She counted up how many offered female characters and how much they cost. And she handwrote her results on a spreadsheet.

Out of the 50 games, 37 offered free male characters. Just five offered free female characters.

“I was hoping there would be more girls. But there just weren’t,” Maddie says. “And I was kind of bummed, like, come on!”

Read more here.

Even better… listen to the podcast with an original interview with Maddie here.

Not only did Maddie notice the underrepresentation of girls, she DID something about it! Maddie wrote an op-ed sharing her research results which was ultimately published in The Washington Post! As a result, the makers of Temple Run immediately decided to make a female Temple Run avatar available.

It’s really important for girls and women to see themselves represented as ACTIVE participants the games they play (not just ancillary characters or “props” to move a plot along.) I LOVE the idea that Maddie not only NOTICED unequal representation in the games she played, she actually TOOK action! Maddie is an amazing individual, but she’s not the only one. Read about this awesome elementary school class at Shorewood Hills Elementary, where 4th and 5th graders analyzed LEGO’s use of gender stereotypes in advertising to children.

“After compiling extensive data from over 600 LEGO sets, students found that most Lego sets were marketed almost exclusively to boys and included very few female mini-figures. And, as one student wrote, “if there is a lego girl, she is either covered in make up or a Damsel in Distress”.

As a result of their research, student shared their findings with LEGO via artwork and letters, which resulted in this response from LEGO:

“It’s true we currently have more male than female mini-figures in our assortment” a representative from LEGO wrote. “We completely agree that we need to be careful about the roles our female figures play – we need to make sure they’re part of the action and have exciting adventures, and aren’t just waiting to be rescued.”

LEGO consequently introduced a new set of female scientist mini-figures which apparently sold out within days!

What you can do!

Model for your kids that it’s OK to NOTICE underrepresentation!

It’s OK to count! Do it with your kids. Now that my girls are nine, we’ve been talking about equitable representation for a while now. Now, they are AMAZING at picking up on subtle differences in how boys vs. girls are represented in the media they engage with, whether it’s a book, movie, or video game. In fact, sexism is so pervasive, I find my girls are now starting to pick up on things I have overlooked because I’m so used to seeing them. Remember, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s right.

One great way to talk about equal representation with upper elementary or older kids is to listen to the NPR podcast (which includes an interview with Maddie) with your kids and then watch this video by GeeksOutside:

Don’t stop there–Do something! 

Encourage your kids to write letters, do art projects or even re-frame what they see if they don’t like it. For example, while reading one of the classics aloud together, Treasure Island, we just plain got sick of reading a book with characters that were only male. So what did we do? We changed the name of the main character, “Jim” to “Jamila” and made her black. Why? Why not? Everywhere it said he, we said she. Listening to the story with a female lead was really empowering and allowed us to enjoy a “classic” in a new light!

I’ll be writing more posts about the importance of representation of underrepresented groups in media that our kids are exposed to and ways you can teach your kids/students to TAKE ACTION! In the meantime…

Tell me what you think! How do you support your kids in addressing underrepresentation of girls in “boy-focused” media? Or, vice-versa? Share your comments below.

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