Despite the strides made towards achieving gender equality in the U.S., the portrayal of women and girls in media and culture continues to promote and reinforce negative stereotypes and images. From television and film to magazines and marketing campaigns, girls are bombarded with messages that tell them how they should look, act, and who they should become.
At Girls Inc., we know media literacy is a fundamental skill to help girls build positive body image and self-perception. This year, we are dedicating Girls Inc. Week, held May 2-6, to media awareness and how we can empower girls to critically examine what they see and hear and how they can advocate for positive changes around them.
Growing up, girls also receive very distinct messages from the retail industry. Many of the toys manufactured for and marketed to girls are designed to develop skills in nurturing, cooking, and housework while toys designed for boys promote the development of spatial, science, and building skills, which encourage their cognitive and physical development. Gender labeling impacts the toys children like, how they develop, and what they learn about the world.
As girls enter adolescence, they receive powerful messages about sexual behavior, violence, and substance abuse - all of which are depicted as being more prevalent than is really the case and as having no serious consequences. Girls also receive mixed messages around standards of beauty, diversity, gender roles and careers, influencing their self-confidence and decision making.
At Girls Inc., we teach girls to be stronger than the messages they receive. Girls learn to critically examine how and why messages are constructed, how they reflect and/or shape social values, and how girls can influence the message. Girls also have the opportunity to explore the business side of media, governmental regulation of media, and produce their own media messages about issues important to them.
Media literacy helps girls look behind the lens and transform their worldview. As Dalina, a Girls Inc. girl from Alameda County, explains. “I never saw women who looked like me on TV or in movies portrayed in a positive manner. I used to think, “Why don’t I look like them?” But I learned that I wasn’t the only girl who felt that way. Girls Inc. taught me how to think positively and love my body.
As we celebrate Girls Inc. Week, we encourage you to discuss the representation of women and girls in media and marketing with a girl in your life. By teaching girls to think critically about what they see in media and retail, we empower them to discover their own values and positively advocate for themselves and others.