March 02, 2011

Gender issues in children’s media to be discussed

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A symposium next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will take a look at gender issues in children’s media.

David Kleeman, president of the American Center for Children and Media, is among the panelists for the discussion that will focus on gender equity in children’s cartoons and other television programming.

The discussion is from 3 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 8, in the Communications Building, Studio A. The topic, “Boys Are … Girls Are …: Gender Equity in Children’s Media,” is sponsored by SIUC’s Department of Radio-Television, the Global Media Research Center, WSIU, and the Women’s Studies program. Admission is free, and the public is welcome.

Dafna Lemish, professor and chair of the Department of Radio-Television, said research suggests that what children watch continues to reinforce stereotypes.

“It’s an issue because when you look at television programming for children around the world there is a very prominent inequality that starts with just the numbers -- in the number of characters who are boys and the number of characters who are girls, suggesting that girls are marginal to society” she said. "But it is not only the numbers -- but also the stereotypes associated with girls and boys that are the problem" she said.

Lemish, and Sarah Lewison, an assistant professor in radio-television, will also participate in the discussion. Rachel Gartner, news director for WSIU’s River Region Evening News, will moderate.

“Children see media, and television most of all, as a window to the world; if there are flaws in that window, they may not have the perspective, experience or media literacy to recognize them,” Kleeman said. “So, it’s content creators’ responsibility to reflect honestly the diversity in children’s world, and to avoid stereotypes or representations that could lead young people to conclude that they are not important, or are limited in their potential.”

International research, which Lemish was involved with, shows girls and women are under-represented in children’s television, he said.

“U.S. research shows that females are more limited in their range of roles, and often over-sexualized even in children’s and family shows and film,” Kleeman said.

Kleeman will show a selection of short clips from children’s television programs from other countries, drawn from the worldwide children’s television festival, PRIX JEUNESSE, which occurs every two years.

The festival doesn’t usually draw the most popular programs, but people submit shows “that reflect their culture or deal with substantive topics,” Kleeman said. He plans to use one hour of segments as a “conversation starter” with the audience “on the inter-relationship of culture and media and how it influences stories and portrayals around gender.”

For more information, call the Department of Radio-Television at 618/536-5454 or the Global Media Research Center at 618/453-7709.

Lemish said that Sunday, March 6, is UNICEF’s annual International Children’s Day of Broadcasting, where broadcasters throughout the world are encouraged to devote a day to quality programming for children.

From 8:30 to 9 a.m. on Sunday, WSIU-TV will air a compilation of approximately 20, one-minute spots produced by youth from around the world, most of which focus on the child’s everyday life, said Monica Tichenor, the public information and promotions coordinator for WSIU Public Broadcasting.

WSIU Radio is airing a series of special UNICEF radio features produced by African students associated with UNICEF’s youth radio initiative. The features explore what life is like growing up in Africa. The three- to five-minute features will air at 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., starting Wednesday, March 2, and running through Friday, March 4, Tichenor said.

In addition, an interview by WSIU Radio’s Jennifer Fuller featuring Kleeman and Lemish is available on podcast at

Kleeman will also discuss gender equity in broadcasting for women in an interview with Gartner that will air on WSIU-TV’s “InFocus,” which will air at 9 p.m., Friday, March 11. The segment will rebroadcast at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, March 13.