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Taking on Gender Stereotypes with Geena Davis and Channel One - The LAMP

Taking on Gender Stereotypes with Geena Davis and Channel One

By March 31, 2011 News No Comments

Still from Guess Who? The Mathematician and The Baker

Today marks the debut of Guess Who? The Mathematician and The Baker, an educational video made by students at Boston University. The video is presented on Channel One in partnership with See Jane, the programming arm of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The aim of the video is to challenge gender stereotypes, and asks young children to describe what they think of when they think of a mathematician and a baker. Predictably, they’re surprised when they learn the truth.

Clocking in at just 2 minutes and 21 seconds, Guess Who? is a demonstration of how far we still have to go when it comes to gender stereotypes. The kids in the video don’t have the awareness to consider the potential set-up as they’re being interviewed, and that it’s possible they are being asked to answer a trick question. Even these kids–a group probably about 5-8 years old, racially diverse and composed of both boys and girls–believe that there are certain jobs women and man cannot or should not do. The innocence of their bias is candy-sweet for its honesty, but also unnerving as it demonstrates how young kids today are being taught some of the same fundamental prejudices that their grandparents learned decades ago.

However, there were a couple of disconnects in Guess Who? that I have trouble getting past. The video fails to make a link between gender stereotypes specifically within media, which is a critical part of the Geena Davis Institute’s mission. I get that the video is short out of necessity, but not connecting the fact that media may be at the root of the children’s beliefs about women and men in society seems to be a major oversight, and a few seconds could have been spared to make the link. I also had issue with the advertising that accompanied the video. As I’m watching a piece about stereotypes from an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the narrow field of roles and identities for women and girls in media, I get an “Oh my prom!” Flash ad in the video sidebar from Lord & Taylor for their makeup ranges.

When that’s over, I’m shown an ad for Jen Calonita’s Secrets Of My Hollywood Life series of books. The books are less problematic as an advertising choice in this instance; at their heart, they are debunking myths about the fortune and glamor of film and television, and encourage readers to look behind the curtain. But, why not make that point in the ad? Perhaps the Hollywood Life ad looked like mindless fluff because it followed a message that you need more makeup for prom, but for me, it didn’t do much to supplement either the Geena Davis Institute or the video running alongside it. I also understand that the advertising choices were probably made by Channel One and not the Institute, but I do hope that Channel One will be more thoughtful in the future.

I’d like to see more Guess Who? videos. While there is certainly room for the series to grow, I think this first effort was positive and enlightening. I’ll be keeping an eye out for what comes next.

–Emily Long
Follow me on Twitter on @emlong