July 11th, 2011

Gender Stereotypes, Transphobia, and Media Literacy

This post originally appeared on Emily Breitkopf’s blog, “Kids and Gender.” Reposted with permission.

Thomas Beatie

In 2008, when the story broke of a “pregnant man,” the media circus around transman Thomas Beatie’s pregnancy showed just how easily transphobic headlines could produce ratings. Truth is, plenty of transmen bear children every year, but because the American public is gravely uneducated around queer and gender issues, the story spread quickly. Within the past year the media has brought on a new layer of conversation around gender, but each story reveals just how deeply entrenched transphobic gender stereotypes are in our society.

Last Halloween surfaced a heavily publicized story of a boy whose preschool was in an uproar because his mother “let” him dress as Daphne from Scooby-Doo. The picture of the child sporting a pink dress, an orange wig, and purple tights was shown everywhere.

In January, author Peggy Orenstein was featured on the Today Show with her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter which criticizes the princess pink marketing done toward young girls by Disney and others, and connects it with the hyper-sexualization of women in our society. While she caught some flack from critics, the coverage was largely positive and her book became a New York Times bestseller.

The month of April brought along “Toemageddon” (as Jon Stewart called it) when the media blew up over a J. Crew advertisement showing a mother and her pre-schooler with his toenails painted pink. Then, like a landslide, the past two months have brought news of a genderless baby in Toronto, a gender-neutral preschool in Stockholm, gender-filled op-eds in the New York Times and Huffington Post, and Newsweek’s recent transphobic article on trans model Lea T. Even NPR had a segment asking: Is this the end of gender?

It’s clearly not the end of gender and it has become increasingly apparent to the public, by the public, and by the media that gender stereotypes are alive and well. The cycle begins at childhood, reinforcing images of binary gender roles for young children from the first time they are exposed to the media. Without media literacy, they have no way to filter the images that both perpetuate harmful stereotypes and pigeonhole their notion of identity. It is imperative that children are given the tools to navigate these oppressive stereotypes that are upheld through the media. Just as gender stereotypes are produced, so are the transphobic headlines, enabling those lacking media literacy to reinforce these behaviors in their daily lives.

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