Encouraging a critical spirit in children, the tool for fighting the sexism that infiltrates our screens
Photo: Flickr / Duchess Flux (CC)
Anna Torres Garrote

Women with impossible bodies, who are provocative, scantily-clad, hyper-sexualized or with denigrating roles are some of the main attributes of female characters that appear in video games. This audiovisual product is the main focus of discriminatory stereotypes towards women, although cinema, TV series or advertisements for games also camouflage sexist conducts which, even today, seem difficult to eradicate. Positive self-esteem, educating in the classroom and at home and public condemnation of such stereotyped content are some of the tools experts use to encourage a critical spirit from an early age.

“Society continues to be sexist and manifestations of micro-sexism, inequality or discrimination infiltrate themselves everywhere”, says Begonya Enguix, anthropologist specializing in gender issues and UOC director of the Joint EHEA Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology and Human Evolution (URV, UOC). The UOC expert in gender and ICTs, Ldia Arroyo, agrees. “These are deeply-rooted stereotypes and when we are fully immersed in the creative process, they emerge. Consequently, we need to be alert and think about the model of man and woman we are promoting,” she says.

Arroyo refers to the role of the screenwriters of these audiovisual products, who often resort to clichs. The researcher quotes as an example the recent successful Catalan TV series Merl, which in the latest season broadcast some scenes with sexist undertones, such as a teacher criticizing a female student for her clothing because she was “distracting” the boys in the classroom, a matter which even ended up being discussed in the Catalan Parliament.

New models of femininity

From the self-sacrificing woman who awaits her prince charming to the women who fights to achieve world peace. Arroyo explains that Disney, the great paradigmatic manufacturer of gender stereotypes, is starting to introduce new models of masculinity and femininity. In the latest film from this huge entertainment corporation, Moana, the main character is a 14 year old girl who lives in Polynesia and whose mission is to save her people with the help of a demigod.

The world of comics also seems to have a desire to source heroines from the real world without super powers. This is the case with Amre Russie (Norma), which tells the story of a mother searching for her soldier son sent to the war in Chechnya; The Story of My Tits (Reservoir Books), based on the experience of its author, Jennifer Hayden, who, at the age of 43, was diagnosed as having breast cancer or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (Editorial UOC), which describes the adventures of Charles Babbage, the accidental inventor of the computer and his accomplice Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the British mathematician and writer and the daughter of Lord Byron.

Monitoring of content by the public

Social media has become one of the main channels for reporting anything that is not politically correct. “This monitoring-reporting by the public will, in many cases, result in changes to more controversial content,” Arroyo explains. The video game world, the one that uses the most clichs, has corrected some of its conduct. Following reports of sexism by a group of users, it has been possible to eliminate the posture of a female character in the Overwatch video game. “People who play video games are not as critical with such content as with other mass-consumption products such as TV series or films”, Arroyo points out.

One of the main reporters of sexist conduct in video games is the Canadian blogger Anita Sarkeesian who, on the web page Feminist Frequency, lists examples of stereotyped characters in said industry. According to this blogger, recognized by Time magazine as one of the 30 most influential people on the Internet in 2015, in video games there are four main female stereotypes: the damsel in distress, the sexy sidekick, background decoration or Mrs Male Character.

Encouraging critical awareness from an early age

The child and adolescent psychologist and professor on the UOC Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, Amalia Gordvil, explains that advertising, video games, TV series and films are “socializing agents” which contribute significantly to children “accepting and normalizing the models of conduct that appear in them and wanting to copy them”.

For this expert, such audiovisual content is, at times, “a transmitter of false beliefs” given that they relate the use of the body and the image to certain results with regard to their relationships with others, such as having power, success or control over others. Furthermore, she says that they promote the cult of the body.

Another of the dangers of the bombardment of stereotyped conduct is “a lack of self-esteem”, warns the psychologist of the GRAT centre in Barcelona. “This happens if the value I place on myself depends solely on my image and not what I have inside of me”, she adds. Therefore it is necessary to “strengthen the critical spirit” of what one sees from an early age. According to Gordvil, school and family are the main pillars in ensuring that children and adolescents grow up with a critical awareness and reach adolescence with a good level of self-esteem. “Highlighting the personality attributes of children above and beyond physical ones are the working tools that psychology offers parents and teachers.

The media as guarantors of egalitarian content

For Begonya Enguix, an anthropologist specializing in gender issues, the media should have greater control over sexist content that appears camouflaged in the media, especially in programmes aimed at young children. “They have to ensure that the content is egalitarian and does not transmit ideas relating to the supremacy of males over females”. Enguix believes that “we are progressing” but warns that “it is very easy to return to old ways” given that such clichs and stereotypes are deeply-rooted in the social construct.



Amalia Gordvil

Course instructor on the UOC Bachelor's Degree in Psychology.

Expert in: child and adolescent psychologist.

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