By Alex Temblador
In June 2015, two third graders, Dexter and Sybilla, wrote an amazing letter to Disney outlining their disappointment with the company’s use of gender and racial stereotypes found in Disney’s theme parks. What makes this even more amazing: the kids recognized the gender and racial stereotypes on their own! Granted, they attend a school with teachers that instill concepts of social justice and identity, but that doesn’t make their actions less awesome. These kids recognized these identity injustices on their own after being taught what gender and racial stereotypes were. They have yet to hear back from Disney, however, these kids and their actions raise some great questions: What if we could teach all of our children how to recognize gender and racial stereotypes? Could we change the world? Of course!
As a parent, it may feel overwhelming to realize that you have something else to add to your plate of parenting, but never fear because there are so many easy ways to teach kids about gender and racial stereotypes.
- Remove gender and racial stereotyping from your own vocabulary.
This seems like a logical step toward teaching your kids about gender and racial stereotypes but it is often forgotten. Sometimes we might find ourselves committing gender and racial stereotyping without meaning to due to living in a world full of media that reinforces it. Though we may not truly believe the stereotypes that we might accidently say, children are not aware of that and as the old saying goes, “Kids’ minds are like a sponge.”
If they hear you make a joke about how “all Asians are smart,” they will believe you. If they are crying and you say, “Boys don’t cry,” they will believe you. If they hear you say, “You throw like a girl,” they will believe that stereotype as well. It’s safe to say that kids will take what you say, their parent or guardian, to heart and may find themselves believing those gender and racial stereotypes. So it starts with you. Remove gender and racial stereotyping from your vocabulary, thus making yourself a good example that your kids can follow.
- Discuss races, cultures, and gender with your children.
Your children can’t understand what racial and gender stereotypes are unless you discuss what race and gender is with them. Understand that this doesn’t have to include long lectures, and these discussions shouldn’t just happen once. They can also be fairly easy to bring up. Say you have a son and a daughter and your son says to his sister, “You can’t play with me because you are a girl.” Ta-da! A perfect time to sit your son down and talk to him about gender and equality. Or perhaps your local museum is having a World Cultural Event– Take your children to the museum event and discuss the differences and similarities of people across the world.
Now, many parents argue that they raise their children not to see race or differences in gender, and therefore do not need to have discussions about race and gender with their children. Unfortunately, science shows that children will develop racial prejudices, even as young as three years old, whether you teach them “not to see color” or not. Furthermore, kids will also “engage in what is called transductive reasoning, which means that they simultaneously categorize people and objects according to multiple dimensions—so they might believe, wrongly, that people who have the same skin color have similar abilities or intelligence.” This is why it is so important to discuss race and gender with your children no matter what. By speaking to your kids about race and gender, you can help them overcome the ways in which their minds naturally categorize people, moreover, you will help them battle the stereotyping of gender and race in the media that they will eventually be subjected to.
- Introduce your children to books that break down racial and gender stereotyping.
There are a multitude of books out there that will help to show kids positive characters that break down racial stereotypes or gender barriers. Here’s a short list of some of these books, but be sure to ask your local librarian for more suggestions or search Goodreads and other parenting sites for books like these.
- Point out racial and gender stereotypes in the films and TV shows that your kids watch.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Disney has included gender and racial stereotyping in their theme parks, so it is not surprising that they included gender and racial stereotyping in their films as well. Many times kids are introduced to racial and gender stereotyping with the TV shows and films that they are exposed to, and most of the time they don’t realize what they are watching. When you’re relaxing on the couch with your kids watching a movie and you catch a gender stereotype, pause the movie. Now your kids may object at first, but don’t let this deter you. Start asking questions. What do you think of this princess? Why do you think the movie had the man rescue the girl? What kind of music does that sound like? Why do you think they are using “Asian-sounding music” in this scene?
And if you’re unsure of how to recognize gender and racial stereotyping in Disney films (or any other type of TV show or movie), just check out these two YouTube videos below for a quick lesson.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much to recognize racial and gender stereotypes in the world and it doesn’t take much time to teach your children about them. The effects of teaching children about gender and racial stereotypes can be far reaching in children and in society: We could end discrimination, increase our children’s self-image, stop bullying, encourage kids toward higher career aspirations, and more! Besides, who wouldn’t be proud of their kids if they wrote letters like these to Disney?
Like most people we love your attractions, but we found some problems with some of them and those problems are stereotypes. Stereotypes are something that some people believe are true but sometimes may not be true. For example say somebody said “girls only like pink,” that’s a stereotype, some girls might like yellow and not pink. You can never really judge.
We are third graders from New York City at The Cathedral School. We learn about stereotypes, and the impact they have on people’s identities. For instance, in the jungle cruise, all the robotic people have dark skin and are throwing spears at you. We think this reinforces some negative associations, we think you should replace them with monkeys throwing rotten fruit.
We noticed that on our trips to Disneyland and Disneyworld that all the cast members call people Prince, Princess, or Knight, judging by what the child “looks like” and assuming gender. We think some feelings could get hurt, say by accident you called someone a Prince who wasn’t a Prince or a Princess, or a Knight, or who was identifying differently than what they were called. We suggest you say “Hello, Your Royalty” instead.
With the Princess Makeovers, we think you are excluding other people who might want a makeover to be something else, including boys and transgender people. When we went to the Princess Castle, the characters only greeted the people they thought were visiting girls, not the visiting boys and again said “Hi Princess.”
We hope you know we had an awesome time at Disney and these are suggestions to make it more inclusive and magical for everyone. Please reply and let us know your thoughts.
Sybilla and Dexter, The Cathedral School”