Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.

22Apr/11Off

What came first, the gender or the stereotype

Have a look at the following images of what the most common words in toy adverts are, when split by gender.

First, the boys’ list, available in full size at Wordle:

Common words in ads for boys toys

Now the girls’ list, also available in full size at Wordle:

Common words in ads for girls toys

The result is not really surprising but it really does hit hard and get you thinking.

Does the toy industry reinforce gender stereotypes in their attempts to sell toys?

Is stereotyping pervasive and do parents even recognise how it is ingrained in society? Do parents perpetuate these stereotypes?

Or as one commenter says; What's... "sad about this, is the fact that it is somehow seen to be better playing with fighting toys than with ‘girly’ toys."

Personally I'm going to put my hands up and say YES I play to my* kids gender, by reinforcing all that I know about perceived gender roles. As the father of a young boy and girl I have twice the work in trying to indoctrinate them! I don't see it as a bad thing, because there is a bigger problem out there than whether or not my daughter is a girly girl and the boy is a little rascal.

That problem lies in the way society picks out people who are different. In society anything out of the ordinary is seized upon by kids and like-wise by adults. Some of the time society will put on a pedestal people who are different, but most of the time anyone who is anything but normal will be sought out and laughed at. Being different is a much too arbitrary quality and the treatment that people who are different gets almost never depends on the individual.

Let's face it if they happen to be different and if my son played with girls' toys he would not change society into accepting blurred gender roles. In addition as found by one study, it turns out that even male monkeys prefer boys toys anyway. It could after all be that the Ad-men do all that stereotyping simply because children LIKE that sort of thing and that is the best way to get through to them.

It is for that reason that I pray for my kids to be normal in their infant years, because anything other than that is a risk in terms of will they be admired or (most probably) laughed at. I always try to teach them that there's nothing wrong in being different, but that's only because at their age it's just too hard to explain all the different kinds of different! There's Different DIFFERENT. Different good. Then there's so different you're not one of us and so on. In time they'll get to know all this but preferably not as a result of being laughed at.

In the mean time I'm happy to let the Ad-men play on whatever stereotypes I'm forcing my kids into. I'll also celebrate how ordinary they are, and am even secretly pleased with each one of their very ordinary achievements and milestones. When they are fully grown the only way I want them to differentiate themselves is by having the ability to do something normal much better than anyone.

 

* 'Er Indoors doesn't read this blog, but she'd kill me if she did for making out as if the kids don't have a mother. She'd probably want me to call them 'our' kids. Women eh?!!

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9Apr/11Off

If your kid looks up to Wayne Rooney, you’re to blame

You've got no respect for things son! You know I had to get the bus into town just to nick that aeroplane!

One week after swearing into a live TV camera during a mid-day match, every man and his dog is having his say on Wayne Rooney. The media has been criticizing Rooney for being angry at all the criticism and abuse he gets. They've since been asking everyone their opinion and criticizing them if they didn't give the 'right' answer. It's now turned into a band-wagon and this blog loves to jump on them; so I think we should ride it.

The biggest thing that everyone has been raving about is as usual, 'think of the children..........he's a role model, and that's no way to behave'. I really don't buy into that stuff because as parents we have much more control over what our children take in and what they'll turn out to be than a celebrity they'll never meet. That is still true even in this crazy world of 24 hour kids TV where every inane idea for a show seems to get picked up. I'm looking at you Sponge Bob!

In no way do I want to excuse what Mr Rooney did, because I think it's in-defensible. Understandable maybe, but still not right. However I really want to discredit the notion that kids will look up to someone regardless of what we as parents want them to.

The main problem I think, comes about because as parents we don't teach kids that in life you have to look to lots of different people for inspiration. Just because a kid loves Wayne Rooney doesn't mean he should be taking lessons in TV etiquette from him. And if your kid doesn't know that, then it's your fault. Neither Rooney nor the government should have to tell your kid that Wayne is all about football. It is of course a slightly different story for Wayne's own kids....., but then I don't know anything about how he's bringing them up.

Personally, I apply the same thing even in friendship. It sounds so obvious but you'd be surprised how many people are disappointed in their friend X who they know has always had a habit of doing a particular thing. I'm only ever disappointed in my friends when they do something I wouldn't expect them too. Yes that's right, I have 'allowances' for all my friends. Just like the banks have different over-draft limits for us all I took that and applied it to my life!

Anyway, there should be plenty of good people in everyone's life and we would all do well to highlight the good things they do to our little ones who are just starting out. A child should have as many role models as he needs. Each one for a specific thing. If one of those role models fails at something he never did well that should never influence the growth of a child.

Whilst we're at it, the media needs to stop feeding the myth of the celebrity role model. It doesn't exist. The only thing we should learn from famous people is how to get famous.

 

23Mar/11Off

Propaganda, counter-propaganda and the cost of war on Gaddafi

With all the reporting that has been going on you'd think that Colonel Gaddafi is the only one who has been cranking the propaganda machine.

A few hours after enforcement of the 'no-fly zone' started with the bombing of Libyan positions that are not controlled by the rebels, it was reported that each cruise missile cost £500,000. By the second night a hundred had been fired. Mostly by the Americans, but I'm sure you get the illustration if you're doing the math by now.

Being that I'm sad enough to have my alarm clock tuned into BBC Radio 4 permanently, this morning I woke up to reports that George Osborne and the UK government were playing down the cost of this war to the UK tax payer and claiming that it would be no more than the low tens of millions. An hour later a spin doctor was duly dispatched onto The Today programme and tried to explain away this absurdly low figure whilst putting in the obligatory fast talk, in-lieu of small print. A double glazing sales man would have been proud.

So why was the forecast so low? It turns out that the missiles being used in Libya are part of the Royal Navy's stock and had already been purchased prior to the Middle Eastern revolutions. It's a shame to say that the presenter didn't then fire back the obvious question that popped into my head i.e.

Are those missiles not going to be replaced at some point, presumably for invading yet another former 'ally' in an oil rich country? And if they are going to be replaced, why is that cost not going to be added to the cost of this war?

Military think-tank/creative accounting department

19Mar/10Off

Mephedrone and Panic buttons. You can’t legislate against stupidity

This week in the UK people have mostly been getting mad about Methodrone and paedophiles. I say mostly because this country loves to get mad about stuff so at one time or another they (and us who live here) will be mad about something or another. One day soon I’m sure we’ll all be mad about why there’s nothing to be mad about. But I guess a little bit of madness does the mind some good. In the least it keeps us from the self-reflection that just might result in a sane and sterile world. To be honest that scenario would be enough to drive me mad!

On a serious note, all the madness and clamouring going on has been the result of tragic deaths of three young people. Two young men died after taking a substance known as Mephedrone which is something of a hit (pun intended) with people seeking a readily, available, cheap high. Note that I omitted ‘legality’ as one of the things drug takers are looking for. Mephedrone like most substances that could get you high, but still kill you was NOT meant to be taken by humans. It is in fact a plant fertilizer. Update. It is sold as a plant fertilizer but was apparently developed for human consumption.

In an unrelated incident a paedophile was found guilty of the murder of a 17 year old who he lured on Facebook. He posed as a teenage boy, asked to add the girl as a friend and after some time arranged to meet her by lying that his father would pick her up. The episode ended with the girl being killed soon after that.

As I’ve already mentioned this is all tragic, just as any death is. However it is people’s reaction to these incidents that really has me shaking my head at the things that we come up with when we go mad. Which to my mind feels like every day.

From the noise, it seems like everyone is now calling for Mephedrone to be banned, including those who have previously been high on it. Others are calling for Facebook to have a panic button so that kids could press it if they suspected a paedophile! I’d expect this sort of thing from the Daily Mail but like I said, it feels like everyone is calling for this.

It’s all really ridiculous if you ask me. Are these people saying that if Mephedrone was illegal they wouldn’t have taken it? If the answer is no, then how did they get the idea that they’d like to get high? Not from anything legal that’s for sure.

The panic button is just as stupid, because I just can’t imagine that anyone suggesting this has ever been out of their house. At which point would they think that a user could reach for the panic button if a sex offender was lurking? No actual crime is committed on a social network. It’s hatched on Facebook or whatever, but not carried out there I’d imagine. So let assume a girl is being assaulted and she reaches for her phone so that she can log onto Facebook to press the panic button. I it logical she'll do all that instead of just dialling 112 or 999?

The weak links as far as I can see are the victims. It’s sad, but very very stupid that young guys want to get high even if it means doing it on fertilizer. No laws can ever save such a person. If they don’t get killed by Methodrone, it’s very much possible they could die from smoking banana leaves or some other plant they’ve been TOLD is legal. Though I can see how kids can be lured on social networks, the answer to both these problems is not to create more legislation.

In addition to all this there’s the media who go around labelling these things. Legal high. WTF? That really isn’t the best way to describe these drugs. Facebook killer? Again WTF? The media should know better and call it like it is. If they did then maybe not so many kids would want to get high like that. That’s because getting high on plant fertilizer is not a legal high. It’s a “Foolish High.”

Woo hoo! Yeah dude, this is awesome! Try it it's legal too!

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2Mar/10Off

Zimbabwe and Africa’s children suffering from overexposure

Tonight I lost the remote control wars and paid for it by watching a documentary on BBC 4 called Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children about...you guessed it....suffering African children. 5 specific kids living in harrowing conditions to be exact. It was quite an interesting programme though and it had decent technical production however in parts it seemed like it was scripted. For those who watched the program, I'm refering to the exchanges between Obert and his Grandma.

Personally I have a problem with programs like these because they’re all about highlighting the problems. I'm starting to find that to be counter-productive because hardly anyone doesn't know that Africa has problems. I’m not sure when this started but I’d guess that the media focus on Africa’s problems has been going on since the Ethiopian famine 25 years ago. I believe that highlighting a problem is for specific disasters like Haiti, the Indonesian tsunami, Ethiopia’s famine, Hurricane Katrina where you want to show the reality so that people respond accordingly. The on-going African tragedy, which has the world rubber-necking at our misery doesn't need this. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn't see the Africa that is frequently shown on TV with the suffering, crime, corruption, wars and all. I’m realistic enough to know that whatever prosperity we’re building in Africa we must not gloss over our problems.

My issue with all this is that these programs never highlight the solutions to the problems. I know for a fact that there are people in Africa doing something to get out of the mess they’re in as individuals. And I’m not talking about collecting aid from the agencies as this program and others never hesitate to show.

Personally, I end up feeling like the film makers are taking advantage of the situation because they are bringing nothing to the party. Or funeral in this case. We’re no wiser in watching some of these programs except that we now know the name of a particular African who’s suffering. I fail to see how that helps except to feed stereotypes and act as some sort of CV padding for the likes of Xoliswa Sithole, who produced the program. No doubt awards will be forthcoming for ‘braving the conditions’ and ‘daring to show the reality of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.’ I’m not fooled by this and if it was a beer (something that I have expertise on) I’d call it a chemical beer. One made with no real imagination.

By highlighting the solutions, filmmakers could give us viewers the call to action we frequently need to do something. I know I’m not the only one who sees an initiative and thinks ‘Wow, that’s a good idea. I wonder if we could do something similar in my rural area?’

As an example I read a blog called AfriGadget, which shows some of the ingenious ways Africans overcome their problems with improvised gadgets. What’s impressive about it is the number of readers that feel compelled to do something upon seeing some of these solutions. I’m talking about stuff like giving advice, replicating the gadgets and donating materials. That is because it’s not all about donating money. Not every problem in Africa needs money to be overcome. The media could play their part by highlighting what’s being done and how. That knowledge needs to find its way to other suffering Africans; and the only way it can do that is if those of us watching these programs are informed.

The irony is that if it really is all about showing a skinny African on TV, you don’t lose anything by showing us how others in Africa are overcoming their situations at the end of the program. The TV network gets their skinny African. We see some solutions. Problem solved!

Our code says we can only film but not interfere. So sorry, but if you're dying of thirst we'll just have to keep the camera rolling.

UPDATE: A year later on the 17th of March 2011, the program was screened again with an update on the situation of the 5 kids featured in the program. The 2 girls lost their eventually lost their dad to AIDS.

However all are now in education and cared for as a result of benefactors who came forth after the program was screened. Help is now being administered by local organisations and all the children are well. I feel glad knowing that these kids' situations have improved a lot.

Despite that I feel even more vindicated on the opinions mentioned above. Specifically the decision to highlight Zimbabwe's problems on a national and international level, whilst only offering the experiences of 5 children as evidence of those bigger issues.

The program still offered no facts, figures or trends and I personally feel that the harrowing stories of the 5 featured kids has been used as emotional bait that even now does not result in solutions to the greater problems of African children.