Tackling stereotypes in kids' books, TV and film

Black and white image of parent and child sitting on a couch in a lounge room reading a book together.

You may already notice the prevalence of gender stereotypes in children’s books and media. But what can you do about it?

Female characters in powerful or risk-taking roles, and male characters in nurturing, caring roles are so often lacking in our kids’ books, films and TV. This is yet another way that children learn about gender, and how boys and girls are expected to look, think and behave.

Now, nobody's suggesting you throw half your books and movies in the bin! Instead, here are 5 tips on how to stop gender stereotypes limiting kids in books and media:

  1. Try to find films and shows for kids that present male characters who are nurturing and compassionate, and/or females as risk-taking adventurers.
  2. It's not just about showing girls media with strong female characters – make sure you show boys media that present girls as strong and adventurous, and likewise, expose girls to stories with caring and empathetic boys.
  3. When reading to your kids, try swapping characters, or what they do in the story, so that 'She climbed the castle walls…' or 'He tucked them all into bed…'
  4. If you catch a stereotype while reading or watching programs with your kids, try asking questions like, 'I wonder why we never see Super-Bill cooking – he must eat sometimes' or 'I notice he always makes the decisions. I reckon she could be a leader too – What kind of things do you think they would do then?' See where the conversation leads...
  5. Talk about the stereotypes – point out how it’s not fair that the girls never get to drive the rocket-ships, or that there are no boys in the dance troupe, and that girls and boys can actually do whatever they like.

There are some great books and films out there that, unfortunately, have a lot of gender stereotypes – many are favourites from our own childhoods.

If you can be aware of the stereotypes and discuss them, it gives kids a chance to question the limitations of stereotypes and put themselves in the shoes of any hero.