The heavily gendered nature of childhood is obvious to any naïve passer-by who views the clothes children wear as well as the toys and games with which they play; who listens to their language and mannerisms, assesses their interests and make-believe worlds, and reﬂects on their media habits and preferences. Indeed, many scholars have observed that the gendered nature of the lives of young audiences is so distinct that it could be claimed that they live in two very diﬀerent cultural worlds. The latter claim draws heavily on developmental theories and extensive media research
ﬁndings. Both bodies of research suggest that the tendency of children to segregate themselves by gender and play more compatibly with members of the same sex is already evident in early childhood, around the third year, and that it solidiﬁes progressively by mid-childhood. While boys and girls are intensely conscious of each other as future partners and spend a large proportion of their time as they grow up attempting to satisfy their curiosity about the other group, they experience tremendous social pressure to remain separate during childhood (Maccoby, 1998). The causes and consequences of this segregation are a major topic of investigation in child
psychology and education, and lie beyond the scope of our discussion here. Suﬃce it to say that gender-segregated childhoods provide diﬀerent contexts for the social development of children, which do not necessarily prepare them for mutual understanding and collaboration. So what can gender theory and research contribute to our understanding of children and
media? What explanatory power does it bring to the interdisciplinary table as an original perspective? The claim advanced here is that gender studies, and more speciﬁcally feminist theory, can oﬀer the ﬁeld of children and media signiﬁcant and original perspectives, at least in the following four domains: First, a mapping of gender segregation of children’s leisure culture and an explanation of the mechanism driving this segregation; second, a theoretical understanding of gender as a form of social construction rather than a biological fact; third, a particular view on the form and role of methodology in the study of children and media; and fourth, a model of engaged scholarship that is attempting to advance progressive social change.