chapter  8
Feminist theory approaches to the study of children and media
ByDafna Lemish
Pages 7

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.