As a result of a world that is characterized by increasing access to personal technology devices and the overwhelming onslaught of mass media, today’s adolescents face new and unprecedented challenges that prevent them from realizing their ability to effect change. Constant exposure to media through increased access to technology has exponentially augmented the propagation of narrow, unrealistic gender ideals and behaviours. These structure development and limit the full potential of girls and boys, which consequently restricts advancement on human rights, justice and gender equality. So, for the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child, which is to recognize girls’ rights and the unique political, social and economic challenges they face around the world; we hosted two events for parents and youth to learn more about harmful gender stereotypes and facilitate collaborative discussion on how to improve the situation.
Held in collaboration with the Burnaby School Board and AJC Media Group at the Centre for Dialogue at Byrne Creek Community School, “Helping Kids Stay True to Themselves in a Hyper World” for parents on October 4th and “Staying True to You in a Hyper World” for student on October 12th were both outstanding successes. 35 parents and 60 students from across the Burnaby School District attended the two events.
From watching segments of the documentaries “Miss Representation” and “The Mask You Live In”, attendees gained insight on the extensive negative effects of the unachievable hypersexualized and hypermasculine ideals that girls and boys respectively are taught to strive for. This was followed by small group discussions, where attendees discovered that though the challenges and experiences each person had were unique, they shared many of the same observations and concerns. Youth expressed the personal struggles they have encountered in meeting the specific expectations that the media helps spread; while parents conveyed anxiety about the very different surroundings their children are growing up with today. Both groups of attendees were eager to learn more about how they could counter the exacerbating effects the media has in propagating harmful gender norms.
Our illustrated and accomplished panelists provided valuable and applicable advice in response. These panel members, who brought together a diverse range of experiences from education to counselling to youth engagement, were: Susan Murakami, Dr. Randy Paterson, Peggy Chen, Jordan Pickell, Barry MacDonald and Serene Mitchell. Key strategies to empower youth included equipping youth with media literacy skills (the ability to critically analyze media messaging), which can be developed in every day life simply by having open conversations on the media content they absorb. Panelists also pointed out that the larger problem behind the media is the typical societal understanding of gender as a binary rather than a spectrum, where biologically female girls are expected to act as females, and likewise for boys. It is important to understand gender as a continuum so that individuals are not limited to expressing themselves within set boxes, but instead can express a range of various femininities and masculinities. We extend our gratitude to them for sharing their expertise as well as Greg Neuman and Dawn Black, who acted as moderators.