During our teenage years, or as one of our kids likes to say - when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, the feminist movement was picking up steam and influencing media role models for women. For the first time on TV, we saw empowered women doing the great stuff men had always done. Wonder Woman lifted bad guys over her head and threw them over a wall – and looked good doing it. Single mom Shirley Partridge took her carefree musical family around the country in a tie-dyed bus. And young professional Mary Tyler Moore was going to “make it after all” in the big city. They were strong! They were independent! They had career goals and cool bellbottoms!
Who are the TV role models for our daughters?
Self-destructive Britney? Party-Girl Lindsey? Miley with her pole dancing on the Teen Choice awards? It’s depressing.
And harmful. Researchers at the University of Delaware examined the types of media most often viewed by adolescent girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines and advertisements. Although they found a few intelligent female role models, there was an overwhelming amount of negative roles models. The vast majority of women and teenage girls on TV were hyper-concerned with appearance and dating. (1997, Signorielli)
How does this affect our daughters?
Study upon study shows a direct negative effect. The more that adolescent girls are exposed to fashion magazines, music videos, soaps, and commercials that depict thin models, the more they become anxious, angry, dissatisfied with their weight and appearance, and the less confident they feel. (Hargreaves, 2002).
The standard advice – and we agree with it - is to limit your daughters exposure to this media as best you can. Its challenging but worth it.
But that is not all you can do. There is a simple thing that you can do to empower your daughter And that is share stories of everyday heroes. Positive women heroes are everywhere. Women you want your daughter to look up to, admire, and emulate.
The woman down the street who had her niece and nephew come live with her when their parents could no longer take care of them.
The journalist who risked her life crossing enemy lines to tell the truth about the horror of refugee camps.
The teenage celebrity who takes time off from a promising film career to get a college education.
The female astronaut who grew up in your town.
The girl who pitches for the boys varsity baseball team in a town nearby.
The physician who uses her vacation time to work at a medical clinic in Haiti.
Everyday, everywhere people are doing amazing, wonderful, generous things – that the media may or may not pay attention to. Seek out these stories and share them , at dinner, in the car driving to soccer, before they go to bed. Let them know that there are role models out there that you value and that you believe your daughter can be just like them. Or anything else whe wants to be.
Signorielli, N. (1997, April). Reflections of girls in the media: A two-part study on gender and media. Kaiser Family foundation and Children NOW.
Hargreaves, D. (2002). Idealized Women in TV Ads Make Girls Feel Bad. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21, 287-308.