This summer, I started a job that I’ve only ever done before for family (because I’m a beginner author and still need a ‘real’ job to get me through the day)- I’m now a nanny for two little girls. And I love it. Though, to be perfectly frank, I love it for some reasons that I never dreamed of loving it for before. For one, I’m absolutely tickled by how aware the girls are. As I’m not a parent myself, I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt when people argue that we shouldn’t harp too bad on bad media representation of different groups because the children ‘don’t get that message’ or it would ruin all of the good fun of the show in question. But in hanging out with the girls, I’ve come to realize that children are much more intuitive than we give them credit for- and that we’re missing out daily on little opportunities to make the future brighter and much more caring because we’re patronizing the heck out of these kids.
To give you an example of this, the girls and I an episode of H20: Just Add Water every other day. In the show, one of the characters, Charlotte, is quickly demonized because she is dating the boy that the main character, Cleo, used to date and still likes. When we started to watch the show, the girls warned me that Charlotte was ‘evil’. When I asked what ‘evil’ things Charlotte had done, they responded ‘she’s dating the boy Cleo should be dating’. Well, I’m a huge ‘girls should not actively hate other girls just because they are other girls’ proponent, so I thought I might slip in a little thought for them. I told them that it’s not quite nice to hate a girl just because she’s dating someone that they don’t think she should be dating. It seemed like it didn’t matter much to them, and I ended the conversation with asking them to instead dislike her for bad things she does.
On their own, the girls quickly realized that the character herself actually wasn’t a bad person. That her entire ‘bad girl’ character was based around her being the obstacle for the main girl, Cleo, to the main boy. And the girls were furious about it. They began to point it out themselves in every episode, with one of them eventually saying that, if she was to choose someone to be in the show, she would now chose the previously demonized girl, Charlotte, because she had found something to admire about her. Just by suggesting that the girls change one little thing about how they were watching the show, the girls themselves became more critical of the wounding stereotypes perpetuated, and were more willing to discuss how it disturbed them. They didn’t see the show as a reason for why girls who take the popular boy should be hated- but as a way to talk about why that kind of behavior doesn’t help anyone.
But it didn’t make them hate the show. They still want to watch it. They still look for the good things about the other characters. They just don’t fall into the trap of hating the character ‘because stereotypes’ as the show would have them do. This is the kind of reaction I couldn’t pay to get out of some of my peers, and these girls got it in the blink of an eye. All I did was suggest one way that they could change in how they were watching the show, and they did the rest of the analysis and thought themselves.
Needless to say, I was impressed- both by these girls, and by what I had learned about having honest conversations with children about bad stereotypes and media representation. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take an hour lecture, or a complete ban of ‘questionable’ material from the house. It just takes a willingness to point the kids in a more open way of seeing things, letting them do most of the thinking themselves, and a move away from patronizing behavior that would say that these girls would never make the progress that they made with how they were retaining the message the show was giving them.
And that’s my positive moment for the day.