Cartoons/toys marketed toward boys encourage them to be STRONGER.
Cartoons/toys marketed toward girls encourage kids to be KINDER.
Both are virtues, and inspire even greater virtues over time.
Kindness, when we boil it down, is an outward expression – it’s about caring more for others than oneself.
Strength, boiled down, is an internal affirmation – it’s about believing in oneself and one’s own power to make a difference.
A kind child will go on to devote themselves to their families, communities, the greater good – and make the world a better place.
A strong child will go on to achieve large, great things, which can uplift the people around them – and make the world a better place.
So just to be clear: I don’t think teaching the value of strength is ill-advised. Just stay with me.
As time goes on, the behaviour of girls who defy these gendered norms – let’s say she’s a “me first” kinda girl, rather than a “let’s all go together” or a “you first” type – is generally seen as less tolerable than boys who do the same thing, even if she didn’t mean it in a bad way.
A boy who volunteered to go first would be seen as an enthusiastic and assertive go-getter (unless he was pushing and shoving to be first,) whereas the girl would be seen as selfish and inconsiderate. Perhaps “bossy,” which is a term almost never used to admonish boys. She might also be deemed stubborn and defiant, which are punishable offences when you’re a child, since she was taught to be more self-sacrificing.
And what do you think a girl learns when she is punished for being “stubborn” and “defiant”?
She learns to not be those things, which is hard when those definitions are so subjective.
Oddly, boys are often commended/ criticized for acting both aggressive AND considerate, just in different contexts. Which I’m sure can get confusing for them. As I mentioned before, roughhousing is not a universally-accepted behaviour for either gender; it is generally frowned upon, to be fair to parents. But there is no denying that this more physical behaviour is seen as more acceptable in boys. “Boys will be boys” is a dangerously popular phrase, usually said in a wistful, slightly affectionate tone.
And there are many excuses made for why this is still the case, none of which hold much water when you consider how advanced our society has become. We don’t have to fight for resources anymore; so why do we teach boys that it is ever necessary to establish physical dominance amongst their peers, as if they’re going to need these skills in the real world? This is why we have laws, and a justice system. You don’t need to provide your own muscle in order to survive anymore. (Or, if you believe the world is on fire and aggression is more necessary now than ever before… Why not teach girls the same things? Every human for itself, right?)
The good thing is we ALSO teach boys the importance of kindness, but often in a context of violence. Superheroes and video games will use harmful imagery to reinforce the idea that only a violent conflict can quickly ad decisively achieve a positive outcome – even if the heroes are equal aggressors. “It’s the only way! Don’t even bring up diplomacy, or compromise. NO. NEVER. That is WEAKNESS.” …Yeah, and that “weakness” is also what they teach girls to do in ‘girl cartoons.’ Girls are taught to seek out whatever solution benefits *everyone,* instead of just the main characters. Boys are taught to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Kindness vs. Strength.
Protagonists in cartoons marketed toward girls very rarely kill their enemies. Depending on the intended age demographics of the cartoon, many directed toward boys will find… more delicate means of eliminating bad guys. But watch one episode of Star Wars Rebels and count how many stormtroopers bite the dust. Just saying, in boy cartoons, death is often treated with a shrug and a high five from the “good guys.” Kindness vs. Strength.
I think, all things considered, it’s a little irresponsible to say there’s no difference in the way boys and girls are inculcated and influenced by the media they consume. And to think that there’s no difference, then, in the way they behave as they grow into adults? That’s sheer folly.
As time goes on, men and women can watch whatever they want (though women will often face crap like constant objectification, labels like “chick flick” and being accused of not really *getting* the entertainment that is popular with males).
But we will not have equality until we acknowledge that inequality exists, and that it almost always starts from Day 1:
Pink blanket? Or blue?
Kindness? Or strength?
– THE DUEL CITIZEN