Gender and Racial Representation in Children's Television Programming in Kuwait: Implications for Education

Article excerpt

An examination was carried out of television programs made for children and also television programs that involved children, regardless of their intended audience. The aim of the study was to determine the effects of these programs in terms of gender and race representations and stereotypes. A content analysis was run on segments from two television channels, the Kuwait national channel and the Egyptian satellite channel. Findings are given and discussed against a rich background of research in this area, and conclusions and implications for education are presented.

Keywords: television, children, stereotyping, gender, race, Kuwait.

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There are several agents that participate in the socialization of children; the family and family environment, peers, schools, social clubs, human groupings, the media, and so forth. Of the media, television is a significant agency of socialization, contributing to the formation of gender roles and the acquisition of various behavior stereotypes such as aggression and violence. Most of the research conducted on the effects of television viewing as a socialization tool for young children shows that children benefit socially from watching educational programming, as well as--perhaps--suffering from watching violent programming (Anderson, 2001; Holtzman, 2000; Witt, 1997, 2000). Significantly, these studies emphasize the theory that it is not television in itself that has an influence in children's socialization, but rather the content of the programming they watch, their active engagement while they watch it, the duration and total time spent watching it and other external issues such as who they watch television with. From a deeper, more inclusive perspective, children on television shows and programs, be they directed at children in particular or not, or television dramas in other contexts, are usually presented in a format with specific gender traits that are worthy of research. Gender representation in children's television programming has been little studied despite the role it plays in the socialization of children from their earliest years. There is a danger that children may develop behavioral stereotypes subconsciously in spite of the fact that what they view may sometimes be biased, distorted or misleading (Oliver, 2001; Smith, 1994). Television inculcates in children forceful and compelling images about socially approved gender roles that are often stereotyped, biased, and outdated (Aubrey & Harrison, 2004).

This study analyzed television programs provided by two channels - the national Kuwait channel and the Egyptian satellite channel - in terms of gender and race representation.

THEORIES ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF TELEVISION ON CHILDREN

One theory in this regard is the biological theory which states that women and men have innate characteristics appropriate to their genders; for instance, women are naturally suited to their gender roles as mothers and housekeepers whereas men are natural hunters assuming dominant roles (Piaget, 1954). From this perspective, television or any other medium would have little effect in influencing this biologically built-in gender role. A second theory, the social learning theory, states that the media provide a variety of examples of gender roles as well as patterns of behavior and attitudes to be imitated (Bandura, 1986; Larson, 2003). A third view is the television cultivation effect theory; this theory holds that television encourages violence and aggression. This theory also states that the more children watch television programs, the more likely they are to develop and entertain more traditional gender and racial stereotypes based on what they view in the media (Larson, 2002). A fourth theory is the cognitive theory which, like the social learning theory, relies on the notion that children imitate and model gender roles viewed on television.

In the same vein, Durkin (1985) supports the view that children obtain information about gender roles and race/ethnicity from television and model their behaviors on the basis of television characterization. …