Check out these blanket statements: Boys like toy trucks, and
girls like dolls. Right? Sometimes.
Or how's this: Men like sports, and women like emotional dramas.
If you're a football widow, the former is a no-brainer. If you're a
baby-boomer parent whose heart lies with gender-neutral child
raising, both of these unsettling cultural stereotypes may cause you
more than a bit of consternation.
The success of books such as John Gray's "Men Are From Mars, Women
Are From Venus" suggests that gender-based cultural differences are
at least back in vogue, if not always scientifically provable.
This growing emphasis on differences between the sexes raises the
obvious possibility of commercial exploitation. Ever eager for a new
demographic vein to mine, the electronic media are moving in with
Fox Family Channel premires the girlzChannel and the boyzChannel
Oct. 31. Oxygen Media launches yet another women's cable channel
Feb. 2 (or on 02-02-2000). Meanwhile, dozens of Web sites like
www.Smartgirl.com and www.bChannel.com and www.gChannel.com
(companions to the boyzChannel and girlzChannel), are targeting
separate gender markets.
Original programming will include "bringing up boys" and "guiding
girls," two half-hour programs for parents and children of each sex.
Half-hour magazine-style shows such as "girlzopoliz" and "boyzopolis"
will also deal with gender issues.
A parenting show called "Parentz101," features a companion Web
site, parentzchannel.com. The channels will also feature a two-hour
prime-time parenting block and a three-hour preschool block during
Video games for girls
The video-game industry, long a bastion of boy-heavy marketing, is
discovering girls with items such as the vast line of Barbie titles
and the latest hit from Sony PlayStation, "Um Jammer Lammy," about a
girls' rock band.
This rush to exploit the differences raises questions in the minds
of many parents and media observers about what happens when the
marketplace emphasizes differences rather than common interests.
The answer, say a wide range of industry analysts, media
professionals, and watchdog organizations, is far from clear. But
one thing is clear - the stakes are much higher when it comes to
targeting children than adults.
"If everybody had their girls' and boys' channels," says longtime
children's activist Peggy Charren, founder of the now-disbanded
Action for Children's Television advocacy group, "it would be a
Picture a library with every book shelved under the heading boys'
or girls' literature, Ms. Charren suggests.
"What kind of library would that be? We'd fire the librarian."
Where, she asks, would you put the classics, books such as
"Charlotte's Web" or "Stuart Little," by E.B. White, or any work by
Charles Dickens or Marcel Proust?
"This is a return to an old, stereotyped idea that's sort of sad,"
she says, referring to the notion that certain content is appropriate
for a boy and not a girl and vice versa.
Experts in the field of child development suggest the issue is
more complicated than what they call "politically motivated
interpretations" would allow.
"I had a practice in Cambridge, Mass., with all these
intellectuals ... in the '60s," says T. Berry Brazelton, a renowned
pediatrician who will host a parenting show on the new Fox Family
"We were trying to make girls and boys just alike," Dr. Brazelton
recalls with a laugh, suggesting that the very premise created as
many problems as it solved.
"I knew it was going to fail, because at birth, girl babies and
boy babies are significantly different in two respects," he says.
The first area relates to motor behavior. "It's not just that
there's more motor behavior in a boy," he says, "but it's more
vigorous and the boy obviously gets more satisfaction out of this
vigorous behavior. …