Teaching Gender Development with YouTube Video of Four-Year-Old Toy-Marketing Critic

Incorporating current events into one’s teaching can be a good way to capture students’ interest and increase their understanding of course concepts. In late December 2011, a few weeks before the current Spring 2012 semester would be starting at Texas Tech, the YouTube video below went “viral,” garnering extensive media coverage.

The video presents a four-year-old girl from New York State in a toy store, critiquing how young girls are expected to like playing with “princesses” and boys, with “superheroes.”

HDFS associate chair Alan Reifman saw the video on TV and passed along the YouTube link to the four people who would be teaching the sophomore-level course HDFS 2300  “Gender Development: Life Span Perspectives” in Spring. Reifman suggested to these instructors — lecturers  Lynda McBride, Ph.D., and Ronda Eade, Ph.D., and doctoral students Erika Brooks and Jennifer Rojas-McWhinney — that playing the video to their classes on the first day might be a good way to generate discussion on the development of gender stereotypes or expectations.

All of the instructors played the video, either on the first day or a later day, if they already had other activities to launch their classes. Now is a good point to view the video, by clicking on the play button of the following image. Below the video image, we’ll see from the four instructors how their students reacted.

One instructor, who played the video at the end of the second meeting of the class, described the proceedings as follows:

I gave students an introduction to gender development…  As the students watched the video some of them laughed. Once the video was over we briefly discussed what they saw. I explained to the students that gender messages are everywhere and that young children pick up on these messages. This in turn shapes their development and outlook on behavior (their own and others’). As I explained this to the students they nodded their heads in agreement indicating they understood what I was saying.

Laughter apparently was a common reaction among students. According to another instructor:

It was received with a lot of laughter initially, but led into great discussion. The class discussed how the pink/blue and princess/superhero ideals [the girl in the video] was talking about carry forth from childhood. While as adults, it is not princess and superheros, it is still a constant challenge to meet the “gender goals” in society. Females having children and males the appropriate career, etc., were points of discussion

In a third instructor’s class, the students seemed resistant (outwardly, at least) to the idea of social forces (e.g., advertising) affecting their behavior:

My students insist that their families allowed them to make their own toy choices and that they themselves were not affected by advertising. This is why we teach Gender Development to prompt them to think.  It does take the entire semester to encourage them to look at the effects of socialization.

Finally, one instructor found the video to elicit the usual laughter, but apparently because the first class period was largely used to introduce the course, not as much discussion ensued:

I showed the clip in the first day of class and the students laughed and thought that the little girl was quite articulate. It was the first day so the class were still warming up so they did not talk very much.

The video only takes a little over one minute, so it should be easy for instructors to use in class. It seems like a very reasonable investment for some potentially rich class discussion!

Categories: Teaching, Undergraduate Students

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