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Correcting gender stereotypes: Even lawmakers can make a difference

Gender stereotypes in media have real consequences for kids and adults. Public policies that value caretakers of both genders can help break this mold.

You might have recently read Common Sense’s groundbreaking new research on the impact gender stereotypes in media have on our kids’ development. If there’s one thing to take away from our findings, it’s that everyone has a role to play in fostering better gender role models for kids. In addition to exercising your influence as a parent by talking with your kids about the role models they see on-screen, you can exercise your influence as a citizen to change public policies that will affect our kids — boys and girls — later in life.

The traditional media portrayals of boys and girls lead kids to believe rigid stereotypes about themselves — for example, that girls are nurturing and natural caretakers and boys are naturally aggressive and emotionally detached. Fast-forward to adult life, and even in two-income households, moms regularly handle most aspects of child care, from setting up playdates to staying home when a child is sick. This is partly based on generations of gender stereotyping.

But it’s also the result of the absence of public policies that encourage and reward caregiving by both women and men. Improving our public policies regarding child care benefits, wages, and training for child care providers, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave would enhance the value of caregiving by both men and women and help to reverse deeply ingrained economic inequality between male and female breadwinners.

And here’s where kid advocates like you come in. 

The FAMILY Act guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave to mothers and fathers to care for a newborn, an adopted child, or a sick family member. Paid leave is vital to American families — and critical to a child’s emotional and cognitive development in the first few months of life. Today, only 14 percent of the workforce has paid leave through their employers. Moreover, some U.S. companies have adopted the gender roles we see in the media through paid leave policies that assume the mother is the primary caregiver.

Let your senator and representative in Congress know that you support paid family leave for all parents.

It’s no secret that kids model the behavior they see. At Common Sense, we believe we can help girls and boys reach their greatest potential in life if parents pay more attention to what their kids are watching, if content creators stop stereotyping boy and girl characters, and if policymakers adopt basic policies that help men and women play an equal role in caregiving.

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