Helping Children See Gender Roles Differently

By Liz Breen   |   Saturday, June 1, 2013
0 Comments   0 comments.

breen and davis
From Left: WGBH's VP for Children's Media Brigid Sullivan and Production Assistant Liz Breen, Winship teacher Heather Nord, actress and advocate Geena Davis, Madeline Di Nonno, Executive Director of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and Winship principal Louise Kuhlman pose with the class at Winship Elementary School in Brighton. (Photo: Liza Voll/WGBH)

At the start of my senior year at Boston University, I had the opportunity to produce a children’s short for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. I knew this had the potential to help my career, and that turned out to be true in ways I couldn’t have imagined initially. I thought I would be creating a video for a celebrity client that I could watch on television, and one that ultimately I could use in a portfolio to land an entry-level job out of school. However, this production changed the way I view my entire career and my role within the television industry.
The task sounds almost impossible: explain and combat gender stereotypes in media to children ages six to nine, and do this in around two minutes. After a few audible GULPS, a little bit of stressed-out pencil chewing and a lot of group brainstorming, we had our idea. We were going to build on the rise of superhero movies by focusing on real-life heroes – a nurse and a firefighter. The twist was that we would feature a male nurse and a female firefighter.
We started the filming process by interviewing two classes of second graders. I went in a little skeptical. I thought of these kids as born in the 21st century, where we have female politicians and stay-at-home dads. I didn’t expect to be giving them any surprising information. Yet the answers to some of our questions were astonishing. When describing a nurse, several of the students said matter-of-factly, “She wears dresses,” despite the fact that they have probably never seen a nurse in a dress outside of old-timey war movies or Halloween costumes. And when describing a firefighter, the children had a definite pronoun of choice: “He wears boots” or “He is fast”. Most confounding of all, when we revealed that the nurse we were featuring was a man and the firefighter was a woman, many children were shocked by this idea or even resisted the idea altogether, stating that they didn’t think the opposite gender would perform their duties as well.
Where could these children possibly be getting these stereotypes from? Certainly, many if not most had mothers who worked, so these stereotypes aren’t being reinforced in the home. Then it hit me – the media. The television and movies they watch (AKA my career).
Geena Davis
Actress Geena Davis talked about gender and media during a visit to WGBH. (Liza Voll/WGBH)
Suddenly, I felt a burden of responsibility that I had not otherwise felt. I thought I was going to school to learn to create things that people could watch, enjoy and ultimately walk away from. But it doesn’t work like that. Media is sticky, even stickier to young minds.
That weight of responsibility only grew heavier the more research I read about gender disparities behind the camera. Only 7 percent of directors, 13 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers are female. Men outnumber women in key production roles 5 to 1, and that singular female in production—that’s me.
So was I scared? I ain’t scared o’ nothin’! I felt empowered. There are fewer of me, that’s true, but that only means that my voice can carry more weight, that my viewpoints are needed that much more. Also true, I’m consistently the youngest person on my production teams nowadays, and yet I feel compelled to do more than exist on the periphery. I know that creating responsible media is in my best interest as well as the interest of future generations.
Is it a coincidence that months after this video wrapped I took a job working for public television at WGBH? Probably not, but who can say for certain? What I do know is this: I created a project that I am tremendously proud of to this day, with some of the cutest darn stop motion animation you can make out of construction paper. Most important of all, that work prompts children and adults alike to think about the media they consume. 

Paul Combs Delivers JazzWeek Award to Eric Jackson

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
0 Comments   0 comments.

Eric Jackson accepts the 2012 Duke Dubois Humanitarian Award (Annie Shreffler/WGBH)

Listen to Jackson and Combs talk about the award and Duke Dubois.

Last month at the JazzWeek Awards in Detroit, Michigan, saxophonist Paul Combs accepted the Duke Dubois Humanitarian Award on behalf of this years honoree, WGBH 89.7 Jazz host Eric Jackson. Combs visited the WGBH studios to deliver the award in person.

This prestigious lifetime achievement award is named for the late jazz radio promoter Duke Dubois, who was a pioneer in the field and a mentor to many, including Jackson himself, in the jazz radio and record business. to an individual to recognize a longstanding commitment to jazz, jazz radio, jazz education and generous service to the jazz community.

This is Jackson’s second award from JazzWeek as he was honored in 2008 as Major Market Programmer of the Year.

Combs' performs and teaches in the Boston area and has recently completed his book, Dameronia, about the influence of Jazz composer and pianist, Tadd Dameron.

Teacher of the Year Questions School Funding

By Anne Mostue   |   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
0 Comments   0 comments.

May 31, 2012

Kathleen Turner
Teacher Kathleen Turner at the WGBH studios. (Annie Shreffler/WGBH)

BOSTON — The newly appointed Massachusetts Teacher of the Year is about to spend 12 months traveling the state, making speeches and conducting workshops, in addition to teaching. And she's already voiced concern for the wide variations in funding for public schools from town to town.
Kathleen Turner teaches French at Sharon High School. She said the demographic makeup of her town is always changing.

Read More

How Three Minutes Changed a Father's Life

By The Emily Rooney Show   |   Friday, May 18, 2012
0 Comments   0 comments.

May 18, 2012


Author Buzz Bissinger visited the WGBH studios to talk about his new memoir, Father's Day: A Journey into the Heart and Mind of My Extraordinary Son, chronicling a road trip he took with his special-needs son, Zach. (Photo: Annie Shreffler)

BOSTON — Buzz Bissinger knew from the minute his son Zach was born, the second of twin boys to be born prematurely and weighing in at just over a pound, that he was faced with the challenge of getting to know the kind of son he never expected or wanted.

"In some ways this book is about three minutes," Bissinger said, explaining that because Zach was deprived of oxygen and suffered brain damage, his family's life was changed instantly. 

Read More

Kirsten Greenidge and "Luck of the Irish"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
0 Comments   0 comments.

April 24, 2012


Playwright Kirsten Greenidge's latest play, "The Luck of the Irish", is about an upwardly mobile African American family in the 1950s that moves from inner-city Boston to a white part of town.

DJ Henry and siblings
"Luck of the Irish"(Hungtington Theatre)

BOSTON — In the late 1950s, Lucy and Rex Taylor, a well-to-do African-American couple living in Boston’s South End, aspire to move to a nearby suburb to provide a better life for their two daughters. Unable to purchase a home in a segregated neighborhood themselves, they pay Patty Ann and Joe Donovan, a struggling Irish family to “ghost-buy” the house on their behalf and then sign over the deed. Fifty years later, Lucy’s granddaughter Hannah lives in the house with her family, where she grapples with the contemporary racial and social issues that stem from living in a primarily white community. When Lucy dies and leaves the house to Hannah and her sister Nessa, the now elderly Donovans return and ask for “their” house back.

Read More

NPR Hosts Visit WGBH, Play Trivia

Thursday, April 12, 2012
0 Comments   0 comments.

April 12, 2012


NPR Hosts Carl Kasell and Peter Sagal, the dynamic duo from the weekly radio show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" visited the WGBH studios. (WGBH/Annie Shreffler)

BOSTON — The cast from one of NPR's award-winning weekend shows, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! (The NPR News Quiz) was in town this week for a live taping of their show at the Citi Performing Arts Center. The hosts of the show, Carl Kasell and Peter Sagal, paid a visit to the WGBH studios to greet public media supporters, and they sat down for a few minutes with WGBH's own All Things Considered host, Jordan Weinstein.

Weinstein subjected the pair to his own game, which he called "Stump the Boston Visitors with Our Favorite Trivia," with questions sent to him by WGBH Facebook fans. Listen to the uncut interview to find out just how well Sagal could recall Boston trivia from his days here as a Harvard student, and also learn a few fun Massachusetts facts to share at your next party. Sagal did call foul on Weinstein's question about the original name of the Boston Red Sox, claiming the first name was the Boston Pilgrims, not the Red Stockings.

(Well, Sagal, we've consulted Baseball Almanac's Bill Nowlin, and he asserts that the Pilgrim moniker never existed.)

However, it's clear that WGBH didn't have the answer quite right, either. As teams for the National and American Leagues started to establish themselves in the early 1900s, all kinds of nicknames were applied to both of Boston's baseball teams: Pilgrims, Puritans, Plymouth Rocks, Somersets, Collinsmen, Beaneaters, Triumvirs or Seleemen (after manager Frank Selee).

But the name that really stuck with the early Red Sox team, if you judge by the "BA" uniform in an old photograph Nowlin displays, was The Americans.

Thanks to the WGBH staff and supporters who contributed a trivia question for Sagal and Kasell.
Alison Cohen, Maria Daniels, Richie Downing, Carrie English, Joel Lempicki, Seth Mascolo, Michele O'Brien, Tere Ramos-Dunne, Rachel Silverman-Sommer, Mike Wood and Olivia Wong.

About the Authors


Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor


You are on page 1 of 3   |