"Gender: To Be Determined" is collaborative, interactive blog brought to you by University of Denver students in Lindsey Feitz's "Introduction to Gender and Women's Studies" class.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Are You What You Watch? (Unit II)

Heterosexual couples are everywhere. They are in magazines, movies and more importantly children’s TV shows and movies. While scanning through the channels I can’t help but notice all the TV shows that are aimed toward kids. There are the ever popular shows like Hannah Montana, the High School Musical series, Drake and Josh, and the Incredibles. All of these shows have a common recurring theme, they all feature heterosexual couples. In Disney’s Hannah Montana, Miley the main character along with her best friend Lily always seem to have a crush on a boy. All of the characters in the show display heterosexual desires, never homosexual. The same goes for the popular Nickelodeon series Drake and Josh which chronicles the lives of two step brothers. The boys only chase after girls never boys.  The movie the Incredibles features a classic mom and dad family with three kids; nowhere does it feature a homosexual couple. In the popular tween movie High School Musical it only portrays heterosexual relationships. Troy the main character’s love interest in all three movies is a pretty, smart and funny girl Gabriella. Again nowhere in this movie does it even mention the possibility of a same sex couple. This leads elementary aged children to believe that the only sexual orientation is hetero. There is no diversity in children’s programming as far as sexual orientation is concerned.
If and when the possibility of a same sex couple appears in children’s programming it is met with severe backlash. My first point is Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. When the possibility arose that Bert and Ernie were a same sex couple it was met with a huge controversy. Recently a petition has been started to allow Bert and Ernie to marry on Sesame Street. This video I found does a good job at highlighting the petition as well as expressing some opposing views.
Many feel that children should not be exposed to same sex couple because it would “corrupt” their innocence. 
                Another popular kid’s show has been under attack due to the possibility of it expressing homosexuality. SpongeBob Squarepants has within the last decade been met with controversy. The controversy arose when Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson expressed his belief that SpongeBob could make children gay. The controversy arose when a 2002 video barely featuring SpongeBob was released to schools to promote tolerance of the different scenarios that make up today’s families. When watching the video that Dobson found would make children gay I had a very hard time even finding a homosexual reference, let alone a clip featuring Spongebob for more than five seconds.
I’ll let you watch the video and see if you notice any homosexual references.
                When children see their favorite characters come under attack because there is a possibility they could be gay teaches them that homosexuality is wrong. In the article Sex, Power, and Intamacy it states that human sexuality is “constructed by and through societal sexual scripts”. When children see the backlash of homosexuality they internalize that it is wrong and repress homosexual desires. This is exemplified in the reading Elementary School Girls And Heteronormativity: The Girl Project. When homosexuality was brought up the group of girls who were being studied thought of homosexuality as disgusting. The girls were speculating whether or not Zac Efron was gay. One of the girls said that “Gay people who were kissing were breaking the law” (Myers, Raymond 183). Another girl said that “her brother refused to watch High School Musical III because Zac Efron was gay” (Myers, Raymond 183).  It’s horrifying to think that these girls will grow up thinking that being gay is wrong.  Parents try to teach diversity but only in the means of skin color not sexual orientation. If we want our future generation of leaders to be truly diverse then a lot more has got to be done. Exposing children to same sex couples will not demoralize them or turn them gay. Most children would not think of being gay as “wrong” if their parents and other adults didn’t attach a bad stigma to it.
        Shawna Matthews


"Will Spongebob make you gay? Two conservative Christian groups are attacking the cartoon character for allegedly being part of a "pro-homosexual video" ." Countdown with Keith Olbermann. MSNBC, 25 Jan. 2005. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6852828/ns/msnbc_tv-countdown_with_keith_olbermann/t/will-spongebob-make-you-gay/#.TpsCkXKqHKd>.

SpongeBob Controversy. MSNBC TV. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/6850011#6850011>.
Bert and Ernie gay marriage controversy continues . Dir. Action 4 News Staff. 15 Aug. 2011.  

ValleyCentral.com. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. <http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=651737#.TpsNOnKqHKd>.

Unit II Reading: Sex, Power, Intimacy

Unit II Reading: Elementary School Girls And Heteronormativity: The Girl Project


  1. I actually just laughed at the idea that Spongebob could turn kids gay. Once again like I said before, parents seem to be the biggest issue in situations surrounding sexual orientation. I agree that television for children is just ludicrous when it comes to only portraying hetero couples, especially in the world today where I bet at least one of the kids they are friends with has gay parents. I have an 8 year old cousin who loves all the crap that's now on Nick and Disney. Him and I were talking about if he had any crushes on girls at school. He said no, girls are gross. So I asked him do you have any crushes on boys and to that he jumped on top of me and attacked me for saying that (he does this a lot, he likes to attack me for some reason) He kept saying I am NOT gay. This was shocking because he has very good family friends who are a gay couple that he loves very much and respects. There is such stigma to shelter children from the different. I think a lot of parents don't want to have to explain to their kids what it means to not be like mommy and daddy. I keep seeing this reoccuring theme in all the posts for Unit II that parents seem to be the cause of all the problems in the world. Okay, that may be an exaggeration but seriously, parents seem to be the biggest censors (i.e look at Trans-Sister Radio) Who caused the biggest uproar about Dana and Allison? The parents of the children in her class. A lot of the children she taught stood by Allison's side, especially when they came out at the end of the talent show cross dressed. Parents place such high standards on what their children can watch and I understand the need to censor some things but is a gay couple really the worst a kid could see? When children play video games they revolve around killing people and blowing up crap. That isn't as bad as watching a couple of the same sex hold hands? What are peoples priorities today?

  2. I love this. I wholeheartedly agree that children would not have the ridiculous notion that gay or lesbian people are committing some kind of wrongdoing if there weren't outcries like this. Just as children witness heterosexual couplings in the home, the media, and in other institutions, they hear ideas such as these and subconsciously absorb them. If the idea of Bert and Ernie marrying wasn't viewed and interpreted by adults as this big, hairy situation, it is extremely doubtful that the children would view it as such. Imagine if they were actually to marry in an episode of Sesame Street, and children were watching it, completely free of any preconceived notions that a man marrying another man is "bad:" they would probably be laughing and clapping! Also, your post reminded me of another event like this:
    Basically, Reverend Jerry Falwell said that Teletubbies is a bad children's show because one of the characters was "gay." He based this assumption on the fact that the character carried a handbag and was purple (the gay pride color). Would children be noticing these aspects? I don't think so.

  3. I completely agree with you Molly. Parents need to realize that exposing their children to homosexual couples will NOT harm their children. I think that most of the time children wouldn't even notice nor care if they saw a same sex couple, but because their parents place a bad stigma on it suddenly they care. Parents need to wake up and start teaching their kids that it doesn't matter who you love as long as they treat you with respect and make you happy.
    Amy- After posting my blog I heard about the Telly Tubby controversy and thought it was ridiculous. It shouldn't matter what color the Telly Tubby was or what he was carrying. I completely agree that children wouldn't even notice the Telly Tubby carrying a purse, or Bert and Ernie getting married. They would probably find it humorous and get a good laugh out of it which isn't a bad thing.

  4. Society sends kids mixed messages through characters like Bert and Ernie. The lack of gay characters in children's shows reinforces negative stereotypes and heteronormative ideals. Although Bert and Ernie clearly have a relationship that is very different from the typical hegemonic, heteronormative relationship, PBS has repeatedly released statements that deny that they are a gay couple. (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/bert-ernie-not-gay-sesame-street-says-statement-184052325.html) They claim that muppets do not have sexual orientation. Even if the show's creator's original plan for Bert and Ernie was not to make a point about homosexuality, why wouldn't PBS "out" them as gay or introduce gay characters? Because, of course, the backlash would be too great.

  5. Do kids have the ability to understand homosexuality? I understand that we are constantly presented with heterosexuality as the norm when we grow up, but I'm wondering if kids would be able to understand the fluidity and diversity of sexuality? Thinking back to when I was a child watching my favorite shows, I obviously noticed the prevalence of male-female relationships, but I don't think this influenced me to judge homosexuals negatively. Mainly I was watching because the shows appealed to my sense of humor at a young age. My knowledge and ability to analyze did not go much further than simply appreciating a show that made me laugh.

    I do think there should be a better representation of homosexuals in popular media. But as a child, I don't see the media as being the most influential institution in shaping kids' perspectives/beliefs. Personally, I learned the most from my parents and from school. I guess my main thought is that we should consider refining the media presented to adults so that they are better equipped to raise more open-minded children.

  6. Great examples of heterosexuality in the media for kids and the controversies of just a hint of homosexuality is some shows. I think media does influence children by not having homosexuality shown in children and pre teen shows, that may tell children that its not the norm, but its when there are uproars from parents about little hints of homosexuality in shows that children are influenced to believe that homosexuality is wrong and immoral.

  7. Why would it be so wrong to introduce children to the idea of same-sex marriages, let alone gay and lesbian relationships? As we talked about in class, some children have a pre-disposition to feel "different", much like the transexual kids we talked about as we were reading "Trans Sister Radio". People become gay even if they were born into a typical, heterosexual-centered nuclear family. Granted there are children raised by gay or lesbian parents who become gay as well, but there is no exception to those born to straight parents. Wouldn't outrage concerning the allowance of same-sex marriage in children's shows mostly ensue from people who are straight and were raised with the notion that the only option for them in life is to participate in a heterosexual relationship? If children's shows began to incorporate the concepts of both same-sex and heterosexual relationships then the new generation would be more open to the idea of gay marriage and homosexuality being a common thing that is nothing to be shunned upon.

  8. I totally agree that children need to be brought up realizing that tolerance for different sexualities is extremely important. However, is school the right setting for videos introducing homosexuality? i think it is more of a topic that should be discussed and learned in the privacy of one's home. but then there is also the problem that children's parents do not have tolerance for same sex relationships making the lesson to be learned impossible. another comment... i believe that those who are depicting children t.v. show characters, like Ernie and Bert, are looking too far into their relationship. Like the video said, they are JUST muppet characters. Instead of analyzing shows that have long been on the air, why don't supporters create a new show with a homosexual couple. Because of how successful sesame street has been in the past I view the petition to marry ernie and bert as a lost cause (but still a strong statement). Why would sesame street want to risk losing millions of fans and popularity it has achieved over the years?

  9. Your blog brings up a lot of good points. I never thought of how diversity was taught to kids but it's true. When people teach their kids about diversity they are talking about race and not sexuality. Kids are not able to see or even hear about different sexualities. They only see the heterosexual/normative couples on the television and with their parents. I do agree with Lea that homosexuality probably should not be taught in schools to young kids but in private. This can be good or bad depending on the parents views. In the end media and television play a big role in how kids perceive what is right and wrong in relationships and sexuality. Great blog!

  10. I disagree that homosexuality should not be taught in schools or shown in children's media. Whether we like it or not, heterosexuality is already directly and indirectly taught on TV and in the classroom. So why wouldn't we want teachers and children's TV programs to discuss homosexuality or show homosexual characters? Because, of course, the backlash from homophobic individuals would be great. We as a society seem to allow prejudicial individuals to dictate how we approach topics such as this. I'm not saying that we should explicitly explain sex to young children; I'm saying that children should be taught and be shown examples that some families have two moms and some two dads. When we were taught by our teachers as young children that families include a mom, a dad, and maybe a brother or sister, we blindly accepted this as reality. When we were shown heterosexual parents on TV as young children, we didn't automatically wonder about their fictional sex life. My point is that young children are incapable of abstract thought; therefore, the topic of sexuality or sexual fluidity doesn't even cross their minds. They blindly accept what they are directly taught and unconsciously accept what they are indirectly taught. By avoiding the topic of alternative sexualities, we are indirectly sending the message to children that the topic is so shameful that it cannot even be discussed. It's the reason that we live in our heternormative society in the first place.

  11. I agree with you Nathan in that by not teaching alternative sexualities we are sending a bad message to children. Honestly I don't why it matters if two men or two women love each other. I can't wait for that one bold show that comes out that features a homosexual couple and is aimed toward children. It is about time that the media, schools, and parents teach acceptance of ALL kinds of families not just heteronormative. However like Lea and Campbell I think parents should take the first step in teaching acceptance, but having the school support every kind of family to further reinforce the idea of acceptance of all people.