CoverMedia Literacy Activities for Key Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media Literacy1. Foundations of the United States Political SystemDemocracy in Social Media Policies and Community StandardsThe Internet as a Public Utility21st Century Women STEM InnovatorsMedia Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal FamiliesRepresentations of Native Americans in Film, Local History Publications, and School Mascots2. The Development of United States GovernmentDeclarations of Independence on Social MediaMedia Marketing and Government Regulating of Self-Driving Cars and Electric VehiclesRepresentations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the MediaPolitical Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American MusicalBill of Rights on Twitter3. Institutions of United States GovernmentHollywood Movies About the Branches of GovernmentWriting an Impeachment Press ReleaseMembers of Congress' Use of Social MediaPolitical Impacts of Public Opinion PollsWebsite Design for New Political Parties4. The Rights and Responsibilities of CitizensImmigration in the NewsPortrayals of Immigrants in Television and FilmCOVID-19 Information EvaluationWomen Political Leaders in the MediaOnline Messaging by Special Interest GroupsDigital Games for Civic EngagementSocial Media and the ElectionsMedia Spin in the Coverage of Political DebatesCelebrities' Influence on PoliticsPolitical Activism Through Social MediaMedia Recruitment of Public Sector WorkersImages of Teachers and TeachingRepresenting Trans IdentitiesMedia Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021Music as Protest ArtPACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media5. The Constitution, Amendments and Supreme Court DecisionsProhibition in the MediaThe Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social MediaCivil War News Stories and Recruitment AdvertisementsRepresentations of Gender and Race on CurrencyThe Equality Act on TwitterReading Supreme Court Dissents AloudTelevision Cameras in Courtrooms6. The Structure of State and Local GovernmentNative American Mascots and LogosA Constitution for the InternetMilitary Recruitment and the MediaYour Privacy on Social MediaPandemic Policy Information in the MediaGendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in PoliticsEnvironmental Campaigns Using Social MediaTrusted Messengers, the Media, and the PandemicOnline Campaigning for Political OfficeAdvertising the Lottery Online and In PrintLocal Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media LiteracyPress Freedom in the United States and the WorldObjectivity and the News from All SidesInvestigative Journalism and Social ChangeNews Photographs & Newspaper DesignHow Reporters Report EventsRecommendation Algorithms on Social Media PlatformsFake News Investigation and EvaluationCritical Visual Analysis of Online and Print MediaMemes and TikToks as Political Cartoons

Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics

How many times have you heard the statement “You Guys” spoken almost automatically as part of everyday conversation, as though everyone present is a member of one gender? To object or try to correct the statement seems hopeless. Few speakers take the time to use gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terms such as “folks,” “everybody,” “friends,” “ya’ll,” or “team.”

Words, and the meanings we assign to them, matter hugely in how people think and act not only in everyday conversations, but in how the media covers women and men in politics. Consider how the media writes and talks differently about political campaigns and job performances of women and men in government positions such as mayor, representative, senator, or judge. A commitment to equality under the law and justice for all is harder to sustain when the words used are specific to a male gender.

Women of the 116th Congress
Women of the 116th Congress | Public Domain

Does language use by the media impact people's attitudes and behaviors? Does it matter if news reports or reporters say "policemen" or "law enforcement officers" or "firemen" or firefighters" or if they describe women and men in politics differently?

A recent cross-national study established that genderless language or gender-inclusive langauge combats negative stereotypes toward women while promoting broader career opportunities for females in traditionally male-dominated fields, including politics (Perez & Tavits, 2019).

You can explore more about gender-inclusive, non-binary, and anti-racist language in state constitutions, laws and materials in Topic 6.6 of our Building Democracy for All eBook.

In the following activities, you will examine the use of gendered language in media coverage of women in politics while envisioning how people's views might develop if more genderless language were used instead in politics and in everyday interactions in schools and society.

Activity 1: Examine the use of Gendered Language in the Media 

Choose a particular woman in politics, a specific election, or a specific political job where women’s presence is still minimal/rare (e.g., Hillary Clinton and the 2008 or 2016 election; Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Amy Klobuchar and the 2020 election; or the women justices on the Supreme Court, past and present - Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney-Barrett).

Bonus Media Literacy Activity 1: Examine the use of Gendered Language on Television Shows and YouTube Channel Streams

Gendered Language and Gender-Based Toy Marketing

In October, 2021, California passed a Gender Neutral Retail Departments law requiring all large scale department stores (500 or more employees) to maintain a "reasonable" number of toys and other items for children in a gender-neutral area of the store. The law does not ban traditional boys and girls sections, but does force changes in how and where items are marketed in stores.

Consumer advocates supported this first-in-the-nation law as a response to how traditional marketing to children has reinforced gender-stereotypes and reinforced some skill and mindset over others (boys' toys for example emphasize construction, movement, and building). Critics claim this law is a form of government interference on the rights of parents to raise children as they see fit.

Also in 2021, the toymaker LEGO announced it would no longer label its products by gender (LEGO to Remove Gender Bias from its Toys after Findings of Child Survey, October 10, 2021). LEGO took action following a study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media that found 71% of boys feared they would be made fun of if they played with what are considered to be "girls" toys.

Gendered language in marketing has a huge impact on how items are perceived by both children and adults. To see this dynamic in action try the Gendered Advertising Remixer at https://genderremixer.com/ Put an ad targeting boys in box 1 and an ad targeting girls in box two and press mashup and watch what happens. 

Suggested Learning Activities

1) Begin this activity by visiting one or more of the large department stores in your community (like Target or Walmart) and record where toys and related children's items (e.g., clothing to toothbrushes) are displayed.

    • What marketing patterns do you notice?
    • Are toys and other items divided by gender?
    • Is there a gender-neutral section for children's items?

2) Look at the packaging and advertising of the items you find in the children's section(s) of the store.

    • What type of gendered language is used on the packaging of the items and store displays? 
    • How is art and design used to suggest that certain items are directed to boys or to girls?

3) Next consider the gendered messages and meanings that children are receiving from the media they encounter in the children's section(s) of the store.

    • How might gendered toys and gendered sections influence girls' future careers in politics or government?
    • Are there any toys or other items that might be considered "presidential" or "CEO-related," or reflect women as leaders and change-makers

4) Write a response to your experience.

  • Write a PRAISE or PROTEST letter to the store about its gender-based marketing of items for children.
  • Write a persuasive letter or design a social media campaign to urge other states to adopt legislation similar to the law in California for gender-neutral retail departments.

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Identify additional protections provided by the Massachusetts Constitution that are not provided by the U.S. Constitution. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.6]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7