- 人文・社会科学論集 (ISSN:09157794)
- vol.21, pp.127-153, 2004-03
The establishment of a society based on gender equality requires that from the time of birth children be brought up and educated in such a way that they are not bound by traditional attitudes based on gender. This realization was at the basis of the call on the part of the Japanese Ministry of Education in 2001 to promote gender-sensitive education from age zero. Televised animation programs ("anime") constitute a major source of daily entertainment for young children, and indeed, programs such as "Pokemon" have gained a worldwide audience. It is important to understand what, if any, influence such popular programs might have on the formation of attitudes regarding gender on the part of children from a very young age. The next step is to make children as well parents and other caregivers sensitive to gender-based biases and stereotypes contained in these programs and encourage them to view the programs in a critical way, so that their impact can be mitigated. This paper is based on the results of a two-year research study undertaken between 2000 and 2002 by the Education Committee of the Japanese Association of University Women, of which the two authors of this paper are members. The purpose of the study is to shed light on the issue of the influence of mass media, in this case televised animation programs, on the formation of gender attitudes among young children. We initially conducted a survey among 168 first-graders and also 300 parents of pre-school children to find out which anime were most popularly viewed by 2 to 7-year-olds. In the questionnaire directed at parents, we also sought to find out whether they exercised discretion in terms of the content of anime programs and the amount of time spent in viewing such programs and also whether they were alert to the depictions of gender in these programs and their possible influence on their children. Next we undertook a detailed analysis of the content of two episodes from three programs : "Pokemon, " ranked number one in popularity among both girls and boys in our survey, "Ojamajo doremi#, " one of the most popular programs among the girls we surveyed, 152 and "Yugio dueru monsutazu" ("YU-GI-OH! Duel Monsters"), a favorite among young boys. The three programs are in fact aired in numerous countries throughout the world. We looked at gender differences in terms of, e. g., number of lead characters, frequency and order of utterances, occupation of adult characters, physical characteristics and dress of main characters, their personalities and behavior patterns, and the relationships depicted between male and female characters. Among the most striking findings is that while at first glance depictions of the lead female characters contradict some of the stereotypical images of Japanese women (passive, silent, subservient), a more detailed analysis reveals a number of subtle ways in which gender comes into play in the construction of female and male roles and behavior. Thus, in scenes of fighting or combat, female characters are frequently shown either running away or watching in silence and being rescued by male characters. In order to find out how children themselves perceived, interpreted, and responded to images, speech, and actions which we had found to reflect gender stereotyping, in the next phase of our research we had 38 girls and 35 boys between the ages of 5 and 7 view one or more of the three anime in groups of 3 to 5 while we recorded their reactions to various scenes and actions. The interviews that followed revealed distinctive differences between girls and boys in terms of character preferences and criteria applied in evaluating characters. While the interviews were limited in scope, we should emphasize that few studies have actually involved face-to-face interviews of young children to try to understand through their own words, their reactions to gendered images and messages contained in animation programs. Children are not simply passive viewers : they can, to a greater or lesser degree, mediate what they see and hear on television. They can be educated from a very early age to be conscious of and sensitive to images and messages pertaining to gender and to identify instances of stereotyping-or lack of stereotyping-when they view not only anime but other television programs as well. The first step toward enabling children to become critical viewers is to have adults involved in the day-to-day care, upbringing, and education of small children to acquire the skills of media literacy. The final part of the paper describes workshops we have conducted over the past few years in various parts of the country, among parents of young children, child care support groups, caregivers in day care centers, and elementary and junior high school teachers, to try to promote media literacy. The emphasis in these workshop is not to present our findings or conclusions but rather to have the participants themselves undergo the process of uncovering gendered messages that may be embedded in media, and perhaps in their own subconscious, by actually viewing anime, with each group focussing on a specific task, such as counting and writing down the utterances of a particular character, then together analyzing and reflecting on the data.