The words we choose and the messages we send are not always as clear or as innocuous as we think they are. From messages on the Internet to marketing of toys, everything has a potential impact. The following is adapted from a paper I wrote for a class, but I wanted to share my thoughts with the broader world as well.
Issue #1: Welfare Fraud “memes.” (See example to the left.)
Obviously those most directly affected by this type of discriminatory statement are those who are actually receiving food stamps or other types of public assistance. However, I think there is an indirect effect on anyone who sees the meme. Certainly some of us will look at this with a critical eye and think, “There is more to this story,” but some people will view it at face value only. The latter may begin to form their own negative opinions, probably unconsciously. Judgments of this type cannot benefit anyone. At best, they can be ignored, but at worst they can lead to discrimination, negativity, misanthropy, and hatred.
Misunderstandings about the welfare system are ever-present in our society. The one thing we can all agree on is that it is not an ideal system, but some people believe it is too easy to get help and some believe it is too difficult. Some people believe there is far more abuse of the system (and yes, abuses certainly do exist) than is actually present. However, the perpetuators of these memes can not possibly understand the whole story of the person about whom they are making these derogatory statements. They do not know where the alleged iPhone came from, or if it even belongs to them. The myth they are spreading is borne of ignorance.
Issue #2: Gender Segregation in the Toy Industry
Most major retail chains have their toy departments arranged according to gender. Dolls and dress up clothes are in one aisle, superheros, weapons, and vehicles are in another. In many cases, they are even labeled as “Girl Toys” and “Boy Toys.” This type of gender segregation leads to false ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl – leaving aside the entire issue of transgender, which would be a long discussion in itself. My own child went through a period of calling himself a girl, and I believe it was his way of reconciling the fact that he liked toys and TV shows that are typically marketed towards girls.
This issue of gender-based toys was taken to a new level when Lego announced its new line, Lego Friends, in 2012. These pink and purple toys with entirely female mini-figures were marketed as Legos for girls, as if girls were somehow unable to play with Legos before this fabulous new invention.
Why do we need different toys for boys than for girls in general? In my opinion, this is damaging not just to children, who are still figuring out who they are and do not need society to tell them it is or is not acceptable to play with certain toys, but also to adults. As adults, we are responsible for social change. If we are allowing our children to grow up with the belief that playing with certain toys is “wrong,” then we are furthering society’s imbalances and the gender roles and limitations which we outgrew a generation or two ago.
As both a parent and a social worker, I see it as my responsibility to show my child, his friends, and any children with whom I work that gender is not a black and white (or pink and blue) issue. Boys need not stick to superheroes and violence; girls need not play only with dolls and kitchen sets. A child’s favorite color is only indicative of his or her aesthetic preference, not gender or sexuality.