(Released on December 31, 2007)
What do Lastikman, Pedro Penduko, Kamandag, Sugo, Mulawin, Captain Barbell, Super Inggo, Kokey and Zaido have in common?
These TV programs, commonly billed by their home networks as telefantasyas, feature men in the lead. They follow the mold of Marvel’s Superheroes and the success of Superman, Batman, Spiderman and a lot more, each one bandying a male lead. If women are ever used in these hits, they are either love interests or damsels in distress that need to be rescued.
Strangely, local content creators are following the lead of Hollywood in producing materials aimed at young audiences. Besides perhaps Super Twins, most of the serials fit for or geared towards kids are topbilled by men.
On the other hand, the telenovelas, those mawkish creations that hit primetime, are often for and about women embroiled in the most sensitive situations ruled by fate or crafted by accident: Marimar, Mga Mata ni Anghelita, Ysabella, Pangarap na Bituin and Bakekang. The only telefantasyas for and about girls are Princess Sara (which is typically a telenovela) and Time for Miya (but then it’s the cat that is the female lead).
Imagine Pinoy kids hooked on TV and shaping their perception of roles on the basis of what they see on television!? Little girls may grow up thinking that only the boys will dominate because only they have the power to combat evil. Maybe the congresswomen and lady senators with a moist eye on the presidency should put their pedicured feet down on this trend.
We doff our hats to the producers of Anak TV winners Sirit, Art Angel, Sineskwela, Hirayamanawari and non-winners Kids on Q and Goin’ Bulilit for at least ensuring that there is equal representation of male and female characters.
In 2004, when Academy Award actress Geena Davis was watching TV with her small daughter, she noted an unusual imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters. That triggered her to finance research on gender in children's entertainment. The yield thus far has been four discreet studies, including one on children's television.
Davis ’ research showed that among the top-grossing G-rated films in the fifteen years from 1990-2005, there were three male characters for every one female. It was a lopsided statistic that did not improve over time. The concern is shared by child development experts: what message does this send to young children?
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media was established after the landmark research. The Institute's first focus is a program that works collaboratively with the entertainment industry to dramatically increase the presence of female characters in media aimed at children and to reduce gender stereotyping. Many media products peddle the idea that men are strong and dynamic; girls are soft and often a victim.
Davis says, "Girls need to see – from the beginning -- that our culture values them as much as boys. The absence of girls in kids' entertainment affects kids."
At the end of January 2008, Davis will convene what she envisions as annual event, the Gender in Media Conference. There will be forums on media, children and gender. Many sessions are open to the public but the focused invitees include content-creators, film schools, critics, communications professionals, guilds, film and TV societies, nonprofit groups and students of media.
Our fervent wish for the coming year is that there will be more responsibly crafted TV programs for kids, more funding for child-safe TV and a better representation of either gender on television.