Gender Performativity and Postfeminist Parenting in Children’s Television Shows
In North American society, children learn about gender through language acquisition and interaction with their environment. Since most media consumed by children is screen-based, it has become an influential force in contributing to children’s knowledge of gender. Using gender performativity (Butler, 1999) and postfeminist perspectives (Gill, 2017; Riley et al., 2017), this study investigates how gender is presented through on-screen parenting in children’s television shows. We conducted a mixed methods analysis of 16 shows aimed at children 0–5 years on broadcast television and streaming services in Canada. Results showed stereotypical gender roles and relations persist in children’s shows, with mothers carrying out more nurturing and childrearing responsibilities, and fathers having more on-screen and speaking time and performing more teaching and playing with children compared to mothers. Stealth sexism, un/doing gender over time, and postfeminist masculinities emerged as prominent themes across shows, indicating that gender stereotyping endures but in subtle, postfeminist ways that assume gender equality while presenting gendered conventions in mothering and fathering as natural and desirable. This study provides an important contribution to existing literature on learning gender as it demonstrates how subtle portrayals of sexism in media persist amid assumptions of gender equality within white, middle-class families in North America.