Note: I was invited to be part of a panel at the White House for a day-long conference on April 6th, 2016 entitled “Helping our Children Explore, Learn, and Dream without Limits: Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes in Media and Toys.”
I’m sharing the message I conveyed during our session when asked: How are you using your particular platform and perspective to address gender stereotypes in children’s media and toys?
Diversity in the Hispanic community
It’s difficult to talk about the Latino community as an entity since we’re a cultural group that’s multiethnic and multicultural with many diverse backgrounds, countries of origin and levels of acculturation and assimilation to the U.S. One of the key problems in targeting the community has been in trying to lump us all into a homogeneous group and the stereotypes that inevitably fuel those generalizations.
However, there are key things that do define us as a group — things like the Spanish language (but even then there is diversity on whether you speak it or not) and love and pride in our cultures of origin. Unfortunately, it is our strong ties to those cultures that sometimes make it tougher for U.S. Latinos to challenge the strictly traditional gender roles that still exist in many Latin cultures.
Most of the gender stereotypes that limit Latino children stem from the acceptance of a machista culture, where men are expected to be the providers. The role of women is referred to as “marianismo” (derived from the Virgin Mary) and we are expected to focus on our primary role of loving and caring mothers. It’s important to note here that while these stereotypes are deeply entrenched, they manifest in various degrees and certainly not an absolute.
What are some of those gender stereotypes that still affect Latino children?
- Boys are taught early on to assume the dominant and authoritative role in the family.
- There many unfair disparities with the privileges allowed between a girl and a boy. For example, boys usually have more and earlier independence than girls do.
- Boys can be rough.
- Girls are expected to be passive.
- Boys are expected to speak up and defend themselves.
- Girls should always be respectful and not stir the pot.
- Boys don’t need to perform household chores, but should help dad with the role of protecting the family.
- Girls are expected to help their mom and elders with cleaning and cooking and even taking care of her brothers.
- Boys are often called: “Mi hombrecito” (My little man)
- Girls are called: “Mi princesita” (My Princess)
As I mentioned, these gender roles are still so entrenched in the Hispanic community to varying degrees of manifestation, especially within the less-acculturated and of lower socio-economic and educational levels, that the issue of gender stereotypes doesn’t ignite as much passion within the community as does the fact that we’re still underrepresented in the media and it’s truly difficult to find culturally-relevant books, toys, apps, movies and shows for our kids.
This especially hit home when I became a mom myself — that’s why I created SpanglishBaby
This especially hit home when I had my daughter in 2007 and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. During that time, I discovered the world of mom blogs and was fascinated by the information these women offered and the supportive communities they created. But no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find blogs written by women like me, Latina moms. I was desperate to find books in Spanish to read to my baby.
The Latino Media Gap: A Report of the State of Latinos in US Media, found that “…whereas the Latino population grew more than 43% from 2000 to 2010, the rate of media participation — behind and in front of the camera, and across all genres and formats — stayed stagnant or grew only slightly, at times proportionally declining. Even further, when Latinos are visible, they tend to be portrayed through decades-old stereotypes as criminals, law enforcers, cheap labor, and hyper-sexualized beings.”
Since the stats were and aren’t on our side, I realized I had to create my own content and community if I wanted to find other women like me. SpanglishBaby.com became the platform where Latino parents of diverse races and cultural backgrounds could come together and see themselves and their bicultural families represented.
One of our key features was “SpanglishBaby Finds” where we would simply highlight and celebrate books, apps, movies, shows, toys, and music that were either in Spanish, bilingual and/or culturally relevant. But these offerings were rarely from large media or toy manufacturers, even though our audience was looking for these products.
Creating Latina Bloggers Connect
Almost two years after I founded SpanglishBaby, I finally felt I had found an online community that was truly representing our stories and creating a legacy for our children. To honor and give representation to that community of storytellers, in 2010 I founded Latina Bloggers Connect — the first Latina influencer marketing agency, which continues to be the largest network of influential Latina creators and writers online. These creators and bloggers partner with brands that want to reach Hispanics — moms and dads — in ways that are authentic and celebrate their cultures. In six years, we have grown to over 2100 Latina storytellers reaching over 20 million people online and shaping the perspective of Latinos for the present and future generations.
What we do through Latina Bloggers Connect to break down gender stereotypes for Hispanic children
The way we are helping break down gender stereotypes for Hispanic children through Latina Bloggers Connect specifically is by providing an outlet to media and brands that want to partner with Latino families to successfully reach authentic voices that are creating and sharing the stories of girls and boys that are multiracial, multicultural, bi or multilingual and unique in their own ways. Through the opportunities we provide, the bloggers and creators in our network have empowered themselves to break their own family’s gender stereotype of “la mujer en la casa” (a woman’s place is at home) and “calladita te ves más bonita” (you look prettier with your mouth shut) by creating their own online space and community where their voice has a purpose and they can be economically empowered. They, just like me, are providing an example of leadership within their own family and, with that, breaking down stereotypes that would otherwise be passed down to their children.
One of my most rewarding moments as a self-made entrepreneur was when my daughter, 6 years old at the time, looked at me and asked: “Mami, you’re the boss of SpanglishBaby, right?” I told her she was right, to what she replied, “I want to be the boss when I grow up, too.” And I know she will.