How Movies Teach Our Kids about Gender

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What are movies teaching our kids about gender, about what it means to be men and women? That’s the question Colin Stokes asks in this recent TED Talks video. Although he raises a number of good points, here are a couple of the more interesting ones.

The Bechdel Test

I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test, but it’s a way of gauging how a movie portrays its female characters. And it’s a pretty simple test.

  1. Are there at least two women who actually have lines?
  2. Do these women talk to each other at any point in the movie?
  3. Is there conversation about something other than the guy that they both like?

So the essence of the test is whether the movie contains “two women who exist and talk to each other about stuff.” That sounds like setting the bar pretty low. But the startling reality is that quite a few movies fail to achieve even this low standard. Either the movie has almost no significant female characters, or it fails to show them interacting with other women on issues unrelated to dating and/or marriage.

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How Imagination Shapes Your Brain

Did you know that you can get better at playing the piano just by thinking about it? That may sound like the beginning to a bad infomercial for a self-help seminar on the power of positive thinking, but according to recent research, it’s true. Thinking about an activity triggers the same part of the brain used when actually performing that activity, thus strengthening the neural structures associated with that activity and actually improving performance when you finally get around to doing more than just thinking about it. And you do have to perform the activity eventually, of course. Just thinking about it will only take you so far. But the fact that just thinking about the activity has any impact on performance is a testimony to how much we can impact our own brains through our thoughts.

I guess it really is the thought that counts.

Check out the video below for a nice introduction to the research. Although the video focuses specifically on using imagination to improve performance of specific tasks, it seems to have pretty obvious implications for how thinking about pretty much anything for extended periods can affect our brains. This could be quite positive (e.g. meditating on scripture), but similar research documents the negative impact that prolonged exposure to pornography can have on the brain. So this is just another reminder that our thoughts matter.

A Snapshot of American Perspectives: Compelling Survey Results from 2012

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survey, questionnaire, clipboard, checklist, feedbackThe Week has produced a helpful compilation of survey results from 2012, providing a rather interesting snapshot of American perspectives on “key” issues.

Among the more interesting results:

  • “Given the choice, 21% would rather give up sex than their cellphones.”
  • 42% of Americans said the country was heading in the “right direction,” the highest number in almost three years” but “57% think America is on the decline as a civilization” and “31% say the challenges facing the country are so serious that America might not be able to overcome them.
  • “We’re increasingly gay-friendly. 53% approve of same-sex marriage, an all-time high; 61% say gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to adopt children, and 91% of gays and lesbians report that their communities have become more accepting of their sexuality in recent years.”
  • 58% support the legalization of marijuana”
  • 12% of Americans also believed the Mayan apocalypse would end the world on Dec. 21 (Ipsos/Reuters). If the apocalypse did occur, 17% of men said they’d like to spend their final moments with Jennifer Aniston, while 23% of women would take comfort in the arms of George Clooney.”

Read the rest of the article for more interesting, and often worrisome, stats about American life.