On November 5, 2009, MNet Media Education Specialist Matthew Johnson participated in the Association of Canadian Studies’ conference Knowing Ourselves: The Challenge of Teaching History of Canadian Official Minority Language Communities, speaking on the topic Media, Diversity and Our History. What follows is an expanded version of his remarks.
From the tablet to the TV screen, media are a huge influence on how we see ourselves and our world. Nowhere, perhaps, is that more true than when it comes to gender: media provide many of our ideas of what “male” and “female” are, and many of our models of how to behave, what to avoid doing, and whom to emulate in order to play the role we’ve been assigned.
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It’s hard to think of a recent digital technology issue that’s captured the public imagination more than sexting. This may be because it combines elements of the classic moral panic with more modern “technopanic,” provoking worries not just about the morality of our children – and, in particular, young girls – but also about the possible effects of technology on how we grow, think and behave. As with most panics, of course, the issue is substantially more complicated and less sensational than we perceive it to be, and while it’s unlikely that our worries about sexting will ever seem in retrospect to be as absurd as our grandparents’ fears about crime comics, MediaSmarts’ new data shows that many of our beliefs and assumptions on the subject need closer examination.
Images of men and women in the media are often based on stereotypical roles of males and females in our society. Because stereotyping can affect how children feel about themselves and how they relate to others, it’s important that they learn to recognize and understand gender stereotypes in different media.
In this lesson, students use mind maps to explore concepts of “respect” and “consent” in an online context. They consider a wide range of scenarios that shed light on different aspects of consent relating to digital media and draw on those to create a detailed definition. Finally, students create an “explainer” video in which they illustrate one of the aspects of consent.
Typically, youth sexting occurs in three contexts: in lieu of sexual activity for younger adolescents who are not yet physically sexually active; to show interest in someone a teen would like to date; and, for sexually active youth, as proof of trust and intimacy.
Studies about the gendered aspects of sexting consistently show that while little criticism is attached to boys who send sexts, girls who do so are perceived as being sexually immoral: girls who sext are seen as using their sexuality to get public attention, while boys – even if their sexts become public – are assumed to be doing it only to get the attention of one prospective partner. 
Parents, schools and law enforcement agencies are grappling with how best to respond to this issue. In the United States, sexting amongst youth has resulted in teens facing child pornography charges.