Male heroes in media aren’t necessarily a dime a dozen, but traditional conventions for the male action hero extend back to at least the 1930s (Superman is now 75), and those conventions can be hard to bend. Heroines may be few, and often sexualized, but they’re not expected to fulfill male conventions, and they clearly come in different varieties. For example, Wonder Woman stands for truth and tolerance, while Ripley from the “Alien” series is a hard-nosed survivalist. In this MediaLit Moment, your students will learn how to articulate the moral and ethical codes of media heroines. In the process, they’ll gain new perspectives on familiar characters, as well as new perspectives on themselves.
Have students compare their code of ethics with those of various media heroines
AHA!: I like these characters, but I might not want to be just like them!
Key Question #4: What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
Core Concept #4: Media have embedded values and points of view.
Grade Level: 7-9
Materials: pencil, paper, imagination
Activity: Ask students to name some different media heroines. Here’s a sampling: Katniss Aberdeen from “The Hunger Games,” Captain Janeway from the “Star Trek Voyager” series; Xena, Warrior Princess; Sarah Connor from the “Terminator” series, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series; Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, of course, Wonder Woman. Do they have any favorites? Do any of these characters seem to fall into particular types? What might those types be? Play clips from selected films/shows if you wish. You may find useful background material in a PBS documentary released this month titled “Wonder Women!: The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”
Next, ask students to work in pairs or groups. Ask them to select two heroines, preferably of different types, and ask them to write down the goals of these characters in the stories in which they appear. Next, explain the meaning of the term “code of ethics.” Everyone has an underlying philosophy of life, and some people are more “up front” about their philosophy—they “stand” for something. It might help to give them a model like the Golden Rule. Next, ask what is the ethical code that these characters live by? Students should be able to say what those codes are, but allow them to use different modes of expression if they feel like doing so (comics, song, role-play, etc.).
Next, ask, what’s their philosophy of life? As students answer, lead a whole class discussion in which students compare their philosophy with those of other characters. Do they like characters more or less after writing out a code of ethics for them? Do any of them identify with characters based on that code? (Boys don’t have to closely identify with a female character in order to appreciate their philosophy of life). Do they like a character, but would like to “tweak” their code so it’s a bit more in line with their own?
The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework. Used with permission, © 2002-2013, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com