Despite your best intentions at home, if your kids watch TV (ha!) they’ll be picking up a lot of social cues and assumptions you might be trying to avoid. Children’s TV is still packed with stereotypes – nuclear families with traditional gender roles, masculine superheroes, passive princesses etc etc.
Much of it is obvious, but it can be insidious too. How often is the voice of authority (narrator) male, and the nurturing presence female? If there’s a mixed group of main characters, are they predominately boys? And if there’s a group of girls, what’s the betting one of them is a bitch or a slut?
The Bechdel Test was developed in an effort to analyse the value of women in a film. To pass the test, the programme needs at least two women in it. They must talk to each other, and their conversation can’t be about a man. This is an effort to establish the importance of the female characters in their own right. It’s not a catch-all, but it’s a start in judging how feminist your kids viewing habits might be.
But you still need to consider the rest of the programme’s messages, too. For instance, Barbie might pass Bechdel, but that doesn’t mean I want my kids to learn her values. EVER. I’ve explained to them that I think Barbie is boring because all she cares about is what she or her house looks like. God forbid my children should grow up so appearance-driven. I’m trying to encourage TV viewing that promotes messages of individuality, strength, independence and intelligence instead.
Inverts the usual brother/sister tropes (cf Max & Ruby, below)
I always appreciate a show or film when there’s absolutely no reason why the protagonist should be a girl, but she JUST IS. Independent, mischievous and determined, any daughter with an ounce of personality will enjoy Masha.
Girl leads the gang, isn’t scared of spooks or monsters, knows about science. Coooool.
Looks at a different job or pastime each episode, often turning gender stereotypes on their head.
Girl does science!!
She’s a fuckin’ DOCTOR, yeah? (And so’s her mum.)
On the hate list:
Surely one of THE most disgusting examples of a stereotyped shitty little brother and condescending perfectionist big sister I can think of. If these were my children I couldn’t cook up rabbit stew soon enough.
It’s not ALL ABOUT YOU, Upsy Daisy… The only individual female character is the most self-involved drama queen ever to repeatedly flash her pants for attention.
Every single character in this is wholly dislikeable. I’ve lost count of the number of parents who’ve banned it as their kids turn into little shits after viewing.
I don’t hate it. In fact, I quite enjoy the humour. But there are a lot of archetypes in here that we really should be moving past: all the stay-at-home mums, girls only wearing dresses, gendered jobs. And Daddy Pig’s uselessness, while a sly nod to all the stay-at-home mums watching it with their toddlers, really isn’t helpful. Equal parenting is what’s going to progress things.
Further reading / credits
I love Sacraparental’s adaptation of the Bechdel test for kids’ TV: the Maisy test
Almighty Girl: Great resource for finding films, books and much more for ‘smart, confident, and courageous girls’.
Telefeminism Blog: Analyses popular TV shows to see how well women are represented.