How feminist are your kids’ TV shows?

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[1]. 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.

 

Approved viewing:

Charlie & Lola

Charlie and Lola

Inverts the usual brother/sister tropes (cf Max & Ruby, below)

Masha & the Bear

Masha

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.

Mona the Vampire

Mona

Girl leads the gang, isn’t scared of spooks or monsters, knows about science. Coooool.

Let’s Play

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 15.02.46

Looks at a different job or pastime each episode, often turning gender stereotypes on their head.

Nina and the Neurons

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 15.04.43

Girl does science!!

Doc McStuffins

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 15.06.41

She’s a fuckin’ DOCTOR, yeah? (And so’s her mum.)

 

On the hate list:

Max & Ruby

Max and Ruby

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.

In the Night Garden

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 15.08.23

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.

Horrid Henry

Horrid Henry

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.

Peppa Pig

Peppa pig

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.

 

[1] Common Sense Media has plenty of stats and helpful advice.

 

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6 comments

  1. We love Dora the Explorer! The original ones, not the rubbish new ones where she appears to have hit puberty and decided to conform to the worst gender stereotypes. A brave and independent girl in shorts and trainers goes on adventures with her best friend (male) and a selection of other brave friends (female and male). Also variation in skin colour that’s unusual for children’s animation, and characters who are bilingual or speak only English or only Spanish. Both her parents show up from time to time and are equally likely to be involved in what she’s doing. I am at least grateful to some of the more shockingly stereotyped ones for triggering useful conversations with my children: why do you suppose the female Octonaut isn’t in the credits and why does she always stay behind while the others go on rescues? Why does Wendy wear a miniskirt while building (and have you seen the episode where Bob decides she can come and work with him as a builder because she’s really good at answering the phone and making appointments)? And don’t get me started on Thomas the Tank Engine…

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    • Excellent points, thank you. I must hunt out Dora again – my eldest is more of an age where Teen Dora will appeal, but I find her a bit disturbing too!
      Having 2 girls, we have watched a little Bob and Thomas or Chuggington in the interests of a broad church, but they never got into them. Not sure how I’d have reacted to the episode with Wendy that you mention!
      I fear that programmes for older kids are even worse for poor female role models, but that’s where my children are trying to head…

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      • Depending on your eldest’s age, we’ve had a lot of success with CBBC – Operation Ouch, The Pets Factor, Dengineers. We also watch more films as they get bigger, there are some good lists out there of not-awful films for older children. My oldest is 11 and now watching tolerable adult TV like Strictly, Bake Off, whatever the ice dancing thing is called. She commented on how the women get to wear trousers for ice dancing when that almost never happens on Strictly; but all the skimpy dresses were worth hearing my 8-year-old saying “oh look, it’s Susan’s wife”, and it totally not being a big deal for her.

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      • Yes my 8 yo does like those on CBBC. Also The Kicks on Amazon is ok – a programme about a girls’ football team, although obviously the girls can’t all just get along…
        Thanks for reading and commenting x

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