Gender, talking trains and slowly losing your mind….

Having two small children I have watched my fair share of children’s TV. In a B movie twist on things, the early morning Thomas the Tank Engine phase sticks out… Toddler, the thing that never sleeps past 5am.

So there we were, casually chilling, waiting for the sun to rise, a most unexpected time for a feminist outburst, but that’s what the complete lack of female characters in a TV programme that is the centre of my sons world will do to you. Maybe it’s a once off I said. Yes, said. That’s it. That explains it.

But it wasn’t. It was becoming a large glaring wart on the face of bright shiny colours and cloaked moral lessons. Communist? We’ll put you out with the hens. Poor RED bus. Not conforming? We’ll shame you into it. Stay pink James, never be ashamed of your true self!

Until we got to the Octonaughts. Out of eight main characters, there is a total of TWO (yes, you read that right) female characters. Following themes of friendship, determination and hard work these plucky little guys work hard. And they pass the Bechdel* Test. Success I thought. Maybe we are getting somewhere. Gender balance could be better at only 20%, but heading in the right direction.

We then hit Paw Patrol. Cute, contagious but a missed opportunity in breaking gender stereotypes. There is one (out of a total of seven) female character, Skye. Pink naturally, dedicated to her job, but always finds time to put her eyelashes on before work. She’s two steps ahead of me on being female already. Ok I thought, let give this a go. In season two a half hearted stab at evening things out raises its head with new character Everest, but she’s not really in it that much. These are completely undermined by the idiot mayor with her pet chicken who can’t seem to function as a human, let alone hold a position of office. She must have gotten in on a quota.

Onto movies – I was excited that Frozen had two female leads, but so bitterly disappointed that they were undermined by a narrative that revolved around their conflict over a romantic interest, with the male character driving the narrative. Perhaps passing the Bechdel test in some peoples opinion. But it’s not enough to have female characters, they deserve their own storylines. I was more heartened by Brave and Tangled who provided more in the way of grit for their female leads, but they are way behind in the merchandising and viewing numbers.

Inside out was another movie that showed thought and engagement with what audiences are demanding, but looking around it’s generally one, or none for main female characters. Up, Monsters Inc, Minions, Angry Birds, the Good Dinosaur, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs all missing opportunities to even things up.

I don’t worry about the impact of this on my son and daughter the television isn’t their only point of contact with the world – but I am disappointed that since I was watching children’s TV myself, things haven’t moved on. In fact, potentially regressed. To be honest it makes for boring watching, and the narrative needs to be updated.

Can someone please tell me that gender balance didn’t peak in mainstream media with The Power Puff Girls???



*Bechdel test – The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added – Wikipedia



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