A few years ago, I pitched an article about how few leading female characters there were in kids’ TV shows. If you think about the most famous preschool shows, so many of them feature a boy’s name + a job. Postman Pat. Bob the Builder. Fireman Sam. Thomas the Tank Engine. Rory the Racing Car. The only possible equivalent with a female lead character is Dora the Explorer (although exploring isn’t actually her job…)
Today’s CBeebies schedule features Mike the Night, Andy’s Wild Adventures, Mr Bloom’s Nursery, Driver Dan’s Story Train and Old Jack’s Boat. (There are female fronted shows, of course, but the characters either don’t have recognisable jobs or their jobs aren’t named in the title.)
In 2004 movie star Geena Davis founded See Jane – the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media – because she noticed a discrepancy in the amount of boys versus the amount of girls in the entertainment for her young children. Research commissioned by See Jane and undertaken by researchers at the University of Southern California found that TV for children under 7 had a male/female ratio of roughly 2:1.
Previous studies of children’s television have indicated that heavy viewing predicts traditional sex-role attitudes, such as girls believing that females are less competent than males, or boys believing that household chores should fall along stereotypical lines. Or, in Harry’s case, simply that boys are better than girls. (It still pains me to write that!)
So what can you do about it? I seek out shows for Harry and Joe that feature positive female characters. Access to Netflix US has actually been brilliant for this – they love Amy Poehler’s The Mighty B! and WordGirl. And I signed up to the Geena Davis newsletter, which highlights women in media – both positives (“Ellen DeGeneres to reprise role in Finding Nemo sequel”) and negatives (“Doctor Who has no women writers”) – and reminds me weekly of both how far we have to go and how many other women care about this stuff.
I also love this See Jane PSA that explains ‘if she can see it, she can be it’