Kill your television

I don’t like media aimed at children. I don’t like the absence of women, and people of color in most movies. I don’t like the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. I don’t like the emphasis placed on heteronormative relationships. I don’t like that girl characters, or POC characters, or disabled characters are often relegated to supporting roles. And I don’t like that movies that are considered to have broad appeal are really movies that are aimed at boys (through a gender stereotyped construct).

Kidlet watches a few tv shows on Netflix. Thomas, and Kipper notably. He asks to watch the movie Cars, and Nemo, and sometimes Toy Story. We’re not a TV free house, but I wouldn’t be upset if we were. Instead I just get anxious, and hate it.  I hate it because these shows and movies remind me how marginalized women are in the world. And my kid will be influenced by this.

From Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in the Media

…in family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. The repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that these negative stereotypes are ingrained and imprinted over and over.

It’s not just about negative portrayal, it’s the influence of women and girls being almost entirely absent.

The vocabulary that we use to communicate with children (really, with all people) will say a great deal about the things we feel are important. And if we absence women from movies, we affirm the idea that the contributions of women aren’t important.

I have the same feelings about major league sports. Turn on your TV on the weekend and try to find a sports event showcasing women. You might get lucky and find a televised gymnastics, or maybe an ice skating competition, or beach volleyball, but more likely you’ll find golf, football, basketball, hockey, or baseball, all being played by men. (If you’re on the West Coast, you might be able to watch some Pac-12 women’s volleyball.) You’re not likely to find a WNBA game, or a WPS  game. Based on a sampling of televised sports, you certainly would think that women don’t actually play them.

I even got pissed at a PBS show the other day. Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe follows a nature photographer wherever he goes to take pictures. Last week he travelled to New Zealand and in the 30 minute show he talked with half a dozen people, and photographed a few more, and in the entire show – only one photograph, composed of 5 Maori faces, included a woman. Lesson? There are no women in New Zealand.

Bluemilk linked to this post from Reel Girl the other day; “Questions to ask when considering a movie for your kids.” I think the questions are great because they challenge us to think critically about what our children are seeing.

Is the movie titled for a male star?

Is the movie centered around the quest of a male?

How many lines do the female characters have?

How many of the females’ lines have to do with what they’re wearing, what they look like, romantic relationships, or shopping?

How many of the males refer to the females only in reference to romance and how they look?

The questions also provide a great place to start for conversations with your kids about what they see in movies. (Or, I imagine they would be good questions for a kid who could answer them instead of running around shrieking, “Race cars go fast! Race cars go fast!” (Though that does illustrate what he takes away from the movie at this point in his life.))

I can’t opt out entirely, kidlet’s dad enjoys professional sports a great deal, and there are times when we put him in front of a movie, or the tv so we can have 30 minutes (or 6 hours – hello road trips and cross country plane rides!) of time to eat, or cry from exhaustion. (It’s hypocritical I guess, though I have little patience for calling out hypocrisy, we’re all guilty of it.) But I want things to be different. I want him to see that women and people with disabilities, and people of color ARE important, and influential. So I have to work harder to find those representations. And if I can’t find those representations, I’ll have to work to create a critical dialogue about what he does see.

Do you have any favorite kids shows that you think do a good job of illustrating positive female, or disabled, or POC role models?


Filed under feminism, parenting

15 responses to “Kill your television

  1. I used to think that Dora the Explorer was a great show. It showed a girl who is a person of color being active, going on adventures, and using her mind. What could be better? And while I still think that Dora is a great show, I think that “Go,Diego,Go” as the “boy equivalent” negates that slightly.

    • I liked Dora when it first came out, but to be honest, haven’t watched it since then. I agree that it’s annoying that Diego got his own show.

  2. A great and totally underrated show is the Disney cartoon Kim Possible. Kim is a high school cheerleader, yes, but she uses that athleticism to power her kick-ass crime-fighting career. Her best friend, Ron Stoppable, is unabashedly geeky, and their loyalty to one another is a great talking point with our middle schooler. Kim’s best gal pal, Monique, and her technology wizard, Wade, are both African-American. In the later seasons, a character in a wheelchair is introduced, and Kim struggles with her totally irrational need to treat him like he’s helpless. Check it out!

  3. J9

    my brain hurts. 😉

  4. Have you seen the preview for Brave?

    Female main character who is a hero in the sense that she shoots arrows and rides horses, not in that she saves the Prince from marrying the Sea Witch by accident.
    I’m really excited that when it comes out of DVD in a few years Caroline will be exactly the right age to make it her favorite movie.

    • I haven’t seen seen the preview, but I’ve been hearing great things about it. I like to hear great things about movies I would otherwise be annoyed about. 🙂

  5. Ashley

    This is very difficult. I have a hard time thinking about all the things i do/don’t want Oz to watch because I love film so much (tv not so much. I love my shows but I don’t have to *WATCH* tv like some people do). As much as I love Yo Gabba, I have a real problem with Foofa and how she represents a certain kind of femininity and is plastered all over merchandise for girls while Toodie, who I think is a great female character, is marginalized (and I also hate how Muno is always picked on. I feel bad for the guy!). *SIGHS*. I have no answers. It’s a good, worthwhile discussion tho.

  6. JFL

    “Do you have any favorite kids shows that you think do a good job of illustrating positive female, or disabled, or POC role models?”

    My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? That’s actually a good show with female characters, even if majority of the fans are men in their 20s.

    • I’ve been hearing great things about MLP lately. From lots of different places. I wasn’t much into the show when I was a kid, but people keep telling me the show today does a better than average job depicting strong female characters.


  7. Sister

    Are we supposed to watch every movie before letting our kids see them? Sounds a bit insane. Growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of cartoons and films (male-dominated no doubt), yet they did not impact my future values of a career-oriented independent woman. I hardly think it is either necessary or beneficial to cocoon our kids in order to impart our values and beliefs on them.

    • I do think it’s a good idea to watch what your children are watching, at least until they reach an age where their critical thinking process is engaged. If I see or hear something on a show that I think is objectionable, I want to be able to create a dialogue with my kid about why it’s objectionable. I don’t think it’s beneficial to cocoon my kid, but I also don’t think that means I need to give him free reign.

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