If you have kids under the age of ten, you probably recognize the names Skye, Owlette, and Starla. They’re all female support characters on today’s most popular gender-neutral kids shows. And they’re not alone…
I’m not sure when I first noticed this trend. It might have been when I learned my third child was a girl and I started thinking about the fact that she would grow up with two older brothers in a man’s world. I began to take notice of everyday life and how even the smallest details might impact her.
I started noticing that every single gender-neutral kids show seems to have a male lead character and a supporting cast of “token” female and minority characters.
Yes, there are a number of strong female characters on shows where girls are the target audience (“Doc McStuffins”, “Dora the Explorer”, etc). But what I’m talking about are the gender-neutral shows whose target audience is boys and girls. They all have a mix of characters of various genders and ethnicities (in cases where the characters are human…). But it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that the white male is always the “leader”!
Once I noticed this trend, it dawned on me that this is way worse than just not having a female character at all. By having a female character specifically play a supporting role, it’s directly saying that when females are present, they’re inferior to the male lead character. Sure, there might be an episode or two where the story is based on the female support character (Episode 15: “Skye Saves Adventure Bay”). But in terms of her permanent position on the show and amongst the cast of characters, she’s always painted as a VP (at best), never the CEO.
The inclusion of female characters only to have them play inferior, supporting roles is counterproductive!
Maybe I’m just being over-sensitive and stretching reality to make a point. But once I started consciously looking at this, it unfortunately seemed to be more true than not…
Shows whose target audience is boys and girls, that have a male lead character and one or more female supporting characters:
- Paw Patrol
- Blaze and the Monster Machines
- PJ Masks
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse / Mickey and the Roadster Racers
- Rusty Rivets
- Little Einsteins
- Jake and the Neverland Pirates
- Lion Guard
- Puppy Dog Pals
There are only two shows I can think of that don’t totally fall guilty: “Bubble Guppies” where there are sort of two “lead” characters (a male and female) who seem to have equality and “Sheriff Callie” where the female is the lead of what is probably considered a gender-neutral show.
But even if I could find a few more positive examples, the fact remains that there are far more negative examples.
I’m not sure how I feel about this other than I don’t want my daughter to see these examples and feel she can only ever be “VP” to a man’s “CEO”. And I don’t want to raise my sons to think this about their female counterparts, either. So when my kids are playing together and my boys try to give my daughter the Skye or Starla figure to play with, I quickly intervene to tell them she actually wants to play with Chase or Blaze.
Hopefully my playtime interventions will reduce their exposure to females playing an inferior role. But it would be even better if, instead of just eliminating the negative examples, my kids could watch a show where the female character is the leader among supporting males.
But in lieu of TV shows, at least my kids have a mama who is a kick-butt leader and a dada who loves that about her.
Comment below! Can you name a lead female character in a popular, gender-neutral kids show? How do you handle it if you have a daughter (or son) who has been influenced by these messages? Is this a real issue or something I’m just stretching in order to make a point? We want to hear your thoughts!
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