Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Sex on TV

I never intended to be the kind of parent who uses TV as a babysitting service. But then I had a child.

My daughter watches relatively little TV (I think). I save it for the evenings, when she’s tired and grumpy, and I need to distract her while I cook.

One reason I haven’t been too unhappy about my parenting compromise is the high quality of some toddler TV. The artwork is beautiful (Abney and Teal), the characters are well-drawn (Charlie and Lola) and they range from educational (Andy's Prehistoric Adventures) to just plain crazy (Sarah and Duck).

Until someone pointed it out to me, I hadn’t noticed a shocking, striking fact about the gender of the characters that have become a part of our daily lives - nearly all of them are male. Ra Ra. Bing, Boj. Peter Rabbit. All boys.

Photo by Sagesolar via Flickr Creative Commons

So I did a little bit of research. I counted the number of male characters in the titles of TV programmes for toddlers. And then I counted the number of female title characters. The schedules for toddlers' TV is the same every day, so whichever day I picked was entirely representative of that particular season.

Male v female characters on toddler TV

In a single day of CBeebies TV programmes:
  • 14 programmes have just male characters in the title 
  • 2 programmes have just female characters in the title 
  • 2 programmes have both male and female title characters 
I had a look at another TV channel, Tiny Pop. There were:
  • 8 programmes with male title characters 
  • 5 programmes with female title characters 
The proportion is still far from equal, but it is a lot better. 

BBC could do better

I haven’t introduced my daughter to channels other than CBeebies (the dedicated BBC channel for this age group) because I don’t want to expose her (or me) to adverts, but also because I judged, based on nothing but prejudice (I hadn’t actually seen any of the programmes) that the quality of programmes on the BBC was better. I mean, it’s the BBC. It’s there to inform, educate and entertain. Information and education come before entertainment. Surely that’s not going to rot my child’s brain?

And the quality of programming is high, so no, it won’t rot her brain. But what it will do is from the tiniest age, gently communicate a sense of patriarchy - that males, men, boys come ahead of females. We rarely have more than a supporting role on screen. 

Believing what you see

“Mummy, are you a mermaid?” As my daughter once asked me, very seriously, out of the blue. It was a strange question, but it illustrates that so much of what she understands of the world comes from fiction - from stories and games and books and TV. She hears about mermaids and she hears about hedgehogs - how does she know which is true and which is fantasy?

The characters children see on TV make up a huge part of how their reality is constructed. By ensuring that male characters dominate tots' TV we are sending a clear message about the primacy of masculinity to our youngest, most impressionable and vulnerable audience. We are telling them that girls and women are life's cheerleaders, sitting on the sidelines watching the boys and men do great things.

If we want an equal society by the next generation, this is not going to help. I dearly hope CBeebies and other children's TV providers get their act together soon and start to show girls at the centre of their programming, not just the sidelines.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan Chilvers15 November 2016 at 21:57

    Hi Thanks for the blog. I have 2 daughters and although I would have said I was proactive on equality before, seeing the world with them in mind has been a real eye opener.

    However, on this particular point I disagree with you - by just looking at the titles it misses shows where women lead. 'Swashbuckle' doesn't have a woman in the title but it's presented by an strong female character. They're also careful about body shape and image, unlike the horrific disney films.

    I'm not saying it's perfect, but I think there are much much worse options. (and NO adverts which are just a poison on things like body image, self esteem and general happiness)