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Sunday, January 26, 2014

In the pink

I think about feminism a lot; since having a baby girl, I am increasingly angry and frustrated that society seems to be going backwards rather than forwards with how we treat girls. Walk into any high street children's clothes shop; I defy you to find more than three items of girls' clothing that aren't pink or purple. You certainly won't find any that are blue or green. Those colours are For Boys. As are dinosaurs, bears and tigers. Cats, cows and rabbits are reserved for girls.

And don't get me started on the revolting toys that are marketed along gender lines; make-up sets and cupcake kitchens for girls (including pink Lego, because if they used regular Lego, they would probably become infertile, or lesbians, or both); army toys, science kits and robotic cars for boys.

I have talked before about why it matters, but for the genuinely mystified, there are some excellent resources here and here.

I don't want the baby growing up feeling that her choices are limited, or that she needs to pick the pink item in order to fit in. It isn't about forbidding pink. It's about encouraging her to choose from the entire spectrum.

One thing I do stand my ground on is "no TV with adverts"; the sort of crap they get away with marketing to tiny children is horrendous. Mermaids, ponies and sexualised (or nurturing) dolls for girls. Action toys, cars, tools and guns for boys. Very few adverts (if any) showing boys and girls playing together.

So we stick to CBeebies. Advert-free, CBeebies does - in my opinion, and speaking from the perspective of an able-bodied white person - an excellent job in promoting diversity when it comes to disability and race.

Unfortunately, I think it misses the mark very often on gender equality. Which is, to be honest, very disappointing as it's so easy to get right. We watch a lot of CBeebies. Here are some of my thoughts.

Firstly - those that get it right:

Katie Morag

I love this. Katie Morag is a surly, angry little girl who stomps around in boots. Mum and Dad both work, and her best friend seems to be her tractor-driving grandma.

Sarah and Duck

One girl (Sarah), one boy (Duck), with a seemingly gender-balanced cast of extras. This cartoon is surreal, funny and whimsical. Admittedly, I seem to enjoy it a lot more than the baby does.

Charlie and Lola

Like Katie Morag, this is based on books, and the (e)quality shines though.


Whilst the theme tune to this will get stuck in your head for at least twelve years, Melody features a partially-sighted little girl and her (stay-at-home? Perhaps I'm being picky) mother who listen to classical music each episode and imagine what might be happening.


Not the most educational show going, but the "goodie" and "baddie" are both women. The imbeciles are both played by men. Splitting hairs, perhaps the two silly pirates should be one male, one female, but really this show gets it right most of the time.

Now onto those that get it wrong:

Mike the Knight

"Mike the Knight, he's a brave young hero". No, he's a smug, sexist little twat. His closest friends are his two dragons (both male), Trollee (male) and his horse (male). He has a sister and a mother; his mother's role seems to be mostly the preparation of feasts and telling her useless dogs (both male) to be quiet. His sister is a trainee witch. Out of seven main characters, just two are female, and one of those is heavily stereotypical.

Peter Rabbit

Beautifully animated and based on the Beatrix Potter books, CBeebies have decided to introduce a female rabbit to keep Peter and his male friend company. To illustrate the fact that she's a girl, she has been kitted out in a pink cardigan and matching headband. Vom.

Topsy and Tim

Topsy (the girl twin) stays inside with Mummy whilst Tim (boy twin) goes into the garden to help Daddy with the car. Welcome to 2014, folks.


I feel bad including this one, as it's mostly an educational show about marine biology. But out of 8 Octonauts, only two are female - a recruitment statistic that the actual Navy should feel embarrassed about. Admittedly, one of them is an engineer - but the other one has a bright pink bedroom. So that you know she's a girl.

Everything's Rosie

Vomit-inducing from start to finish. Clearly marketed at girls (the eponymous Rosie lives in a pink helterskelter), all bar two of her friends are male - because God forbid a programme should exist where females make up the majority of the cast; of the two females, one of them is bossy. See also Tilly and her Friends; only one of said friends is female, and is a self-absorbed and bossy hen.

Baby Jake

Baby Jake has nine brothers and sisters. But he only interacts with his brother Isaac. Also the Hamsternauts (all male), Nibbles the rabbit (male), Pengy Gwyn (male) and Sydney the monkey - who is female. So, one out of about 20 characters there is female. And has a pink ribbon on her head, just in case you were in any doubt.

Grandpa in my Pocket

Jason Mason (whose parents need a slap for that name) has a secret with his Grandpa that he's not allowed to tell anyone. In the wake of Yewtree, if that doesn't send shivers down your spine, nothing will. Revoltingly, his sister is excluded from the knowledge that her grandfather can (improbably) shrink himself down, plus all of the adventures they have together. Because it's better that "us boys" play together.


I know this does sound like I'm over-analysing what is intended to be entertainment for children; but if every girl child grows up thinking that she is a minority figure or supporting character, it's so much more difficult for her to be a pioneer in the story of her own life. These children are starting life with a totally unnecessary disadvantage. Even where a TV programme has a female main character, it seems necessary to surround them with male characters "to compensate" in a way that just doesn't happen when the programme's lead character is male.

There is a myth - at least, I hope it's a myth - that girls will watch or read stories where the protagonist is male, but boys won't watch stories where the lead character is a girl. I would have hoped that Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have dispelled this at least ten years ago. Why haven't we moved forwards?

Apologies for the lack of humour in this Plog, but really - should it be this difficult to find gender equality on the BBC in 2014?

I mean, yes, of course I could turn the TV off and do something more interesting instead*, but frankly, life is too short to try to do enriching activities like this. Besides which, where's the pink spaghetti? How will my daughter know she's a girl?

I have made a handy cut-out-and-keep flow-chart for CBeebies executives, should they wish to improve.

* Yes, I'm a child of the 80s.


kayt said...

I am reminded of another useful chart: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls_n_4372629.html

Laura said...

Ha! Yes, absolutely. I do get on my soapbox about this issue quite often; one of the things that astounds me is how many people don't see it as an issue, or see why I'm concerned about it.

Today I was watching an episode of the Tweenies and was really impressed that they showed a breastfeeding mum (sometimes this is also forbidden, as God forbid we should see breasts being used for their biological function). And then they went and ruined it by saying about the baby, "Oh, it's wearing pink - it must be a girl."

L x

AndyGI said...

We have Ceebeebies on whilst I play with my daughter, there are a few you've missed in your post.

"I Can cook", in which the presenter is female, thus re-inforcing a gender stereotype.

However "Me Too" seems pretty good, we have females in roles of taxi driver (pink taxi) and bus washer (?!) but yet we also have a female doctor.

Jetta Sneddon said...

It drives me MAD! I have a 3 year old boy. I am a SAHM. I do girly things like wear lip balm and sparkly nail varnish. My son likes these too. He doesn't know it's for 'girls' so I let him use them, if he likes it he likes it, I don't care. I'm not against him having pink things but he loves, for example, Dora the Explorer and Doc McStuffins. Everything to do with these 2 programmes is disgustingly pink or purple. I let him choose what he likes but I have to draw the line at pink tshirt and gloves and scarf. But Dora is a tomboy really why the heck is everything on there aimed at girls?! Pink and blue should be BANNED for kids toys!

Laura said...

You see, personally, I don't mind "I Can Cook" - at least Katie drives a van, and the kids are always an equal balance of boys and girl.

I dislike "Me Too", but this may be to an irrational hatred of "Granny Murray", who looks late 40s at most. The pink taxi makes me angry. "Yes, girls can drive taxis, but only if they have pink ones." Agree re: doctor, plus male primary school teacher.

To be honest, "Me Too" mostly seems to be about adults managing to mess up their time management.

Jetta - interesting to get the perspective of someone who is coming from it at the other side. I would say "let him wear the pink t-shirt", but appreciate it's not always that easy. And you are lucky in one respect - so many boys/girls refuse to wear or play with anything they perceive as not marketed towards them. I believe gender-based marketing in the under 10s should be banned completely.

Carl Ardron said...

If presented with a pink dress or blue one my daughter will choose the most girly one one could imagine, and by no means because of a push by me or my wife. She's 2.

Her elder brother never expressed an interest in clothes but she does and did at a surprisingly young age.

She dances with joy when wearing sparkly shoes.

A rhetorical question occurred to me, as I pondered the extent to which a father may involve himself in the clothes his daughter wears; "How many women let men dress them?"

I understand that society has a role to play in the formations of the child and parents have a responsibility to guide the child. I want my daughter to grow up confident and driven to achieve her goals both small and grand. This topic is about TV and toys and its influences but, I did just want to add to the mix on the note of determined gender roles: maybe pink is an OK colour for my daughter because, given the choice, she likes pink?

Rebecca Burland said...

I love this post! Also, ZingZillas - yes, the numbers are about equal, but Panzee is head-to-toe pink and is all flirty and vain, Drum is incapable of adult speech patterns, and the Beach Birds, well - no individual voice, working as waitresses/backing singers and living in a hut which we are expressly told is DJ Loose's so their entire livelihood relies on him. All the authority figures - Todd, DJ Loose, even the Moaning Stones - are male. Agh.

I do, however, quite like Show Me Show Me. Male and female presenter, and they often dress up as the opposite gender, showing that it's OK for boys to dress up as girls and vice versa.

Laura said...

Carl - you raise an interesting point. As you say, this blog is specifically about children's TV, not the "pinkification" of girls' toys.

However, I would question *why* your daughter reaches for the pink dress rather than the blue. Studies have shown that colour preference is *not* innate (different cultures who do not associate pink with girls do not see this phenomena - in fact, it tends to be both girls and boys who are drawn to pink as the brighter colour). She may well be picking up messages from her peers, the TV, her family. None of this is "wrong" or "bad" - until the time comes where she associates "only pink" for girls - and then take a look at the type of toys that you can get in pink. It's not pretty. I think your key phrase is "given the choice" - let's make sure that choice isn't narrowed.

Re: sparkly shoes - I bet boys would like them too! Sparkly is fun!

Rebecca - I grudgingly feel the same about "Show Me Show Me". Grudging because for some reason (which totally isn't her fault), Pui gets right on my nerves. But I have to agree that it's a good show, gender balanced and actually gets the baby really involved in it, moving around, copying actions etc.

L x