My three kids see the Mario Brothers everywhere, but I dislike this pair of brothers for obvious reasons (but pointed out so well by Anita Sarkeseesian in this video about the perpetual damsel in distress trope played by Princess Peach.) Last night, I decided to let my kids try the also highly advertised “Legend of Zelda.” Both shows/ games are created by the same guy, Shigeru Miyamoto, and often appear together in marketing. Today, while I was making dinner, my 5 year old daughter went on rant about how disappointing “Zelda” was for her. One reason I created Reel Girl, to rate kids’ media for girl empowerment, is because titles can be so misleading to parents. I’m posting this video so that you can be more informed than I was. I’m listening to my daughter and staying away from “Legend of Zelda.” I hope you do too.
Just looked it up, here’s the diamond she’s talking about:
My three daughters, ages 4, 7, and 10, are huge fans of “The Powerpuff Girls.” They dress up and act out stories where they play Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup.
“Powerpuff Girls” is one of the few shows for little kids where multiple female protagonists work together to save the world, and they don’t wear revealing clothing.That may seem like a ridiculous description of a show, but the sexism in children’s media forced me to come up with my own version of the Bechdel test. The Magowan Test for Gender Bias in Children’s Media goes like this: At least two females who are friends go on an adventure and don’t wear revealing clothing. It’s scary how few shows made for kids manage to pass that simple test.
When it was announced last year that the Powerpuff Girls would be returning for a CGI special, we were thrilled. So, you can imagine my dismay when on The Mary Sue I saw this cover created by Cartoon Network and IDW for Powerpuff Girls #6.
I feel like crying when I look at this. I think I would cry if my kids saw it. How could CN sex up the “Powerpuff Girls?” It really pisses me off that after I went out of my way to introduce my children to these characters, CN exploits and distorts them.
The Mary Sue reports:
The brouhaha about the cover started when comics retailer Dennis Barger Jr., owner of Detroit’s Wonderworld Comics, called IDW out on Facebook for “taking grade school girls and sexualizing them as way older… they are wearing latex bondage wear mini dresses, which on an adult would be fine but on the effigies of children is very wrong… especially on an ALL AGES kids book marketed for children.”
Thank you Dennis Barger for not accepting this. If more comic book retailers and parents and teachers and doctors would say no, loudly and publicly, to sexualizing kids, instead of buying into this stuff, it might stop. But sadly, too many people do the opposite and act as if sexualized images of girls are just normal, which, tragically, they’ve become. Kids need to see images of girls that are not sexualized. It’s sad I had to create a blog to communicate this idea, that it’s radical and alternative while sexualizing kids is mainstream. Sexualized “make-overs” of female characters from children’s media include Merida, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, and Queen Frostline. Yeah, this is how Candyland has changed since we were kids:
The Mary Sue reports that Dirk Woods, IDW’s VP of marketing responded to Barger with this statement:
That was actually a Cartoon Network mandated cover, by an artist of their choosing. I think they were thinking of it more along the lines of “female empowerment” than the kind of thing you guys are talking about, but certainly, we’re sensitive to the issues here. We love making comics for kids, and always want them to be appropriate. For what it’s worth, CN has been a great partner in that regard… I know an 8 year old and 10 year old really well, and always look at these kinds of things through their eyes… Half of the employees have kids here, and we pride ourselves in making comics they’ll enjoy and not give them a warped view of the world (except, you know, in a good way). Anyway, I certainly see your points, and we’ll be sensitive to these things, as I think we mostly have been.
First of all, I find it really annoying that Woods writes Cartoon Network was thinking about female empowerment as opposed to “the kind of thing you guys are talking about.” Like we’re the ones with the dirty minds here. Mr. Woods, the problem is not Barger and those who agree with them, but people who look at this sexed up image of the Powerpuff Girls and see nothing wrong with it.
Mr. Woods, you say you have two kids and that those you work with are sensitive to these issues, so let me explain the problem with seeing “female empowerment” in this version of the Powerpuff Girls you created. There’s a difference between sexualization and sexuality. Do you understand that? In her excellent book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, author Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw:
Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.
Does that make sense to you? Sexualization is about performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. That’s the image your Powerpuff Girls #6 cover projects. Sexuality, on the other hand, is about understanding and connecting to your own desire. Got it? Here’s a specific example that might make sense to you. Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, and, besides feeding babies, they exist to give women sexual pleasure. Implants, while they make breasts look a certain way, are often devoid of feeling for the woman. Do you see the difference?
But why do I even need to talk about sexuality versus sexualization in relation to the Powerpuff Girls, for goodness sake? That, in itself, is the problem.
After the protest, Cartoon Network decided to pull the cover and made this statement:
In conjunction with our licensing partners, Cartoon Network Enterprises from time to time works with the artist community to reimagine and reinterpret our brands using their talents and unique points of view. This particular variant cover for The Powerpuff Girls #6 from IDW was done in the artist’s signature style and was intended to be released as a collectible item for comic book fans. We recognize some fans’ reaction to the cover and, as such, will no longer be releasing it at comic book shops.
Did I miss the apology? Because I don’t see it. It sounds to me like CN is shifting the blame to the artist which is ridiculous. Fault belongs with the network and not just because CN chose and paid for the image. The sexed up “Powerpuff Girls” are indicative of the Cartoon Network’s girl problem. CN is a channel for children and girls make up one half of the kid population, so why have female characters gone missing from CN shows?
In my count, 41 out of 47 shows on Cartoon Network feature male protagonists. I listed the shows and descriptions below. The stats get worse. Of those shows, 19 are titled for the male stars: Steven Universe, The Annoying Orange, Batman, Chowder, Courage, Dexter’s Labratory, Ed Edd and Eddy, Flapjack, Garfield, Generator Rex, Gumball, Gym Partner, Johnny Bravo, Johnny Test,Samurai Jack, Scaredy Squirrel, Sidekick, The Problem Solverz, and Uncle Grandpa. Just 4 shows feature a female character in the title. Of those, “Cow and Chicken” and “Billy and Mandy,” share the title with a male character. “Foster’s” is a show with a male protagonist, titled for the orphanage run by a woman. “Powerpuff Girls” is the only show on the Cartoon Network where girls star and get to be in the title without sharing it.
Instead of this pathetic non-apology, Cartoon Network ought to commit to creating and disseminating shows and games with powerful female protagonists. That’s what all of our kids desperately need to see.
Beware the Batman Oh, look at that, just like the movies, we get multiple Batman shows.
Beyblade Shotgun Steel The protagonist is a male champion named Zero
Billy and Mandy This show looks promising, but how about calling it “Mandy and Billy” and not making Mandy wear pink?
Boomerang is cartoons from yesteryear now owned by the Turner Broadcasting System, and we all know how feminist those are. Actually, “Scooby-Doo,” “Pop-Eye,” and “Tom and Jerry” are pretty tame compared to “Bratz.” I have wondered since I was a kid, if Road Runner could be a female.
Chowder From Wikipedia: “The series follows an aspiring young chef named Chowder and his day-to-day adventures as an apprentice in Mung Daal’s catering company.”
Courage Courage is a male dog. At least he’s a pink male dog.
Cow and Chicken CN’s second show with a female protag who is also in the title, and her name comes first, and that’s a first.
DC Nation based on DC Comics, no Wonder Woman included. Need I say more?
Dexter’s Labratory Dexter is the evil genius protag of his eponymous series
Dreamworks Dragons Based on the movie “How to Train Your Dragon” the protagonist is the male Hiccup.
Ed, Edd, N Eddy No, I did not make up this show and title to parody the male domination of Cartoon Network. It’s really a show, and yes, it really stars three males with the same name.
Flapjack Stars Flapjack and Cap’n K’nuckles, both male
Foster’s From Wikipedia:
The home is run by the elderly Madame Foster, its lovable, elderly founder; her imaginary friend Mr. Herriman, the strict rule-abider and business manager; and her 22-year old granddaughter Frankie, who handles day-to-day operations.
So that’s good, right? 2 females, their name in the title. But then, there’s this:
The series focuses on the escapades experienced by the mischievous Bloo, Mac, and the array of eccentric, colorful characters inhabiting Foster’s Home, or the obstacles with which they may be challenged.
Bloo is male. Mac is male. Oh, well.
The Garfield Show Cynical male cat stars in his eponymous show, don’t even need Wikipedia to write that.
Generator Rex Yet another Man of Action studios creation. Surprise, surprise, Rex is male.
Grojband Includes marginalized females and gender stereotyping, I would not let my kids near this show.
Grojband follows Corey and his three best friends, Laney and twin brothers Kin and Kon, as they work to propel their garage band to international stardom. When they don’t have the lyrics, Corey and his friends get Trina into an emotional diary mode to write lyrics in her diary, so that Corey and his friends can perform a perfect song.
Gumball The protagonist is gumball, a male cat
Gym Partner From Wikipedia:
A boy named Adam is expelled to a middle school established for anthropomorphic zoo animals due to a spelling error making his surname “Lion”. There, he is befriended by a mischievous, eccentric spider monkey named Jake
Hero 108 Looks like Commander ApeTrully is the protag, from Wikipedia:
The storyline in a typical episode follows a formula, although the formula varies and several episodes depart from it: Commander ApeTrully goes on a mission to the castle of an animal kingdom to make peace and ask its inhabitants to join Big Green, bringing a gift of gold as a token of goodwill.
Johnny Bravo Self explanatory right?
Johnny Test Wow, this is just like the Eddies…
Kids next Door Stars 5 kids, 3 boys, 2 girls
Legends of Chima There are several tribes, each has many more male characters than females and some have no females at all
Ninjago I count one female to multiple males. Maybe I missed one, but come on, this is ridiculous.
Pokemon Again, I count mostly male characters but I actually like Pokemon because the females I’ve seen are pretty strong. What about calling it “Pokewomon?” (Update: That was a joke, apparently some of you think I’m not up on my Japanese)
Powerpuff Girls YAY See what I mean?????
Redakai The protag is Ky, this show is all a father-son quest story about power and destiny
Regular Show Protags are a BFF blue jay and raccoon, both male
Samurai Jack No explanation needed
Scaredy Squirell BFF squirrel and skunk, both male
Secret Mountain Fort Awesome About 5 monsters, all 5 are male, I kid you not.
Secret Saturdays stars Zak Saturday
Sidekick You’d think at least this could be about a female, right? But, no.
Teen Titans 3 males, 2 females. Hey CN, what about having females outnumber males in an ensemble cast?
Teen TitansGo See above
Tenkai Knights Multiple knights and unless I’m missing something, all male.
The Problem Solverz They are Alfe, Roba, and Horace, all male
Time Squad Stars Otto and features practically all male cast
Uncle Grandpa Self-explanatory, right?
Young Justice Invasion An adaptation of the DC universe with a focus on young superheroes and just as sexist in the character make up (Update: Commenters tell me YJ has adapted to have an equal number of female and male characters)
I had heard this show was coming out and posted about it on Reel Girl’s Facebook page. But, my experience with PBS shows starring girls like “WordGirl” or “Chole’s Closet” (the latter which is pretty heavy on rainbows, not to mention her adventures come from her clothes, how original for a girl) is that they are never on. I have to hunt them down. The reason that’s a problem is the inconvenience become an obstacle between kids and strong female characters. It keeps shows starring girls in the “special interest” category.
This episode of “Peg” begins with her cat stuck in a tree. Her cat is hilarious. My daughter was cracking up. I liked the cat, but being cynical, I was thinking: Girl star, girl in title of show, she’s going to be surrounded by males. But the next scene, was mind-blowing. To find help to get Cat down, Peg goes to her neighbor’s garage. In that garage were two neighbors: an African-American woman and an Asian woman. Do you realize what I’m writing heer? Three females, zero males, diversity, and they all shared the screen in an eponymous show about a female character– all this randomly turned on in my house in the morning hours.
You’re not going to believe it, but this story gets even better. Peg tells the neighbors that she needs help, and they try to give her a pink dress, which one of them happens to be making, then a tiara, and a bow. Now, if this scene had taken over the story, I would’ve been annoyed. I’m tired of the trope where the strong girl rips off her restricting corset or her frilly dress, just like I am sick of the narrative where the strong princesses gets to decide who to marry. Why does marriage have to be an issue in the story at all? Who cares what she’s wearing? Does her outfit have to be a plot issue? Would it be for a male character? So though I liked Peg rejecting the dress, tiara, and bow, and found it charmingly meta, a female character refusing the gendered accoutrements always in cartoons, I prepared myself for Peg’s narrative now being dominated by a discussion of her appearance. However, I was wrong again. Peg moved on in 5 seconds to her original purpose of finding tools to rescue cat. There was no digression at all, not even a joke about her rejection of pink, tiaras, and bows. That may be a first for me to see on TV as well.
In the next scene, a male friend comes to help Peg and he is African-American. He assists but does not take over. He offers to catch Cat, Cat says no, and then Peg uses her tools to make Cat a slide to get down.
I am so excited about this show! I only saw one episode but it made history today in my house. I have a good feeling it will continue to.
Let me be clear here. I absolutely believe toys in stores should be divided by type– building, outdoor, figures/ dolls etc– not by gender. I don’t believe objects should be color coded to imply they should be played with by boys or girls. I am hard pressed to think of something more absurd and simultaneously socially accepted than this. I desperately want to see girls and boys pictured playing together on boxes. When the term “gender neutral” is used, I think this is the goal referred to, a goal I share with all of my heart.
I guess the issue from me is that powerful female characters are already drastically missing from the fantasy world created by grown-ups for children. When we talk about “gender neutral,” I fear that girls will continue to go missing from this debate– about children, toys, play, and sexism– even more. “Gender neutral” needs to be a goal of sorts, but we also have to keep in mind that all kids need to see more girls and women doing more things. Do we call that “gender neutral”?
Another problem for me with the term is that “gender neutral” doesn’t inspire me. “Gender neutral” makes me think of a bunch of grown-ups or academics or psychiatrists sitting around wearing super thick glasses and holding notebooks.
Here is what I want to see in kidworld: More females having adventures. More females doing cool shit. Got it? Do you call that gender neutral or do you call that being alive?
I want options. Variety. Diversity. Multiple narratives. I want all kids to see many more images of powerful and complex females, to see girls taking risks, saving the world, being brave, smart, and going on adventures in the fantasy world and in the real one. You could argue that we need to see more images of boys being kind and geeky and paternal, but from my vantage point, as a reader, movie goer, and watcher of TV shows, that’s pretty covered. I honestly believe the best way to help boys get out of gender stereotypes right now is to show them females being strong, being the star of the movie, or the central figure in a game that everyone wants to play.
Here’s my four year old daughter (holding a lunchbox from the Seventies.)
My daughter isn’t a “tomboy” or a “girlie-girl.” She likes pants; she likes dresses; she like yellow, she likes pink, she likes black. She likes to race and play soccer and read and make art. She loves superheroes and her mermaid Barbie. But the older she gets, the more I see her choices getting influenced and limited by stores and marketing and media and peers. My goal is to have her world grow, not shrink. I’m not sure that “gender neutral” is what she needs.
Lula is a female version of Handy Manny or Bob the Builder, but with the added underlying social components of bully prevention with a focus
on undoing gender stereotypes that are often the root cause of bullying by children. Providing children with an understanding of empathy and compassion is key to preventing future occurrences of bullying. The show recognizes the importance of teaching kids about the emotions underlying bullying incidents—from the perspective of the victim and the bully. It also encourages them to get beyond being a bystander by either speaking to an adult or standing up for others.
Here’s a summary of one episode:
While on a trip to Mexico, where the whole family is helping a relative irrigate their farm. Lula and her family invent a new way to divert water and use it to water plants. Lula and her Dad help with planning, measuring and digging. Soon they befriend a group of local kids. The kids reveal a big problem. Super TooLula is needed to face a Giant bully that had been terrorizing the local kids for years. It turns out the Bully was a long tormented little brother of an even bigger Bully. Super TooLula teaches both bullies how to help others. Soon, the bully brothers become local heroes to all that had fear them when they help build the last section of the new irrigation system.
Lula is helped along by some tools:
Harry the Hammer
Harry is the toughest of all the tools. He is the team leader and director. He knows that sometimes you just have to be tough. He may come off like a drill sergeant, but he always looks for action with a smile!
Sammy the Saw
Sammy (short for Samantha) knows that sometimes you just have to remove or separate some things to make it better. So she whirls like a tornado to shape parts and pieces out of wood, plastic, soft metal or to cut through a tough problem!
Dusty the Drill
Dusty is tough and clever. When
a problem stymies others, he knows how
to break through! Dusty very persistent and always stands up for the underdog. He stutters when overly excited.
Carla is able to locate lost objects, and if you’re lost, she can point you in the right direction. She is very maternal. She’s scared of other magnets and afraid of heights.
Lucy is the one to always make sure everyone is balanced and level headed. She is the nurturer of the team. Calms down the others.
Maddy Measuring Tape
Maddy is always thinking ahead. She is all about details, measurements and plans. She is the practical one that makes sure parts will fit together or through tight spaces. Maddy’s friends think she needs to learn how to have more fun!
Gabi is able to see right into the heart of a bully. She is able to see in the past and pinpoint the reasons why they are unhappy and end up hurting others. She is a precautious soul. And she is always the one to remind us all about being safe!
Ricky the Wrench
Ricky is very strong and not afraid of hard work. He knows hard work gets things done. He can open and unlock stuck objects that others can’t. He hates rust
more than anything.
The Talking Nail Heads
Do not actually talk. They are vocal instruments
who express themselves in emotion-filled, wordless music. Some do the bass line, some do mouth drum sounds, but they all can really jam or lay down a phat beat to sing over!
There are humans in the stories as well.
Naomi is Lula’s eight-year-old Japanese-American cousin. Naomi is a genius with arts and crafts like origami and revels in teaching others what she knows. Lula and Naomi love each other and spend a lot of time together along with their families. Naomi can often be found humming or singing impromptu songs and playing her favorite juice harp (which she also plays in their band). She always tries to get Lula to eat odd and spicy things.
Ten-year-old Wesley is the school bully in Lula’s class. He is also TooLula’s ultimate nemesis. It is his mission to turn good kids mean by bribing them with things he knows they like, but he has a difficult time when Lula and her friends step in. Deep down, Wesley really likes Lula and just wants her attention, but he doesn’t know how to show his true feelings and is afraid Lula and others might laugh at him. Oh Wesley!?
I am happy this beautiful video is going all around the internet, not only because, as bell hooks writes, it’s all about love, but it contains a version of Goldberg’s musings on racial diversity, “Star Trek,” and the future. Here’s what Goldberg says:
Doing Star Trek made me incredibly happy, because without “Star Trek,” people would still think there would be no black people in the future, okay?…Do you know about that? Do you why I say that? Before ’63, which is when I think “Star Trek” appeared on American television, from the inception of film and television until 1963 in any sci-fi movie, there were no black people, and that always bothered me.
Watch this video and see how a TV show can move and inspire people, and then remember, this is not a quote or video just about television, but storytelling, which has had this role of shaping and inspiring the human race since the beginning of time.
In The LA Times, Whoopi Goldberg is quoted on her response to the recent debate about the lack of African-American women on SNL:
“These folks are 15 years late on this question,” Goldberg told Showbiz411. “‘Saturday Night Live’ has looked like this for 15, 16 years. I don’t understand. Why is everyone up in arms? Didn’t anybody see it before? Clearly not.”
The story goes on to report that Goldberg has never been asked to host SNL.
I had to read that sentence again. Here it is:
The president of Goldberg’s production company said the Oscar-winning actress and comic had never been asked to host “SNL.”
Recently, Kenan Thompson, one of the show’s African-American male actors, complaining he was tired of dressing as females for skits, lamented the slim pickings out there for funny black women: “It’s just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Who could possibly think veteran Whoopi Goldberg isn’t ready to host SNL?
Or do you think, perhaps, the reason we haven’t seen Goldberg host the show has nothing to do with her talent and everything to do with her body? Not only is she female and black, Goldberg doesn’t look like Kerry Washington.
Washington, with her skinny physique, big eyes, and high cheekbones, in spite of her skin color, manages to tick off our current ideals of what a “beautiful” woman is. That, my friends, is why SNL let her host the show, because she is “beautiful” along with being talented. Let me add here that I love Kerry Washington. I’m a fan of “Scandal.” I’m psyched Washington busted a barrier. But the reason Whoopi Goldberg didn’t do the same “15 or 16 years ago” is because she doesn’t look like a Vogue model, a magazine, by the way, which has had a number of African-Americans on its covers that I could count on my own two hands.
Now, take a second to imagine if the success and exposure of white, male comics was determined by how “attractive” they are. It’s ridiculous to even think about.
People wonder how smart women get so obsessed with their appearance and why the pursuit of female “beauty” is an ever-growing multibillion dollar industry. Are women vain, crazy, superficial? Sadly, it’s more like they’re practical, recognizing how the world opens or slams doors based on how well they taper to a cookie cutter image of how women should look.
One of my favorite quotes about the power of media over little kids comes from Whoopi Goldberg:
“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
Hopefully, children today see Whoopi in the media and believe in their own potential. Of course, It would help if more of the guys in charge would put her on the stage, front and center. It would be even better if the guys weren’t the ones in charge of where she gets to stand.
One day when my daughter was in third grade, she had to explain to a classmate what sexism was. Four kids — two boys and two girls — had been put in a reading group together, given a basket full of books and asked to talk about them and decide together which one they wanted to read and discuss.
As they went through their choices, the boy picked up a book whose cover showed an illustration of a woman in a hoop skirt. He quickly tossed it aside. My daughter suggested that it might be good, and asked if he’d already read it, because she would like to. He said no, it was a girl book and he wouldn’t read it. Her response was pretty cut and dry: “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she explained. He was a friend of hers and an intelligent kid. He paused long enough for her to realize he wasn’t sure what she meant.
“Do you know how many books with boys in them I read?” she said. “You should read girl books, too. Not reading them just because they’re about girls is sexist.”
Frankly, today, I’m pretty certain that what she, a 9-year old, told her classmate was more than most adults can muster.
57% of children’s books published each year have male protagonists, versus 31% female.
As with television and film, books with animated characters are a particularly subtle and insidious way to marginalize based on sex, gender and race. In popular children’s books featuring animated animals, 100% of them have male characters, but only 33% have female characters.
The average number of books featuring male characters in the title of the book is 36.5% versus 17.5% for female characters…
Researchers of the study above concluded, “The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children’s media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books.”
This video by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media is amazing!
Our goal at the institute is to dramatically increase the percentage of female characters and reduce gender stereotyping in film ans television that is made for kids, little kids, 11 and under, and what we found is very disturbing. For every one female character, there are 3 male characters. Not only that, male characters get to do stuff. They get to have fun and have adventures. Females, not so much. We also wanted to know what the percentage of male and female characters was in crowd scenes in movies. We found only 17% of characters in crowd scenes are females. Women make up 50% of population in the world…
Meet Jane. She’s an animated character. She’s adorable, quirky, and has spunk. Her special skill is that she can do absolutely anything that an animator can think of for her to do. Except stand around in a bikini. Not because she can’t, but because she doesn’t want to. So why does Jane look sad? It’s because she has never been cast in an animated film or television show. Why is that? It seems like it would be so easy to cast Jane in some interesting and challenging role for her. I want to see Jane. I mean, we see Dick. We see Dick all the time.