Why are PBS shows for kids as male centered as Disney or Pixar?

PBS is “educational television,” so why are its programs for kids as male dominated as animated films from Disney or Pixar?

Every morning, my two older kids go to school a couple hours before the youngest one. In those morning hours, sometime between 7:15  and 8:30, the three year old gets to watch PBS while I do morning chores.

The morning animated programs are charming, sweet, and share something else in common: they star male characters and are titled that male character. The shows are Arthur, Caillou, and Curious George.

This trifecta of male-centered shows is obviously supposed to appeal to both boys and girls. That’s fine, why not put on “WordGirl” during this popular hour? Don’t even tell me that a three old would refuse to watch females. The kid is three!

If I want girl centered shows, I can use On Demand to seek them out. Often, I have to re-order episodes every 12 minutes. Just like with Pepperidge Farm Goldfish or LEGO minifigs, I can find females, but why do parents have to put in extra work to find girl-centered shows?

Wordgirl is amazing, Reel Girl rates it ***HHH***

Another female centered show is “Chloe’s Closet.” Chloe and her best friend, Tara, dress up, and become whatever they dress up as.

As you can see, it’s  a little heavy on hearts and rainbows. There are things I like this show: she dresses up as a mermaid, pilot, scuba diver, and engineer. But I am troubled that one of the few shows starring a girl gets a dress up theme. I might be less annoyed by the gendered theme if PBS at least put the shows in the morning program hour so boys and girls would see them. Most kids like to play dress up, but most parents encourage their daughters and not their sons. “Franny’s Feet,” another PBS girl-centered show also depicts adventure through outfits: Franny tries on different shoes and then travel to different place around the world. Reel Girl rates Chloe’s Closet and Franny’s Feet ***HH***

“Angelina Ballerina, ” the third girl-centered show, gets on my nerves. As you can tell from the title, Angelina is into ballet, and she whines all the time. I can’t even listen to this show in the background. Reel Girl rates Angelina Ballerina ***H***

Tell me if I’ve missed a PBS show titled for its female it stars, but I think that’s it.

Sexism on Sesame street, the predominance of male characters, has been written about and talked about for years. Most recently, they supposedly tried to address the issue by adding Abby Cadabby. Ever heard of her? Ever heard of Elmo?

Male-centered “educational TV” teaches our kids the same gender stereotyping they see everywhere else in the world: boys are more important and get to do more things than girls.

8 thoughts on “Why are PBS shows for kids as male centered as Disney or Pixar?

  1. I’m late to comment, as I just “discovered” you this morning. I have a 14 (almost 15) year old daughter who watched a lot PBS when she was younger. The paucity of female characters on her favorite show (Sesame Street) struck me then, and it really hasn’t improved. I discouraged her from watching Caillou (because he’s even whinier than Angelina) and was pleased when she took to Word Girl. With Arthur, my chief complaint is with DW, the bratty little sister. Hardly a positive character for our girls…

    I have heard the argument that one reason for the disparity is that boys need more academic encouragement, and that’s why educational programming is skewed to their favor. And while I don’t have the alphabet soup after my name to back me up, I call BS on that; ALL children should be encouraged academically.

  2. Yes, a lot of PBS Kids programming is male-centric, but the situation is not as dire as the portrait you paint. You need to look past the titles sometimes and see how the characters are treated in situ. Also, you might keep in mind that local PBS stations generally program their own kid-vid blocks. Locally we don’t get “Chloe’s Closet” at all, and “Frannie’s Feet” is only available on the Spanish-Language subchannel, not the main feed. So you might need to talk to your local PBS station’s program director.

    I guess it depends on what exactly you are looking for. If you want female TITLE characters, I think you pretty much got them all, except for “Martha Speaks” and “Maya and Miguel.” This is an area that could definitely stand to be improved upon.

    There’s also “CyberChase,” where two of the three main characters are girls, and the female characters are just as instrumental in solving the problems as the male protagonist. I’d call them equal partners, although I’ll admit others might see him as the “group leader.”

    On “Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman,” the title character is male, but I’d argue that this is pretty much immaterial, since he (and Blossom) are the comic relief anyway. The REAL stars of the show are the kids, and there are equal numbers of males and females each season, treated equitably. The contestants are the ones that youthful viewers are going to identify with.

    “SuperWhy!” is another example, IMO, of a show that does a good job treating the sexes equally. yes, Whyatt is the male “leader,” but Red and Princess Presto (both female) are just as important to solving the problems in every episode.

    There are other examples.

  3. I’ll throw some out there, but I often don’t know where they came from, whether it’s Nick Jr., PBS, or something else. My daughter enjoys Max and Ruby, Ni Hao Kai Lan (that one I know is Nick), drawing a blank on her name, but the pig with the striped socks that also usually plays dress up, and of course Word Girl as you mentioned.

    • Olivia, the pig from the popular books mentioned above, is another favorite of ours. She is pretty awesome, and I like that both of her parents work and share in child-rearing. It’s a small detail, but a good one.

      While I love Sesame Street – and my girls watch it ALL the time – I wish they’d have a more even distribution of female characters. There’s Abby, Rosita, Zoey, Prairie Dawn very occasionally…and that’s it. There are at least 3 times as many male characters, and while some of them have been around for decades, it would be great for SS to add more characters with which my girls could identify.

      OH and there are also a few human women in the cast, but again, just as many men there.

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