PBS puts another male protag in coveted morning line up: Daniel Tiger

My youngest daughter and I used to have a schedule where, after the older 2 went off to school, I put on PBS while I did morning chores. PBS is good for kids, right? Educational and all. Sadly, all the three shows in the morning line up had a male protagonist whose name was featured in the title: Caillou, Clifford, and Curious George.




For a while, instead of Clifford, we had…Arthur!


All year, I’ve been doing drop-off, so now I leave the house with 3 kids at 7:10 (and don’t get back until 9AM but that’s another blog rant.) Today, our schedule is off so I have the little one, and I turned on the TV with an eye roll, expecting the bald 4 year old (don’t get that) the giant red dog, or the monkey with his yellow buddy-man, or the aardvark with no nose. What did we find? A new show! “Daniel the Tiger.” ARGH.


It’s really shocking to me how unimportant (or should I say “important”) gender is to PBS programmers. Thanks, PBS, for the early morning lesson in sexism for my four year old daughter. It’s great to know we’ve got a channel dedicated to education that teaches kids males are front and center while females are sidelined or not there at all.

21 thoughts on “PBS puts another male protag in coveted morning line up: Daniel Tiger

  1. I don’t typically comment on the interwebs, but I can’t help but get the sense you only picked shows with male protagonists as examples, no wonder you only see male protagonists. Even if there are a lack of female characters, I don’t think the intentions of those shows was to alienate the female audience, nor do I think the shows need to cater to the female audience just the shows seem more politically correct. Yes, women in literature are given degrading roles, but I just don’t see anything sexist here on PBS KIDS.

    I can think of a decent handful of shows on PBS that have female leads, or are intended for girls but perhaps they aren’t aired in your local region, which is why you didn’t mention them. As for the shows you listed…they all have female characters in them that are significant to each show’s cast.

    While it isn’t asking much for shows with good, female role models to look up to, I doubt you need to needle PBS. I can think of some other stations that actually do have the problem of airing inappropriate things…PBS is not one of them.

    Anglia Ballerina
    Maya / Miguel
    Martha Speaks
    Peg + Cat
    Franny’s Feet

    • Hi Death Lord,

      I was writing about shows that are on in the morning line up, when you turn on the TV and sit your kid there. It is always possible to seek out strong female protags. That is very different than having the program come to girls and boys when they flip on the TV.

      As far as the strong female characters in the program being as important as the male protagonist, I’ve written endlessly on this topic. I call these characters the Minority Fesity, and no, they are not as important as the main character in the narrative. http://reelgirl.com/2012/02/the-curse-of-the-minority-feisty-female-in-kids-movies/


      • You must have a different station, since the shows I listed are mostly part of my channel’s lineup. Given that you see shows that only have male roles…I think that is just your own local channel’s doing…I see a good portion of female leads on my PBS station.

        As for stereotypical female characters…I acknowledged that they exist, but I really don’t think those types appear in any PBS show.

        If you mean to say that any role besides the protagonist is a minor one, Keep in mind I am not talking in general, but in terms of PBS. Most of the male characters are not strong males, they have their flaws and are down to earth because of that. While a show like say, Clifford has a male lead, I really doubt those male leads would be complete without female roles, in Clifford’s case, he’d be nothing without Emily Elizabeth. Female characters, at least in the shows you listed do not have to play a role as fleshed out as the lead to be “important” to their show’s role.

  2. Wow, I totally grew up on PBS shows, and I never really noticed this all before! Perhaps it wasn’t so obvious to me because while PBS suffers from a bad case of “boys in the title and front and center,” when you actually watch these shows there are SO MANY real, rounded women and girls in them. Arthur, for example, was my absolute favorite as a kid, and although the show was named for the Arthur character, there is just as much emphasis overall on his family and friends, including his sharp and conniving sister, DW, his Mom (a businesswoman- his dad is the cook/caterer!), his Grandma Dora, his friends Francine, Muffy, Sue Ellen, and Fern, and the very important character of Ms. McGrady, who works at the kids’ school. They all act as equals in the show, all playing sports together (Francine is the best!), hanging out as a group, and having adventures together. As a kid, I was always so excited to turn on my TV to this show where there were so many awesome girl characters I could relate to in different ways. Yeah, the name sucks, but the show itself is pretty badass πŸ™‚

    • Hi Kya,

      I’m glad to hear Francine is the best player! You mention lots of females which is great. I have not seen tons of Arthur, but when you see strong female characters in a show titled for a male ask these questions: Is the story based on the female’s quest/ problem? How often? Is the female the helper for the male’s quest/ problem? Is she in the supporting role or lead role? What character learns the lesson/ goes through the transition?

      Most often, unfortunately, strong females are allowed to exist in only supporting roles.


      • Margot,

        I definitely get it, I’m an avid reader of your blog, and I spend a lot of time explaining to everyone I know about the “girls gone missing” entertainment world we live in. But YES, the really cool thing about Arthur is that each episode or mini episode (each half hour show is two 15 min stories) has a main storyline with one or a couple central characters to the story, and when the central character is female, the story is really all about her and her problem to solve, growth, lessons, etc. In Arthur, male or female, the kids are all just characters, and friends, and the show revolves to focus on different characters, with the Reed family (Arthur, D.W., Kate, and their parents) as the main “anchor” on the show. What struck me as a kid was that all the kids, male and female (an even mix usually!) all have adventures together- no Minority Feisty, it is pretty cool. Here’s some examples of episodes with descriptions, from Wikipedia:

        “Fern & Persimmony Glitchet”: Fern writes to her favorite author, Persimmony Glitchet, who gives her advice on becoming an author. Fern writes a story under the pen name Agatha Shelley and gets published, but the story is a disaster. Fern follows Glitchet’s advice and tries again with much better results.

        “D.W. Aims High”: D.W. dreams of becoming an astronaut and being the first person to set foot on Mars, but the Tibbles tell her that Mars is the home of martians and purple blood-thirsty aliens. D.W. decides Mars is scary, until Mr. Read shows her The War of The Worlds and Mars in the planetarium. D.W. learns that Mars is nothing like the Tibbles’ descriptions, and decides after all to make her career project about being the first to set foot on Mars.

        “Francine’s Pilfered Paper”: Mr. Ratburn assigns essays to his class and asks them to write a paper on a Thanksgiving topic. Francine plagiarizes an essay from the Internet and turns it in as her own work, only to discover she might be suspended from school.

        “Prunella and the Disappointing Ending”: The final volume of the Henry Skreever series, The Knights of the Bouillabaisse, is released at last. Prunella and Marina compete to see who will be first to finish the book, but the two friends soon learn that speed reading does not always pay off.

        “The Great MacGrady”: Mrs. MacGrady is diagnosed with cancer and the children react differently. Arthur and D.W. rush to her support, Francine is scared, and Muffy is initially unaware of Mrs. MacGrady’s condition, but jumps to action when she realizes how to help.

        From a non-gender stereotyping viewpoint the show is cool too, because there are lots of episodes about kids throwing off “traditional” gender norm barriers, from both sides. There is one about Binky (a big “bully-type” character) becoming good at ballet, and one about Arthur learning to knit (and subsequently showing all his friends that it is cool too)! No show is perfect, of course, but I would throw my hat in to the “can’t judge a show by its title” ring on behalf of Arthur πŸ™‚

        • Hi Kya,

          Thanks so much for this, I will be checking these shows out. I think my younger daughters would be into them.


          • Awesome! Sorry for the super long message, haha, but truth be told I am almost 25 and I STILL watch Arthur on a fairly regular basis, so it is pretty near and dear to my heart! 13 seasons and still going strong, I know they’re all up on Hulu, but PBS.org has them too. Happy watching!

    • Hi Luna,

      For the third time, Wordgirl is great but it is never on, along with the other few PBS programs with female protags. The best way to find these show, for me, is to look in the “Girls Rule” ghetto on On Demand. Male protags are marketed to all, female protags are marginalized.


  3. What I find interesting about a lot of these shows is that unless I’m mistaken, they are adaptations of books (Clifford, Curious George, Arthur). So is it that there aren’t enough female characters in books for young readers that can carry over into age-appropriate television or that television executives are specifically selecting shows featuring male protagonists? That is, is it a what kind of stories are we telling problem? Or is it a what kind of stories are we choosing to present in a new medium problem? Which are kind of the same thing.

    I have no idea what I watched as a child. It’s a bit of blur and being a fan of animation, I continued to watch shows when I was probably a little older than the target age range. But what I remember responding to is Disney princesses and the 10th Kingdom and Xena and Kim Possible. A range of female identities and different roles that women could play.

    • Hi Cat,

      I agree that so many of TV shows and movies start with books and why we need more heroic female protagonists and multiple female characters in them. And then, of course, THOSE books made into movies.


      • Not that every male character on TV is a fully realized character but maybe the reason we find so many female protagonists underdeveloped is that they are sent to the movies.

      • Olivia, Angelina Ballerina and Little Princess all started as books I think. As did Gaspard and Lisa, where Lisa is the stronger character of the pair. But these are a drop in the ocean compared to the boys front and centre.

  4. OMG!! I just looked up Sagwa to see when it aired, etc. and discovered this (via Wikipedia, though cross-checked in a couple other places and it seems to hold up): “The name of the titular character, Sagwa, literally means “silly melon head”. Although innocuous without context, this phrase is typically regarded by Chinese to be an insult, carrying connotations of incompetence, foolishness, and even mental retardation.”

    Wow. So one of the few shows actually named for a female character insults her by giving her a derogatory name. So frustrating!!

  5. Oh, Margot, you have just hit upon one of my pet peeves. I used to work for a PBS affiliate many years ago. At one point in the late 1990s I attended a PBS conference at which they rolled out the slate of new kids’ shows for the coming season. I was appalled not only at how few of them featured female characters, but how several of them were named for the male character: Caillou, Arthur, Franklin, on and on. As we were walking out of the ballroom and everyone was talking excitedly, the (female) VP of Development for our station said something to the effect of, “Wasn’t that great?” to me. I said, “Yeah, but where were the GIRLS? Did you notice these are all shows with boys in the lead?” She looked shocked and then as light dawned she said, “You’re right, where ARE the girls?”

    I am disgusted but not surprised that even some 13+ years later, nothing has changed. I think there’s a tendency to think of PBS as more progressive, but presenting a more gender-balanced kids programming division is clearly not a priority for them.

    One show that I really enjoyed on PBS once I had my daughters was Sagwa, which followed the adventures of a female Chinese Siamese cat – the title character! Notably, created by the wonderful author Amy Tan. Of course that is no longer on the air.

    These days we tend to watch British shows with my preschooler and her favorites have very strong female characters: Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola (I know, Charlie’s name comes first in the title, but we love Lola and I love the authentic-ness of their sibling relationship).

    I guess this is one of those “If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem” situations. Time for me to pull my sketches out and get back to work on my picture book with a little girl who looks suspiciously like my oldest having adventures. Maybe it would ultimately be made into a show?

  6. This made me think back to the shows I watched as a kid. I’m Canadian, so likely these won’t be familiar, but there was Mr. Dressup, (a guy who drew pictures and dressed in costumes and had various puppets on the show. Although most of the puppetters were female there weren’t a lot of women on the show). The Friendly Giant, (a guy who would read books to “male” giraffe and chicken puppet. Jerome the giraffe always confused me because he had really long eyelashes and looked more like a girl to me.) Polk-a-Dot Door had a male and female cast. The guy would “mysteriously” leave and then Polkaroo, a costumed kangaroo would appear. Even as a kid I wondered if anyone really believed they weren’t the same person.

    I also watched Romper Room, (female lead), and Sesame Street, but the majority of the shows I saw had very few women in them.

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