Monday, 1 January 2001

Hosted: Feminism & Children's TV Merchandise

Sharon (aka @gavroche2000) 

I don't have any children, so you will have to excuse my lack of daily experience with them. However, I do have two small nieces, one of whom is almost 4 and therefore a person, or rather, in the eyes of the media, a consumer.

Since she was born, my partner and I tried to get her gifts that were both fun and educational. This meant lots of books, but also themed educational toys such as the modern version of speak n' spell. Now, these days, when you go into a toy shop, many items are themes according to the popular child "celebrities" of the moment. Batman, Harry Potter, High School Musical, whatever. And these well known icons, more often than not, are from television, so we know what awesome power it can have on kids. If you can have all of your learning tools, your books, your lunchbox , your thermos, your clothes, all branded with Bob the Builder, your exposure to him should be a healthy one.

So Little Niece's mum is with me on the phone. I'm looking at a mountain of electronic reading toys, I explain. What would she like for her birthday? "well, she's really into Peppa Pig right now. Everything has to be Peppa". Fair enough, I think. I'm not wild about her because all the merchandise is pink, but, in her defence, she is a pig, thus pink by definition. So I got the reader helper, deftly by-passing the cooking set (which was not available, I noticed, in any "boy" colours or themes). I ensured that Peppa Pig was a balanced programme and then happily gave Little Niece her gift.

That was last year. This year she is into Dora the Explorer and I have heard of her. She's great with the exploring, but I have been told that a boy explorer has had to be introduced because "people" protested. We can't have a female protagonist without a boy to prop her up? *facepalm* . Also, she's had something of a makeover recently and is now a "fashionable tween". Do those pumps keep your feet protected in the jungle, Dora?

But I acquiesced, partly because I can't police children's desires and partly because she REEAALLY wanted it. But I remember that my childhood was filled with televison characters who were both inspirational (Sesame Street, Nils Holgerson) and not (Thundercats, My Little Pony, Smurfs) . Whether I like it or not, these shows were formative experiences, the legacy of which remains with me today. So I think it's our collective responsibility to look at children's programming critically and call the makers of them on anything that is disappointing or just plain wrong. Because our kids clearly won't.

But you know what? At least she wasn't pink.

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