Is Children's Television Sexist?Rebecca Odes
Jo Swinson is a woman with an agenda…and it’s one that I can get behind. First the UK Liberal Democrat MP came out against retouched photographs and their negative influence on girls’ and women’s self esteem. Now she’s publicly denouncing the homogenous pink and pretty princess vibe of most girls’ TV characters.
Citing recent studies, Swinson points to the fact that the number of female characters on TV lags far behind the number of actual girls who watch the shows, and the fact that the girls who are represented tend to show a narrow and limiting view of what females can be.
This isn’t a minor problem, says Swinson. This kind of poor representation can have drastic results. “It can start the socialisation of inequality. It can restrict girls’ views of themselves and boys’ perceptions of girls too.” UK Minsters are being called upon to demand more girl friendly programming from British Broadcasters.When challenged with this observation, the head of children’s programming for the BBC had this to say:
“All children have the right to see their lives reflected back on screen —- regardless of their gender, race, background or ability.”
Which seems like an attempt at deflection, but it’s actually exactly Swinson’s point. The girl characters on screen do not reflect the reality of life as a girl. As Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel responds, “So why are so many female characters on kids’ TV shows pink-clad, sparkly princesses when the vast majority of British girls aren’t going to grow up to be Kate Middleton?
Today’s TV shows, children’s or otherwise, don’t seem particularly interested in reflecting the viewer’s real life experience. And when called out about the lack of representation of girls, programmers tend to jump to the “girls will watch boys but boys won’t watch girls” defense—a social convention I personally feel is fed by our refusal to challenge children to a broader way of looking at the world. Yes, it’s difficult and complicated. But what are we doing to our kids’ identities and relationships in the long term when this is what they see and learn from?
Swinson claims she is not out to create law around this issue, simply to raise awareness of the problem. but she did question whether public broadcasters in particular “should be bound by inequality laws” and whether they have a “different moral requirement on them to be more balanced”.
Do you think this is a matter that should be legislated?