Archive for the ‘Television programs’ Category

“Pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career.”

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blue milk blogger saw her three year son watching the Australian animated show for toddlers “Bananas in Pyjamas.” She blogs:

I was so bewildered by it that I ended up watching the whole episode again on iview to be sure about what I was seeing.”

In the series, there are two banana adult figures and three bears, 2 girls and 1 boy, all friends. In the episode blue milk saw, the boy bear buys a Super Bear costume and then causes all sorts of trouble, getting caught up in his imagination and believing he really is a superhero. The bananas try to help out a little, but don’t get too involved, knowing they get to return home soon. So the clean up is left to the girl bears.

blue milk goes on:

Tellingly, the little girl bears deal with these problems in a way that doesn’t involve Super Bear having to know about it because he would only cause more mess if he tried to help and because they do not want to hurt his dignity or spoil his fun. Worse still, his fun interrupts their own fun and plans and when they express some irritation about it all the Bananas encourage them to be careful not to ruin the boy bear’s illusion of himself as a superhero. It wouldn’t have particularly disturbed me as a story if it was about a parent or uncle cleaning up after the little boy teddy bear…But the sight of two little girls doing the cleaning up and taking care of, instead of  having fun and adventures themselves? And the idea that the little boy got to experience the thrill of danger while the little girls got to worry about him? It all struck me as so, so wrong.”

First of all, I am amazed, once again, though I know I shouldn’t be, how universal sexism in kidworld is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid in Australia or a kid in the USA, if it’s PBS or Disney, if it’s a movie or TV: except for the Minority Feisty, boys will be boys and girls will clean up.

The TV show blue milk describes really irks me because my whole blog, Reel Girl, is about protecting the imagination of children (and hopefully, eventually, the adults they grown into.) I guess you could look at this episode as enlightening: Look, this is just what happens in real life. Males are encouraged and supported by the world to imagine and act; females are not. But somehow, I suspect three year old children don’t get irony.

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Maurice Sendak died this week at age 83. Sendak, along with William Steig, is among absolute favorite writers and illustrators of books for children.

Like Steig, Sendak’s writing is poetry and also like Steig, Sendak doesn’t have nearly enough female characters.

Sendak does have some great females in his books that you may never heard of. Soon after I started this blog, I wrote about my favorite Sendak book, Outside Over There, all about a brave girl who rescues her baby sister. My brother-in-law recently sent me a YouTube of “Really Rosie,” a Sendak cartoon with great music by Carole King. Rosie is the imaginative director who casts characters and decides which stories are good and which are not, kind of like the job I’d like to have.

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I finally saw the much hyped ‘Girls,’ and I’ve got to say: believe that hype.

I was riveted. I’m also totally impressed that Lena Dunham in twenty-five years old and she is the writer, producer, and star of the show.

I’ve read criticism about the all white foursome and agree completely. There should be women of color on the show. Not just for some kind of cosmetic diversity. By leaving out women of color, the show is missing out on an important part of depicting being young, struggling, and twentysomething in NYC. That is my only negative so far.

Looking forward to watching more and reporting back.

‘Girls’ is for adults, not girls. Reel Girl rates it ***HH***

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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.

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I’m compiling your suggestions in one post. This is a list of what I have NOT seen or read. I will add to it as you do and remove when I officially rate. If you don’t see your suggestions included here, they are elsewhere on Reel Girl already reviewed. To check those, in “categories” click: Reel Girl recommends, Most girlpower, or GGG. Keep the suggestions coming!


Imogene’s Last Stand

Once Upon A Heroine: 450 Books for Girls to Love

Lets Hear it for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14

Sadie and the Snowman

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Words In The Dust

Millie Gets the Mail


DragonSong and DragonSinger by Anne McCaffrey

Dragon Slippers by Jessica George

Dealing With Dragons

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan: The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, and Serpent’s Shadow

The Melendy Family: The Saturdays, The 4 Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two

Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North American and England

The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World

Sophia and the Heartmender


Adventure Time

My Life As a Teenage Robot

Atomic Betty

Avatar: Legend of Korra


The Mighty B



Nim’s Island

Fly Away Home

The Secret Garden

Anne of Green Gables

Tinker Bell

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Nancy Drew

National Velvet

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday

The Fox and the Child

Where the Lilies Bloom


Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl


Princess Mononoke

Spy Kids

Howl’s Moving Castle

Anne of Green Gables

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In my post about “Tom and Jerry,” I wrote about the exclusion and stereotyping of female characters. I didn’t write about the extreme violence in the cartoon. If I blogged about other animated male duos who relentlessly, brutally attack each other–  Sylvester and Tweetie or Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd– I’d also complain not about the violence, but that the girls have gone missing as well. In fact, on my blog that rates kids’ media on how appropriate it is, I’ve hardly written about violence at all. Why?

I’m no fan of tons of blood and gore, but I also believe that violence is a crucial part of fantasy play. I don’t take the violence in fairy tales, myths, or stories literally. That is, I think of the violence in narratives mostly as a metaphor. For example, you could look at the story of David and Goliath as primarily a violent one (along with many stories in the Bible.) David kills Goliath.  Or you can look at as story about the little guy going after the big one and winning: Erin Brockovitch taking on a corrupt power company. We all look at the story that way, right? So much so that the characters have become part of our language when we describe contemporary battles.

What happens when that language leave girls out?

Everyone slays dragons. In myths, in our dreams, in movies, we see it happen visually and literally on huge scales. In our own lives, we do it every day, in ways that are smaller and less dramatic, but can seem enormous in the moment: getting a project in on deadline, winning a debate, or organizing a messy closet.

I also think the violence in narratives provide useful metaphors and imagery for kids to experience emotions in a healthy way. Little kids live dramatic lives. They don’t get to go to a movie and they feel like their whole world is caving in. Narratives are a safe way to practice experiencing intense emotions: they actually see a world cave in.

Just in case you’re missing my point: I’m not advocating for violence where the males are always the heroes and the females are the victims. Violence shown as men hurting women in kids’ media, the way it is in the adult world of “entertainment,” is not my goal. I’d like to see female heroes acting bravely. If we had more female heroes, it wouldn’t be weird to show female victims as well.

If my opinions on violence sound too loopy for you, here’s what Peggy Orenstein wrote about it in Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

“Violent play is not by definition bad or harmful for kids. Any child shrink worth her sand table will tell you it can help them learn about impulse control, work out the difference between fantasy and reality, and cope with fear….Children of both sexes crave larger than life heroes. They need fantasy. They also, it seems, need a certain amount of violent play…something that allows them to triumph in their own way over this thing we call death, to work out their day-to-day frustrations; to feel large, powerful, and safe.”

Click here to see Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Kids Movies in 2011.

See statistics on the lack of females in animated films from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

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If you watch “Tom and Jerry” on DVD, before the cartoon begins, a disclaimer appears on the screen informing the viewer that while some episodes show racial stereotypes, they haven’t been censored because editing them out would be denying the racism ever happened which is worse than showing it. There is also an introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, which does not come on automatically but can be selected on the menu, essentially explaining the same thing.

The racism in “Tom and Jerry” is often shown when a character gets too close to an explosive, it goes off, and he turns up in blackface. Ha ha ha.

I know this because I have three daughters ages 2 – 8. A while ago we saw a “Tom and Jerry” episode on TV (no racism in that one.) They loved it, and I enjoyed it as well.  I liked the old fashioned, no bells and whistles animation, and I thought the classical music accompaniment along with the minimal dialogue was pretty cool. So I bought them a couple of DVDs full of cartoons.

But as we watched them together, not only was there some racism, but in all of the episodes, there were practically no female characters. If one did finally saunter onto the screen, she was so sexualized with her bow-red lips curling and spidery eyelashes incessantly batting as Tom and Jerry competed over her, I wanted to put my hands over my daughters’ eyes.

The non-sexualized female in Tom and Jerry? That would be the African-American one, Mammy Two-Shoes, most often shown headless with a pink ruffled apron snugly tied below her large breasts.

So why is there no disclaimer that appears on the screen about the female stereotypes in “Tom and Jerry?” Where is the introduction from Gloria Steinem explaining the historical relevance of this distorted gender stereotyping as a product of its time?

Unfortunately, the reason that there’s no disclaimer and no introduction is because sexist stereotypes in kids’ cartoons are just as accepted in 2012 as they were sixty years ago.  Sexist jokes in animation are, apparently, still hilarious. In fact, if you go to theater right now, you’ll be treated to two of them prominently featured in previews for upcoming films: one about how girls can’t fight in Madagascar 3 and an ugly woman joke in The Lorax.

Keep in mind that these movies are made for kids. Parents, do you really want to pay $10 a pop so your sons and daughters can be taught to laugh because girls supposedly can’t toss a pillow or aren’t skinny enough to be pretty?

What can you do about the rampant sexism in animation? That girls have basically gone missing from kids’ films? If you’re in a theater and you see one of these sexist jokes, start with calling out: NOT FUNNY. Do it for your kids.

Update: I’ve gotten a couple comments on SFGate about how in her foreward, Whoopi Goldberg refers to “women.”

It’s clear that the emphasis of her intro is race. She talks about the how “racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in the name of entertainment” and how people were made fun of “especially when it came to racial and ethnic groups.” She talks quite a bit about Mammy Two Shoes and the talent of the actress who voices her as well as the artist who drew her. She never refers to the sexualization of women and girls. I never get the impression that this is the kind of stereotyping that she is referring to. Because the racism in “Tom and Jerry” is worse, more blatant, and less accepted today, just as with Tintin, it gets called out while most of sexism is allowed to pass unnoticed. The same kind of sexism is rarely called out when it appears, as it often does, in animated films today. You can watch Goldberg’s intro here.

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After just three episodes and drawing only 3.5 million viewers to its final showing, “The Playboy Club” is now off the air.

A 6os period show, “The Playboy Club” attempted capitalize on the popularity of the swanky “Mad Men” series. But as former undercover bunny Gloria Steinem has said repeatedly: “Playboy clubs were not glamorous. They were tacky.”

Guess she’s not the only one who thinks so. Meanwhile, Women and Hollywood names “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm Hollywood Feminist of the Day for his astute comments on rape made at a benefit for  a rape treatment center in LA.

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This great comment on my blog post Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong from author/ journalist Paula Kamen:

“A much-needed commentary, a refreshing alternative to the “Reality TV killed him” angle elsewhere. I think this is very much worth writing about because of the tremendous popularity of this show (and admittedly, its sheer addictiveness). NBC is even running other “Real Housewives” franchises during the day in its old soap slot, so it’s not limited to just cable (Bravo). It’s an opportunity to help take domestic violence out of the closet and focus on this root problem.”

Instead of wishing Reality TV would just go away, which it won’t, why not use its mass appeal to educate the public about domestic violence? Or suicide prevention? RHOBH could run PSAs, could help bring the issue of DV to light in a multitude of ways including where abusers can go to get help. Why not advocate for that instead of trying to get Reality TV off the air?

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