by Ruth Moss
A conversation that was started when Arwyn wrote about sexism in children’s literature, and continued here and here (and also on twitter and by email – if you’re not twittering – why not?) has had me thinking for weeks now.
No matter what we say to our pre-schoolers, they’re going to encounter the mainstream at some point, whether that’s through television, friends, school, nursery…
The most privileged members of society are also usually the most mainstream.
How do we counter that?
And what if their home environment matches up with what they see on television, in magazines, in books? My son will grow up child to a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, married, able-bodied couple. Will he ever even think to question his priviledge? Will my voice disappear in the baying of the other voices telling him exactly what is “normal” and what is “other”?
Looking at the darling of UK pre-school children’s programming, CBeebies, the majority of the presenters are overwhelmingly white (there was a very brief couple of days where Sid and Skye were the main presenters but this ended far too quickly). And in the programmes themselves, the vast majority are headed up by men. A quick tally count (off the top of my head – but I am a bit of an expert!) reels off 18 male-fronted shows, and three female-fronted ones.
Of course there are some shows, such as Charlie and Lola, where arguably the character that is given the most air time is the female one, or Balamory and Me Too, where the starting character is a woman (interestingly enough, in both cases, a Nursery Teacher), but then we’d have to start counting programmes like In the Night Garden, where Iggle Piggle is the starting and ending character, as male dominated.
I can’t think of a single programme on CBeebies where the central character is not able-bodied. And as for GLBT characters? Whilst I do appreciate that programming for pre-schoolers tends not to explore issues around relationships, would it really be that much of a leap of imagination for, say, one of the children in Charlie and Lola, for example, to have two Dads, just as an “aside”? I’m not entirely sure how one would “depict” a trans person as opposed to a cis-gendered person, in cartoon or puppet format, but at least as a tiny starter would it really be too difficult to have a young boy that wears dresses, as in this book? (I appreciate that in itself comes with some very negative connotations, so any suggestions welcome.)
I know there was a big hoo ha (or should that be ha-hoo?) over ten years ago now with the arrival of the Teletubbies and Tinky Winky, the big purple one with the handbag and occasionally tutu, and the “ZOMG our kids will be turned gay!!!” reaction that ensued, especially in the more right winged parts of the US. But as I say, that was over ten years ago now. Surely we’ve moved on by now. If we can have an openly bisexual character in older children’s TV programming in the form of Captain Jack Harkness, surely we can tweak a few things in CBeebies?
Otherwise I might even have to start turning off the television.