TV for feminist kids

Well this is a topic that definitely has many aspects to consider and it’s also been one that has been close to the top of my list of feminist concerns in parenting. There are 3 things that concern me about television: advertisements, content, and quantity.

My daughter has been watching TV since she was 6 weeks old. I really felt like she was too young for television at that age and I did attempt to limit her exposure but that is nearly impossible when we all watch TV at different times and I went back to work when she was 6 weeks old. My mother-in-law put on cartoons when I was away and Keni loved the colors and sounds. I didn’t think it was possible that she was actually aware of the television BUT turn it off while she was “watching” and she’d wale for an hour.

At that age, my biggest concern was whether I should I even let her watch television. It did give me a chance to take a break for the 10-15 minutes she’d be occupied by the TV. That little bit of pleasure I took in her being occupied while I took a baby break lead to some major confusion. I was happy to have a break but guilty for letting the electronic babysitter take over so soon. At 8 months old, Keni has regular programs that she watches and can recognize the Wonder Pets theme song if you hum it. I don’t let her watch TV all the time. I do try to read to her although she hasn’t quite obtained the ability to sit through an entire story yet and we do have TV-less play time. So as for quantity, I think I’ve settled on balance being the answer. And, if I’m having a bad day or feeling sick and I let her watch an hour more than usual, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’ll just read her 2 stories the next day or spend some extra time talking and playing with her when I’m feeling better.

Advertisements are a really big problem for me. They are bad enough in adult programming but with children I find it’s even worse. Children lack the knowledge and ability to filter this information appropriately and this is where the problem lies. I’m anti-consumerism and anti-materialism. I don’t want my kid to believe that her worth comes from what she owns. At her age, I can’t exactly explain to her that those commercials are designed to make her believe she needs that product just to turn a profit and they don’t care if their product causes your fingers to fall off or if buying it will mean you can’t eat next week. If you are interest in learning more about advertising to children a really great book is Born to Buy. This is only one of many good books on the subject out there but it’s one I’ve actually read.

One of my solutions to this had been DVRing things and fast-forwarding through the commercials. But, we can no longer afford that added expense and now just have basic cable service. Luckily NickJr and PBSKids are commercial “free.” The characters themselves are a brand and when you walk into any children’s clothing or toy store the characters are plastered all over, but at this age her clothes are coming from Goodwill and Once Upon a Child anyway so it shouldn’t make much of a difference just yet (she’s also not talking yet, BONUS!). We’ll have to revisit this when she’s a bit older.

Ah and of course the content! We can’t forget the content. As a feminist I have the added bonus of not only making sure that the program is educational and age appropriate BUT also making sure their aren’t any (or at least as few as possible) hidden (or blatant) messages about gender roles, sexism, or other social constructions that I don’t agree with. This is where things get difficult because she’s still small and I can’t really explain to her that just because Ruby says all girls can’t have a pajama party without fashion magazines & lipstick that’s not necessarily true (an where exactly are her guardians anyway?). When mother’s are always depicted with dresses and a pearl necklace like Olivia’s mom. Even the mom on Dinosaur Train has long eyelashes to prove she’s woman (because being called mom just wasn’t enough).

There is just so much to consider when deciding what is and isn’t OK for her to watch. I think what is most important is staying on top of things. I make sure I’m watching with her as much as possible and when she’s starts to understand things I’ll be right there to explain things and challenge things with her so that she can learn to do it on her own. I want her to learn not to accept everything that television (or the media in general) present to her. I want her to learn to think critically about what she’s watching. But for now, I’ll just have to settle for those that aren’t blatantly telling girls they should be be sugar and spice and everything nice.

If you are interested, here is my list of programs that I’ve OK’d for Keni to watch:

  • Wonder Pets – NickJr – Lenny, Tuck & Ming Ming are the best and I love that Lenny is female! Besides it’s Keni’s favorite show!
  • Dinosaur Train – PBSKids – Seriously, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?
  • Word World – PBSKids – great for learning letters. some gendering of the animals but not too bad
  • Olivia – NickJr – yeah her mom’s all prettied up but she also owns her own catering business. Olivia also dreams of doing things like becoming a vet or a spacewoman and likes to get dirty from time to time.
  • Wow Wow Wubzy – NickJr – the main character, Wubzy, is kind of gender neutral and Widget is a female handyperson/inventor.
  • SuperWhy – I’m up and down about this one. It really encourages reading but the fairy tales are sometimes hard to deal with as a feminist.

Yes she does watch the occasional episode of Ni Hoa, Kia Lan or Dora. But I really try to change the channel when Max & Ruby or Miffy come on. That cartoon is the bane of my feminist existence.

Please comment away. I’d love to know what your kids watch or what your thoughts are about kids, TV and feminism.

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  1. May 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I rather like SuperWhy – I love that they change the stupider parts of fairy tales. They may not get all the messages right, but they teach kids to question what they read, which is excellent. Besides, I swear my 4 year old learned all the alphabet and most of their sounds from it. He certainly didn’t learn them from me! 🙂

    I don’t mind the SaveUms. Not sure if any of the characters have gender, but they definitely aren’t obvious!

    My eldest is 7, so has moved on to far more obnoxious viewing. I’ve found that casually mentioning that I think something is boring or stupid is a good way to discourage watching the worst of them (like Tom and Jerry). But watching old cartoons with atrocious messages can be very educational. We watch them together, with me giving a running commentary on the issues I see (generally by means of ridiculing sexism, racism & so on to avoid lecturing). That way they still get to laugh at the slapstick, but they’re critiquing the implied social values as well. It’s actually all much more enjoyable than I make it sound.

    Oddly enough, it’s been when some trope has insinuated itself without me noticing it that we’ve had the most long lasting impact on thought process. My son had very definite opinions about boys and princess parties, and I explained to him why thinking that girl stuff was bad was also implying that girls were bad. A year and a half later, he’s still telling me and other people whenever he sees a girl stuff/boy stuff divide and is actively fighting the stereotypes with his friends. (Yesterday he convinced his best mate that fairies can, in fact, be cool. I was proud.)

    Oooh, that was long. I hope you don’t mind!

  2. May 20, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Ariane, I never mind long and thoughtful comments! We do watch SuperWhy, if only sparingly. I’ve never heard of SaveUms. I may have to seek that show out. It sounds interesting.

    You make a great point about your 7 year and the more obnoxious programming. My little one is only under a year so we haven’t quite made it to the point of there being much resistance or need for convincing. I am torn between being excited to reach the point where we can have those conversations and terrified of the multitude of negative messages in the many facets of media that now bombard our children. But, that just the reason it’s so important to be aware of the content of kids programming and to have these conversations with them and teach them to think critically about what they are seeing rather than simply accepting it as presented. I will definitely revisit this topic as Keni gets older.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. A
    November 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    How about Word Girl? Arthur?

  1. May 18, 2010 at 4:57 am

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