Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Too much time on my hands

Ok, actually, I don't seem to have enough time on my hands. And all of the time I do have (non-kid-related time, I mean) should be dedicated to studying for, thinking about and freaking out over the bar exam that's now in less than a month.

So what am I thinking obsessively about instead? The sexual politics of the Backyardigans. Shoot me. Or in lieu of shooting me, bear with me while I waste far too many words on why this kids' show is becoming too sexist for me to let my daughter keep on watching. And please know that I am aware that this is all very silly. I'm just hoping that writing about it will finally let me stop thinking about it.

In case you're not familiar, the Backyardigans is a kids' show about five little cg-animated animals (well, four animals and a Uniqua, whose species is undefined but who, as best as I can tell, is an ant). They all live on the same street, and meet up in their collective backyard to play. In every episode, they imagine themselves as different characters on various adventures. There's a lot of singing and dancing, and the Cheeto loves it all.

Anyway, I already had kind of an issue with the show's treatment of girls. There are three boy characters, and two girls, but one of the girls (the yellow hippo) is only in some episodes. And when she is, she is almost always playing an annoying, bossy, rude character. In one episode she spends almost half the episode singing about how much she loves being a princess because she has nice things while everyone else is poor, and the rest of the show mistreating her servants (the boys). The payoff at the end is that good manners solve draught (yes, really. The show is odd).

Anyway, so it bugged that if they had to have an obnoxious character, it always had to be a girl, especially since all of the other characters are pretty much paragons of friendship, bravery and politeness. Would it kill them to make a boy a jerk once in a while? Plus, her obnoxiousness is so stereotypically female, which bugs even more.

My objections aside, I was perfectly willing to let the Cheeto keep watching, because I really, really like checking my email and using the bathroom alone. But last week, there was an episode so appallingly sexist that I just may have to boycott. And then how will I pee?

So about the episode. It was set in Hawaii, and the group was split into two. The boys were the "luau brothers," who really like to party. Their luau is threatened, though, because the "volcano sisters" are mad and about to make the volcano erupt. The boys go to see why the girls are mad, but all they get is that the girls want something, and will blow the volcano if they don't get it. But they won't tell the boys what they want. It's a whole song-and-dance number along the lines of "we know what we want, but we're not telling, and if you don't figure it out, you'll be sorry." Yikes!

And it gets worse. After a few mistakes, the boys finally figure out what girls want. And it's... for a boy to bring them flowers and ask them on a date. Yep, the whole point was that the girls wanted to go to the boys' luau, and were mad that they weren't asked. Because apparently strolling down to the beach and saying hi was out of the question.

I know it's just a TV show, but I find it really frustrating when kids' shows trade in tired stereotypes. Kids soak this stuff up. When I was a nanny, the four-year-old I sat for went through a phase where he'd assert that girls were stupid and weak and annoying and a host of other qualities. I finally asked who told him that stuff, and he said "Arthur," that little aardvark that's on PBS. So sexism isn't harmless, and I guess if I don't want my daughter exposed to it, I'm going to have to put up with her company in the bathroom for the next couple of years.

(by the way, lest you think I'm some kind of nutball feminist with no sense of humor (which, actually, I kind of am), you show know that I showed this episode to the Boy. He's pretty even-keeled and very slow to offense, and he thought the show was pretty outrageous. So I feel a little vindicated.)

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