When you’re a mom who is also an educator, feminist and critical pedagogue, it’s extremely difficult to enjoy watching cartoons with your child without looking at them critically (and yeah I am not a hero that limits screentime; some days we get more, some days we get less, but overall I try to stay nearby and make sure the content isn’t violent or otherwise inappropriate).
So here are my views on some cartoons (starting with one I can’t stand)
Shimmer and Shine (Nick Jr)
The only thing I like about this cartoon is the colorfulness of everything in it. I don’t like that the main character Leah solves all her problems by calling on her two genie “friends” (also: they’re not “friends” any more than Uber drivers are our “friends” – they are doing a service). I have no idea why she never tries to solve problems in more normal ways or where the adults are in this cartoon. Moreover, clearly the genies are from another culture and continually misunderstand her and grant the wishes wrong (this seems typical of genies) – why doesn’t she eventually learn to articulate herself more clearly? I get the song where they celebrate failure (it’s something many educators like to do, including me) but “when we make a big mistake, don’t fret let’s celebrate…[ignore middle part]… Oopsie save the day” it’s a little weird. Whatever.
What bugs me most is Leah’s friend Zack and how she constantly uses magic and her genies to help him while he just..uh.. Goes to his place or whatever. One episode they win tickets together at an arcade and the machine eats them up. Instead of asking an adult to help or winning tickets back together, Leah gets help from her genies while Zack goes and gets some pizza. Yeah. And she goes through a heck of a lot because the genies aren’t really all that helpful (every episode is full of frustrating stupidity which i think is meant to teach Cross-cultural communication but really fails at this and just makes the genies look stupid). And Zack just celebrates the reward. There are at least 3 episodes kinda like this, where she helps him with his magic show, to find his toy dinosaur and find a particular seashell. Really, why does she do this? And the one time she needed help baking cupcakes he left her alone and just came back to taste. He is useless. The solutions are illogical, and i don’t get why she’s such a doormat. And aaarghhh my kid loves watching them coz of the pretty colors.
Miles from Tomorrow (Disney Jr)
This is one I like a lot. Although the main character (Miles) is a boy from the future who basically is the hero of most episodes, there’s a lot of feminism going on here. His sister who seems slightly older also has a role and they have different personalities and often work against or with each other in interesting ways. More importantly their mom is the captain of the ship ; the dad a pilot/engineer. It’s interesting they gave the dad a leading but subordinate role to the mom (it’s one thing to have more career success/leadership than the husband and another to be his direct boss). The family live on a starjetter with their robo-ostrich Merc where it seems like the kids are homeschooled (or er starjetter-schooled) in this cool way where they participate fully in the missions their parents undertake and they have a real role to play and come up with creative solutions to problems. There’s also a lot of real science one can learn from watching this (tho my kid is too young yet).
Peppa Pig (British series)
This one is just full of the daddy doing typical male things like getting lost while refusing to admit it. There are quite a few episodes where women do things men expect them not to be able to do and one memorable moment where Mummy Sheep helps Daddy Pig find the engine in a rental car (while admitting she knows little about cars and engines). The episodes make fun of daddy Pig slightly more than is strictly necessary but not all the time. The most active citizen in the stories is Miss Rabbit who works all the jobs around town all the time (it’s a little crazy). There’s an episode where Peppa says her mom is lucky she doesn’t work and can play on the computer all day…and her mom explains that she doesn’t play, she does work on her computer.
Paw Patrol (Nick Jr)
I love this cartoon but they’ve got Ryder and a team of pups who are all male but ONE. There are maybe 6 or 7 of them. Why couldn’t they have two girls or something? Also the mayor who is usually in trouble (mayor Goodway or Goodwin) is always flustered and stuff. Most of Ryder’s adult friends are men and there are only occasional strong female presences.
Doc McStuffins (Disney Jr)
Definitely feminist. The little girl who’s a toy doctor, her mom is a real doctor, and her toys are mixed gender
My Little Pony (Hasbro)
Definitely feminist with mostly female characters who manage all kinds of things. They are very girly in terms of aesthetics but balanced as character and sometimes unnecessarily violent and men appear so occasionally that it’s not realistic.
Sofia the First (Disney Jr)
Definitely feminist especially the episodes around sports where Sofia becomes a flying horse derby competitor and the reverse happening with Prince Hugo who learns to ice skate (it’s called something else in the episode coz they have magic flying skates). I love Sofia and all the ways characters are never fully evil but have a good side as well. But Sofia needs to occasionally not always win. She isn’t always doing what’s “right” and she learns. But she wins too often 🙂
Dora, Blaze, Bubble Guppies, Umizoomi and other interactive episodes (Nick Jr)
These are generally fun because my kid gets into the interaction and seems to be learning. Most of them have an even mix of male/female characters (except Dora and Friends into the City which is female-heavy with just the one guy, Pablo, not Diego from the little Dora, for some odd reason) and usually roles are cool. E.g. In Blaze, although the main characters are male, the car mechanic is a girl.
Oh man. I watch a lot of cartoons 😉