Where are the women on children's TV?

Every day, Ben Walsh watches CBeebies with his daughter, yet finds there are precious few female role models for her

CBeebies' charming ratings-winner Rastamouse, the tale of a cheese-loving rodent and his reggae band, Da Easy Crew, has been causing a slight racism stir since arriving on television this year. The dreadlocked, patois-spouting crime-buster, whose main "ting" is love and respect, rides a skateboard, wears a Rasta Tom (a woolly hat) and habitually maintains he's "irie, irie" (happy, happy). His daily mission is to "make a bad ting good", and Michael De Souza's winning animated stop-motion show is generally "a good ting". A less "good ting", however, is the depiction of females on the majority of CBeebies' (the channel for 0-6 year-olds) schedule; it's time to dismiss the hogwash about racial stereotyping on Rastamouse and address the fact that depictions of females on children's TV are very poor indeed.

Every morning I watch, along with my 19-month-old daughter, May, CBeebies' morning schedule (the pre-school Ritalin for small ones) and the highlight (for female characters and May) is Charlie and Lola, Lauren Child's excellent series about a young boy and his little sister, Lola Sonner, "who is very small and very funny". And she is funny. However, the rest of the line-up is markedly less inspiring. Postman Pat, the staggeringly inept postie, is surrounded by males, with women filling minor roles.

Pat Clifton's boss is Ben Taylor, his best pals are Jess (his male cat), Ted Glen (local handyman, inventor, bachelor) and Arthur Selby (the local bobby), the most prominent schooolteacher is Jeff Pringle, the local vicar is a man, Reverend Timms, and Pat's only child is a boy. Couldn't they have at least made the child, or indeed the cat, female? The main female representations on offer are bit characters such as Doctor Gilbertson who is often, weakly, reduced to asking Rev Timms whether he wants "more tea".

Other CBeebies shows prove just as underwhelming for women. Aardman's Timmy Time, the animated stop-motion adventures of "a little lamb with a lot to learn", seems to be made up of males – Paxton the Piglet, Ruffy the Puppy, Finlay the Fox, Stripey the Badger... The two principal characters in the irksome Big Cook, Little Cook are Big Cook Ben (Stephen Marsh) and Little Cook Small (Dan Wright). The marvellous Something Special is presented by the Bafta-winning Justin Fletcher, who also has his own sketch show, Gigglebiz, where he regularly, Les Dawson-style dresses up as various maddening female stereotypes – Anna Conda, Ann Teak, Gail Force.

CBeebies' recent heavily promoted show is Mr Bloom's Nursery, presented by Ben Faulks. The list of male-dominated show is endless. Big and Small is a sort of children's version of Steptoe & Son (two men living together in a dysfunctional relationship), Kerwhizz is a children's game show presented by Jacob Scipio, Bob the Builder has only one strong female character, Wendy, who is listed below all Bob's vehicles in the show's title song ("... Lofty and Wendy join the crew") and the new animation Octonauts, where the lead characters are Captain Barnacles Bear, Peso Penguin and the patch-sporting Kwazii. The one female character is Dashi Dog, who spends a lot of time opening and shutting the Octopod doors.

Women do, occasionally, get to present shows on CBeebies. Katy Ashworth oversees the rather dismal cooking show I Can Cook, the much missed Balamory was presented by the extraordinarily chipper Miss Hoolie (Julie Wilson Nimmo), the outstanding Pui Fan Lee shares the presenting duties with Chris Jarvis on Show Me Show Me and the jolly Katrina Bryan fronts the science show Nina and the Neurons. But it's not really enough.

Women are, on the whole and especially in the animations, action and puppet shows, criminally underrepresented. It wouldn't have taken much, for instance, to make the lead singer in the ZingZillas' band female (instead of the bolshy Zak) or to have a girl instead of a boy for the James Bolam-starring Grandpa in My Pocket. At least Rastamouse has one strong female character, Scratchy, a whiz on the decks and harbouring an ambition to open a roller-skate disco. It beats the hell out of Doctor Gilbertson enquiring "more tea vicar?"

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before