Children's television lacks female role models, says MP

Lib Dem politician calls for sexual equality on screen

Is CBeebies sexist? Why not Tara the Tank Engine or Beth the Builder? Campaigners say that a lack of leading female characters in children's television risks ingraining sexism in a new generation. Ministers are facing calls to force broadcasters to ensure sexual equality on screen.

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP who lambasted airbrushing in glossy magazines, now has TV commissioners in her sights. She claims the industry's obsession with pink and princesses is harming the self-confidence of young girls across the country. Dora the Explorer is a rare example of a "normal" girl who just tries to be "fun and cool", she says. Ms Swinson points to a 2007 study which showed almost two-thirds of lead characters in UK children's TV were male.

"It can start the socialisation of inequality," she said. "It can restrict girls' views of themselves and boys' perceptions of girls too." She questioned whether the BBC and Channel 4 "should be bound by inequality laws" because public service broadcasters have a "different moral requirement on them to be more balanced".

Joe Godwin, director of BBC Children's, said: "All children have the right to see their lives reflected back on screen – regardless of their gender, race, background or ability."

Shows such as Dirtgirlworld, Abney and Teal and Everything's Rosie have female leads. The arts minister Ed Vaizey insisted the Government does not "interfere in programme matters".

Nina: Nina and the Neurons

A neuroscientist of either gender is a rare thing for kids' TV. Answers science questions with the help of the neurons, with a 3:2 female/male split

Stephanie: LazyTown

A dedicated advocate of keeping fit, often dominates with efforts to get LazyTown residents moving. Always closes each episode with a rousing burst of "Bing, Bang"

Wendy: Bob the Builder

The business partner of the eponymous builder runs the office and often gets Bob out of trouble

Peppa Pig

Anthropomorphic porcine big sister, occasionally bosses Daddy Pig around when he needs it, but looks out for little brother George

Upsy Daisy: In the Night Garden

The gurgling star of this pre-school favourite spends most of her time skipping and blowing kisses. Her skirt inflates to a tutu when she is happy

Bella: Tweenies

Very pleased to be the oldest and tallest member of the multicoloured gang, incredibly bossy and not shy of putting the boys in their place

Rosie: Everything's Rosie

A rare lead female character with her name in the title, Rosie skips around learning the meaning of friendship

Mrs Goggins: Postman Pat

The elderly Scottish village postmistress in Greendale, who does little more than send Pat "on his way" with his parcels and letters. One of very few women to feature in the male-dominated cast

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