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21 February 2022

We’ll never have gender equality while Paw Patrol is around

Why do kids’ TV shows use female characters as simpering, silly sidekicks?

By Deborah Frances-White

Some years ago, I took my nephew to see an Imax film at the Science Museum. It was heaving with children aged between three and 12 and their knackered, well-meaning parents, relieved to sit down. We watched Fly Me to the Moon, an animated movie about three flies who stow away on the first moon-landing space flight. If you think any of those three adventure-seeking flies were female, please have a realistic word with yourself. 

There are 20 characters; 14 are male. Three of the four main female characters don’t have a name beyond “Scooter’s Mom”. The film had a budget of $25m, includes an appearance from Buzz Aldrin and is meant to be entertaining and educational. The male characters are all adventurous, professional and/or scrappy and brave. The “mom” characters have hysterical, squeaky, high voices and keep fainting – as mothers famously do when their children are in danger. Women are useless. Honestly, what is the point of us? 

Progressive parents worry about how that limits young female viewers, but I worry more about how it makes boys see the world. The message is crystal clear – don’t invite girls on your adventure, they’ll only faint. 

Recently an 18-month-old girl proudly showed me her Paw Patrol toys. This animated, mega-hit TV programme was created in 2013 but from a cursory glance you’d think it was launched in 1973. It features a boy and his pack of six puppies who help him save various days. Five of his canine sidekicks are boys in uniforms that the Village People would envy, who have names like Rocky and Marshall. One is a coy girl cockapoo called Skye. Her personality traits include having big eyelashes, and she is described on the official fandom site as “very lovable and emotional”. Try searching for Paw Patrol kids’ clothes. The boys’ tops feature only the male characters so they’re not burdened with a splash of pink on their T-shirts. Girls’ pyjamas almost exclusively promote Skye and the colour pink.

Before our children can even speak they are given a very clear signal: if there’s a mission, only one girl need apply and she’d better be compliant and femme presenting. Her value is primarily cosmetic, and she has no female friends. 

In 2021 the UN released its latest bleak gender stats. There are only 24 countries in which women serve as heads of state and/or government – out of 195 in the world. “At the current rate,” the reports tells us, “gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.” That sounds incredibly optimistic to me. While Paw Patrol is one of the most-watched television shows for small children in the world, we will never ever reach anything like leadership gender parity. We could give it 10,000 years and men, from their first puppy-boss babygrow, will still be seduced by the idea that the world is theirs. Girls will learn from nursery school lunch boxes that they should be grateful to be included at all.

Story is everything. Story is everywhere. Unless we change the billion-dollar narrative of those cartoon canines and the inevitable copycat propaganda films that will follow, we simply cannot change the story of the human race.

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