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The Bechdel Test for Kids' Shows

12/19/2013 05:44 pm 17:44:16 | Updated Feb 18, 2014
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I'm a woman veteran of the Army who advocates for women to have access to more jobs and units in the military, a person interested in how subtle environmental aspects can affect how we think and perform and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. Earlier this year, I heard about the Bechdel test, an assessment of movies in which passing requires that:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

With my background, it wasn't long before I started thinking about the shows my kids watch and wondering how they would perform on a modified version of it. The characters in kids' shows generally aren't talking about men, so the third component would have to be scrapped. In fact, characters may not even be predominantly human, so the first would have to be modified. In a series, there can be variation between episodes, so rather than consider each individual episode, I only want to consider the core characters who appear in virtually every one.

So, my modified version for kids' programs is this:

1. It has to have at least two obviously female characters,
2. Who are part of the "core cast,"
3. Or whose lead character is female.

Note that this framework -- like the Bechdel test itself -- does not assess whether or not the shows/characters otherwise meet feminist standards. That would lead down a whole other rabbit hole. This is just something that has occurred to me while watching kids' shows with my kids and realizing that in some of them, you wouldn't necessarily even know women are over half the population -- when females are included at all, they seem like a hasty afterthought, tokens thrown in when a concept creator realized, "Oh shit, I forgot to include even a single chick! Better write one or there may be trouble!"

Please note that I'm not condemning or endorsing any of these shows based solely on this criterion. Some of them include values or morals that override this one component. My purpose was simply to spark thoughts and conversation on one small aspect of the media we expose our young kids to (at least, those of us who are at a seven or below on the Crappy Mohs Scale of Crunchy Mamas).

So, here's what I've come up with so far, with appreciation to my friends on social media for chiming in with other suggestions as well:

FAIL:

  • "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" - Good guys: One girl, two boys, male parrot; bad guys: four men. My husband thinks this should get a pass because the girl, Izzy, is a very significant character
  • "Thomas the Tank Engine" - The few female trains only appear sporadically, and the human females are also not major players.
  • "Kipper" - The two dogs and two pigs who I think of as the main characters are all male from what I can tell.
  • "Tree Fu Tom" - I'm on the fence on this one. I think of the "main" characters as consisting of Tom, Twigs, Ariela and Squirtum -- only one of which is female. If you include the entire regular cast, there are two more females and three more males.)
  • "Wiggles" - Dorothy the Dinosaur isn't quite enough!
  • "Justin Time" - Only one regular female character.

PASS:

  • "Caillou" - Caillou's mom, sister and grandmother are all regular characters; he also has a couple female friends.
  • "SuperWhy" - Four main characters: one boy, one male pig, two girls.
  • "Sesame Street" - Very diverse cast.
  • "Sid the Science Kid" - Sid's mom, grandma, teacher and female classmates are all in most episodes.
  • "64 Zoo Lane" - Female lead character, some of the animals are female.
  • "Olive the Ostrich" - Female lead character.
  • "Chloe's Closet" - Female lead character, best friend is also a girl; good mix I think of male and female other characters -- her lovey seems male.
  • "Doc McStuffins" - Female lead character whose mother is a doctor; plush toys are both male and female.
  • "Sofia the First" - Female lead character, also features her mother and other female characters.
  • "Pajanimals" - Two male, two female.
  • "Lazytown" - One of the three humans is a girl, as is one of the four main puppets.
  • "Zou" - Several female zebras.
  • "Peg & Cat" - Female lead, women characters.
  • "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" - The main character's mother, the cat family, members of the royal family and others are female.
  • "Peppa Pig" - Plenty of female farm animals in addition to the female pig lead.
What about "Team Umizoomi?" My friend who suggested it thinks it should pass because even though there's only one female character, she's a very strong one who does math and is slightly more of a "main" character than her brother.

Overall, this exercise left me feeling pretty optimistic about this particular aspect of the media landscape. Again, I'm not saying it's perfect out there, but it's actually better than I expected.

What do you think? Since my kids are still pretty young, this definitely skews younger -- how are thing for older kids/tweens? Did I get any assessments wrong -- and how would you rate other shows?