What Were Little Girls Made Of?
So what should they be made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice? Well, yes, if they’d like to be. The conclusion from this session’s panel is that they should be instilled with the confidence to be anything they want to be – nurse, doctor, astronaut, vet or engineer. And as content creators we have the duty to show this on screen.
Exploring a rage of topics such as parental influence on children’s viewing habits, the maleable minds of children and the need for strong female role models for both genders, the session put the spotlight where we are in representing females in pre-school programming.
There are many things to be proud of. Lindy Cameron described the diversity of characterisation in ‘Katie Morag’ protagonists (a programme where 40% of the audience are boys) and in which the dad has an active role in nurturing his family. We also heard about the rich world created by Scott and Julie Stewart in ‘Kate and Mim Mim’. Based directly on their own family, the Stewarts have created a world with a 50/50 gender appeal in which the protagonist, Kate, is embued with the attributes not only of their young daughter but also their sons.
With gender often wrapped up in pink and blue, is it time to leave these colours behind? ‘Henry Hugglemonster’ creator Niamh Sharkey, whose programme has an equal 50/50 gender split amongst its audience challenged herself to step away from these colours and their associations. This reflects the success of Jess Day and the Let Toys Be Toys campaign who have been lobbying retailers to remove the traditional pink and blue aisles and move away from marketing specifically to boys or girls.
Beyond content creation, the way society raises children is something that also came into focus with educational consultant Brittany Sommer Katzin highlighting differences in the ways in which boys and girls develop. Girls are able to concentrate at an earlier age and are rewarded for completing a task. whereas boys are constantly pushed to try harder. How does this effect the way boys and girls see themselves, and each other?
So what is the Holy Grail for characters that are loved by both genders? Linda Simenski from PBS had one simple and effective observation – make girls funny. And maybe that comes from commissioning more female writers, directors and show creators.
It feels like we’ve moved to a new phase in this debate – we know how to create aspirational girl characters but now we need to work to create diversity in our female leads so that our audience can have the confidence to be exactly what they want to be, rather than what society wants them to be.
Yes, diversity in female roles…. and MORE female roles would be a start!
Also check out these reports on two CMC 2015 Research Sessions: