Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Chuggington chunter

Oh dear...I once talked on Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' about the gender-bias of pre-school animations, citing in particular Underground Ernie's gendered stereotypes. (The interview can be found here if you are interested.) Unfortunately, Cbeebies on BBC1 have just started airing another series featuring trains as characters - 'Chuggington', which appears to be demonstrating some of the same problems. Only three of the ten trains are female and two of them are described thus:

Olwin is an older steam train who is a wound a bit tight. She always runs to schedule and can’t stand being late! She is a sweetheart, though, and loves mothering the young trainees. (It's just that the "little chug-a-chugs" find her caring ways a little too much, sometimes.)

Zephie is a young scissor-lift trolley. Unlike the other chuggers, she can spin round and scissor up and down in excitement. She is flighty, giggly, girly and fun. She knows when it's time to get to work, too.

Only one of the three female trains appears to escape stereotypes:

Koko is a fearless passenger engine built for high speed. She loves to explore and have adventures, and to challenge her friends to a dare or a race. Although her spirit might get her into mischief, she is always well-meaning and knows when to apologise.

With reports that the programme is scheduled to be shown in 100 countries and is to be linked to a range of toys, we can be sure that this is yet another objectionable programme, with gendered sterotyping that is completely unsuitable for a 21st century pre-school audience, which will become embedded in young children's popular culture with little critique.

36 comments:

Lorelei King said...

I am a writer and script editor on Chuggington - and while I'm pleased to see people blogging about the show, I'm not sure your comments regarding our female characters are entirely fair.

The character descriptions are taken out of context, which doesn't help - but in any event, why shouldn't an older female character be motherly? What else should she be? She is, at the same time, a powerful hard-working engine. Can she not have a fussing personality? If she were something like 'a wise engine, always efficient,' it would start to be a very dreary series indeed.

And why shouldn't Zephie be giddy and girly? If all the engines were like Koko, it would be boring beyond belief. Zephie is, equally, a hard-working trolley, capable of everything that her size and mechnical ability allow.

Our female characters are given no leeway or special treatment because they're 'girls.' They're not forbidden or prevented from doing anything the male engines do. There is gender equality in Chuggington.

Having said that, of course we exploit the delightful foibles of being a girl or a boy - it's called characterisation! And good characterisation comes from observation. There are girls who are giggly and flighty, as much as there are girls who are daring and strong. There are women who are very maternal. A character constructed to be perfectly PC, with no human quirks would ring as false as a politician's speech.

Our job is to reflect society as much as it is to model good values and so on.

The show is proving to be immensely popular and we are all very proud of it. I hope you will have the chance to watch some episodes so that you can see how charming and well-rounded our characters - both male and female - are.

All the best, Lorelei King

Anonymous said...

Well said Lorelei - I couldn't have put it better myself.

My boys love this show and I have no issues with the representation of female or for that matter male characters on the show.

I encourage my boys every day to see women as people with many sides. I can be pretty, I also can kick ass on the soccer field and sometimes when mommy-brain kicks in I forget everything I don't write down.

I would also put out there that 'Vee' is a female who controls the entire town?

Food for thought and great dialogue on the topic both ways.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your logic here, Jackie.

"With reports that the programme is scheduled to be shown in 100 countries and is to be linked to a range of toys, we can be sure that this is yet another objectionable programme, with gendered sterotyping ..."

So you are saying you are sure it will be objectionable based on its popularity? Or based on a few character descriptions taken off a website? Have you yet seen an episode? I have, and I can attest that the characters, male and female, are delightful and as multi-faceted as possible ... they are trains, after all.

--Jane Edwards

Brenda Scott Royce said...

There's another major female character on "Chuggington" you've overlooked entirely -- Calley, the shunting engine and "emergency chugger." The resourceful, brave, quick-thinking Calley rescues her fellow trains when they are in danger, acting as a combination firefighter / tow vehicle / fuel car, etc. Hardly the typical female stereotype -- and a great role model for young girls!

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