So I was always very vigilant about trying to offer my daughter (now almost 3 years old) only movies or TV programs that I felt minimized racism, sexism, violence, meanness, and glorification of sweets and consumerism. But she has figured out how the netflix interface works and now always wants to pick her own shows out, often telling me that she wants to watch "something else" or "this one with the red car". So recently she wanted to watch a cartoon based on the Cars movie called Mater's Tall Tales (or something similar). Ironically, she was interested in this show because (against traditional gender roles) she really likes cars and trains, but it turns out that this show is one of the most sexist things I have ever seen for kids. (All the characters are male except that in each short segment has a few small female cars who act as groupies and sigh and twitter and giggle and flirt with the main male character. It's really, really bad.) But now that she knows that the show exists, she keeps insisting on wanting to watch it.
So far I have let her watch it when she wants, and I always watch it with her - I even brought up gender a bit by asking her if the cars were boys or girls, and she insisted that the main (male) character was a girl, so I'm not sure how much she is absorbing the gender roles at this stage. She then followed this up by explaining that cars weren't people and therefore weren't boys or girls, and then laughing at the very idea, so I'm not sure exactly what she gets from this... I've tried to talk in a very simple way about how the way that the cars behave is silly and not real, and I've explained to her that I don't really like this show because some of the cars are mean to each other, and she seems to appreciate that but it doesn't stop her wanting to watch it herself. I'd really prefer that she not watch this at all anymore, but I also don't want to make it into a bigger thing than it is by banning it - I'm kind of hoping that if she can watch it now when she wants she will get tired of it and gain an interest in something else. I've tried distraction techniques, but she is very single-minded with a great memory and doesn't want to watch the other things I suggest instead.
I've tried looking for other TV shows or movies featuring cars that I might be able to get her interested in watching which we could maybe use to supplant this one, but I can't find any movie or show starring cars which isn't pretty sexist. I don't know if anyone out there has any suggestions of shows or movies which might work.
I'm not really sure what to do - I know I can't shield her from all the racism and sexism in the world, but I also don't feel that she is at the age where we can really talk very clearly about it if she sees it, which is why I've tried to keep her away from it for now (but it's incredibly difficult - the fact that almost all main characters are male, and ethnic stereotypes abound in animated children's TV/movies means that there is very little out there that I actually feel completely ok with). This issue of course goes beyond this particular show, which I'm sure she will eventually get over one way or the other - but there will always be other books, or shows, or movies that she wants to see even though they have these kinds of problems. When she is older I don't mind her being aware of this, as long as she is also always aware of exactly what these stories are doing and why it isn't a real reflection of how things should be.
Right now I feel like I have two options: 1) let her watch this stuff in small doses and be there with her to talk about it in as age-appropriate a way as I can or; 2) prohibit her from watching it at all, even though I can't really explain why in a way that she will be able to get right now. Not sure if any of you have ideas about other options?
I'm also wondering if any of you have experiences to share about how you handled these issues with your own kids more generally, particularly when they were too young to really understand all the dynamics?
Thanks for reading my post!
DD born at 40w2d on 1/19/2011
EDD for number 2 on 2/28/2014
At that age I think she has zero concept of race or sex. My 2yo DD loves Cars and the Mater's Tales, and we recently just watched Planes. I do avoid some shows (most everything on nickelodeon or nick jr) because I don't care for the content. But I do want my DD to watch things she enjoys and knowing that she has no idea the deeper meaning behind things, it doesn't bother me to let her watch. Maybe it's because DH is a firefighter and that's how we met - I was also a firefighter. So we don't worry much about her feeling that "roles" are set in stone. She prefers cars, planes and trains (so did I) to dolls, although she does love to play with her baby doll, so there's enough variety in her life that I don't worry my kid will be scarred or forced to believe that she must conform to certain ideal because she's female. Just a thought!
I think you're doing some really great mama work in terms of thinking about these things on your daughter's behalf. And I think you're already doing an important thing when it comes to kids & media -- watching the show with her, and engaging her in conversation about the issues you see with the show.
On the bright side, her interest in this particular show is definitely a passing phase.
Mama to J, born 9/4/2012. Some of the things we are into: co-sleeping, breastfeeding, & the Montessori method.
Visit my Montessori and natural parenting blog: http://milkweedmontessori.com/
Thanks for the responses, sassyfirechick, laurela and Rachet - sorry for not responding sooner - I'm supposed to get notifications when someone replies, but that seems not to be working, so I didn't know that any one had posted! Thanks for the encouragement with what I'm already doing. It helps just to have some others tell you sometimes that your imperfect way of handling things is ok! And Rachet thanks for the alternative recommendation - I think we watched this once and she did seem interested (although unfortunately not as interested as in the other show). Luckily her interest in the Cars show has waned a bit, as it tends to with anything once she has watched/read it a ton of times, so I'm hoping we can just have it disappear from her list of available stuff soon. But then I'm sure there will be another book/movie/TV show/toy which will come along which raises similar issues, and then we'll have to work on this all over again. :)
DD born at 40w2d on 1/19/2011
EDD for number 2 on 2/28/2014