TV mak­ers re­think ‘dam­ag­ing’ princess shows for girls

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

DIS­NEY princesses may not be dead yet, but chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion mak­ers are un­der pres­sure to cre­ate more ad­ven­tur­ous fe­male char­ac­ters as fears grow over the dam­age gen­der stereo­typ­ing may be do­ing to girls.

Last week Dis­ney tried to tackle head-on fears that its re­lent­less mer­chan­dis­ing was fu­elling a dam­ag­ing “princess cul­ture” that lim­its even very young girls’ hori­zons and con­trib­utes to “body es­teem” is­sues. It launched a 10-point guide for would-be princesses in posters which urged girls to “Right wrongs” and “Be­lieve in your­self”.

But an­a­lysts and pro­gram mak­ers gath­ered at the world’s biggest en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket in Cannes on the French Riviera this week warned that young girls and their par­ents were im­pa­tient for more fun­da­men­tal change. Sev­eral warned that if there weren’t given bet­ter role mod­els, girls would sim­ply turn off.

Emma Wor­rollo of London-based strat­egy com­pany Pineap­ple Lounge said her de­tailed re­search con­ducted with thou­sands of chil­dren across the globe showed girls’ frus­tra­tion.

“Their idea of gen­der is much more fluid [than in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions]. They don’t want gen­der to be a fac­tor at all,” she said. Both older girls and boys idolise the cru­sad­ing char­ac­ter of Kat­niss Everdeen from The Hunger Games films, she told AFP.

But girls search in vain to find sim­i­lar fig­ures they can iden­tify with on tele­vi­sion, which they see as un­just.

They are right to be up­set. On av­er­age three-quar­ters of car­toon he­roes are male, in­dus­try in­sid­ers say.

Yet there is a huge hunger for bet­ter and more gen­der-fluid sto­ries among chil­dren, Wor­rollo in­sisted.

“Gen­er­a­tion Z chil­dren [who are now aged 10 to 16] tell us that boys can now be girls and girls boys, but ‘we don’t see that on TV’,” she added.

Some chan­nels, how­ever, are de­ter­mined to force change. France Tele­vi­sions put out a for­mal call to pro­duc­ers for se­ries re­volv­ing around fe­male he­roes af­ter re­al­is­ing its out­put – “like ev­ery­one else’s” – was com­pletely im­bal­anced.

Its head of chil­dren’s pro­grams Tiphaine de Raguenel told AFP that “we are try­ing not just to have princesses, fairies and tomboys”.

Even new “girlie” car­toon se­ries are try­ing to up their em­pow­er­ment message. SpacePop an Amer­i­can car­toon se­ries about an in­ter­galatic girl band, is mar­ket­ing it­self at the MIP­COM TV in­dus­try meet­ing as a “not your av­er­age princesses” show.

Its hero­ines may be into “fash­ion, mu­sic and friend­ship” but they are also out to save the uni­verse.

The prob­lem can start very early, ex­perts say. A US study of pre-school chil­dren pub­lished this year said princess mer­chan­dise can be­gin af­fect­ing chil­dren’s be­hav­iour as young as three. “Girls who strongly ad­here to fe­male gen­der stereo­types feel like they can’t do some things,” re­searcher Sarah M Coyne said.

Lisa Hen­son, head of the Jim Hen­son Com­pany, said pro­duc­ers had to ad­dress the is­sue. She said their new an­i­mated un­der­sea se­ries Splash and Bub­bles was pick­ing up her fa­ther Jim Hen­son’s work for di­ver­sity on such leg­endary shows as The Mup­pets and Sesame Street.

“We have an equal num­ber of boy and girl char­ac­ters and each of them have char­ac­ter­is­tics which cross gen­ders, so it is quite gen­der neu­tral in that way. Splash as his name sug­gests is a boy and Bub­bles is a girl but she is equally as ad­ven­tur­ous,” she added.

She said the Hen­son com­pany took its mis­sion to pass on “good val­ues” to chil­dren in a fun way very se­ri­ously.

“You would not be­lieve how di­verse the ocean floor is...There are sea­horse sin­gle dads with 499 chil­dren,” she joked. “And it is the sea­horse dads who give birth. There is so much weird stuff there.”

Photo: AFP

Dis­ney Princess, Elena of Avalon, per­forms at 5th An­nual PEO­PLE fes­ti­val on Oc­to­ber 15.

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