The Token Women

I went to university with a woman-let’s call her Liv-who, some years after our university days had ended, I spotted walking up the street in the dead of winter wearing nothing but a pair of hotpants and a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I AM NOT A TOKEN WOMAN.”

Liv could never have been mistaken for a token woman.  She had a shock of frizzy red hair, which she maintained in a fluffy halo around her head, usually dressed (although clearly not on this occasion) like Margaret Thatcher and spoke at top volume about her political ambitions.  She was not a token woman by any stretch of the imagination, and she broadcast that fact to the world with every political statement that she made.  I feel ashamed to say now, as someone who now tries to think of herself as being sisterly to all, regardless of dress sense, that at the time she was ridiculed.  By those of us who thought she was too political, too Conservative (with a capital C), too old-fashioned in her hairstyles, clothing and attitudes.  But although at the time she was considered an eccentric oddity, in hindsight I can see that she had a point.  Token women are everywhere.

Just look at the Go-Jetters.

Piglet has recently decided that the Go-Jetters is his latest favourite television programme, after Paw Patrol, Thomas and Friends, Fireman Sam and Blaze and the Monster Machines.  I should be happy, I think, as I watch the Go-Jetters twirling improbably around the Acropolis in Athens in one of their flying cars, or rescuing runaway statues as they career down a mountainside into the path of a group of tourists on Easter Island.  Even if it does promote the idea that the universe is governed by a breakdancing unicorn (if only it was), at least it’s educational, and best of all there’s an actual female character that does stuff.

And then I realise it.  Xuli might be the pilot with the power and the speed, but she is still the only female character in a cast full of men. Xuli is a token woman.  Just like Skye, a.k.a. the pink one (naturally) from Paw Patrol, the pink power ranger*  Just like Penny from Fireman Sam, (I’m not counting Bronwyn or Dilys, since their sole occupations appear to consist of mothering and providing food) and Emily from Thomas and Friends, the latter of whom it is abundantly clear has just been slotted in to appease the politically correct brigade (note to the Rev. Audry: I am not appeased).

They are everywhere, these token women, and it is not good enough.  You can tell me I am being petty, that I am twisting CBeebies to fit my own dangerous and subversive feminist agenda, and should worry about Really Important Stuff like FGM and forced marriage, but no one says we should solve all murders before we investigate fraud, and we have to fight the small stuff for the next generation of girls.  They are not token women, and if we don’t have children’s television programmes that affirm the simple and obvious fact that women comprise 50 per cent of the population, and aren’t just slotted in to make up the numbers at Tidmouth Sheds, then how do we teach the next generation of girls-and boys-that women are just as capable as men and can do anything they put their minds to?

There are some signs that things may be changing.  Skye has been joined by Everest, and the other day I’m sure I caught sight of another female firefighter who may have joined the Pontypandy crew, so progress is being made, albeit very slowly (nowhere more slowly than Thomas and Friends, whose most recent characters-all male-seem to include a train which inexplicably drives around with a propeller on its back-“the fastest vehicle on land,” according to the Fat Controller-and a sailing boat which rides on the rails for reasons which are never fully explained, but yet no additional females).  So let’s hope that in future, we’ll see more children’s TV that finally not only passes the Bechdel Test, but shows the world how it really is-50 per cent female.

*Unrelated I know, but has anyone else seen Power Rangers recently?  It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen on television, and I was a first-hand witness to “Bouncer’s Dream.”

12 Comments Add yours

  1. As a fellow man-hating, wool-wearing, bra-burning, cat-collecting Feminist with a capital F, I whole-heartedly agree. This is one of my many pet hates. My current favourite kids TV show is Octonauts, in fact I’m in the process of writing a blog post about it. “Men” still outnumber “women”, but Tweak is an engineer, which please me immensely.

    1. Min says:

      Ah Octonauts, yes I quite like it, although still a bit of tokenism in there too. Will have a read of your post!

      1. Yes do! I’d be interested to hear your take!

  2. Cath says:

    I’d agree with lots of points here and Thomas has taken its time. My nearly 3-yr-old daughter and I watch lots of Thomas and there are at least the following female characters – Emily, Rosie, Marion, Belle, Caitlin, Elizabeth, Millie, Molly, and a good number that we’ve not even seen like a train called Ashima.

    1. Min says:

      There are certainly more than there were, but still nowhere near 50%. I know the original trains were all male, but it would be nice for there to be a bit more of a balance now.

  3. I love that in blaze and the monster machines that Gabby, the only other human in it other than AJ, is a mechanic and a strong independent minded woman, not just some blonde bimbo, and even though we are big fans of gabby and her purple hair, I do wish that girl characters would come in colours other than pinks and purples!

    1. Min says:

      Agreed! What is it with the obsession of making them all pink?

  4. Adam says:

    Thomas is changing from next year, they’re getting rid of Henry and Edward and replacing with girls as main characters. About time this dull show is livened up.

    1. Min says:

      Oh good-Edward is pointless. I must admit I do like Henry though. I’m intrigued by his “special coal.”

  5. Completely agree. As a mum of a two year old I struggled to answer why Skye was not on his paw patrol pyjamas when all the others were (I assume that is because they are boys ones).
    I also find it hard when he loves frozen and beauty and the beast yet all merchandise seems to be in the girls isle!!
    Yes he loves trucks and dinosaurs but he also has a dolly and a Skye night light!!!
    I share in your frustration.

  6. Anneke says:

    Hi, I just came here through Google while looking up this token female phenomenon. I have two 5 year old boys, and I already see them dismissing the token female character because that one is clearly geared towards drawing girls into the audience. Here is a list of other cartoons I have come across with clear token females:
    PJ Max
    Robocar Poli
    The Adventures of Chuck and Friends
    Airport (Netflix show)
    Rescue Bots
    Any Madagascar related movies or spinoffs
    …and those are only the ones I can think of just now.

    As a mother to boys I am trying to get them to see girls as teammates and classmates in their own right, but they already come home from school saying girls aren’t good at this or that. I am trying to raise good men, but shows like these don’t help!

    1. Min says:

      I know. It’s so depressing. 🙁

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