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Dear Reader,

Welcome to another Media Moment! In this post, Brandy King shares both the negative and positive aspects of her sons’ favorite TV show, and how a little media literacy lesson can help balance the scale.

These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

 

  Media Moment: What I Learned from (Paw)-Patrolling My Kids’ TV Show

Recently my two sons, ages 3 and 5, started watching a Nickelodeon show called Paw Patrol.  This series is aimed at preschoolers and features six rescue dogs and their tech-savvy teen owner, Ryder. Whenever Ryder sees someone in trouble, he alerts the pups. They figure out which dog is best suited to fixing the particular problem based on their different talents and vehicles (police car, fire truck, helicopter, etc.) and then they head out to the rescue.

The kids immediately liked the show, each picking out a favorite character and watching to see how they came to the rescue. The characters are clearly designed for product sales, each associated with a vehicle that transforms—and with six of different dogs, kids want to obtain the whole collection.

As I watched a few episodes with them, I found the gender imbalance immediately noticeable. There are five male pups and one female pup (dressed in pink, of course), and a friend named Katie who is billed as a veterinarian but is most often seen washing and grooming the pups. To build up the kids’ media literacy skills, I made sure to question, out loud, “Isn’t it strange that there is only one girl pup? I mean, you have about equal numbers of boys and girls in your classes, right?” and “If Katie is a veterinarian, how come they always show her washing the dogs instead of helping them feel better?”

As disappointed as I was in the gender representation of the characters, I was excited to see that the show opened up a new world of play for the kids. They dug out vehicles they hadn’t played with in months and grabbed animals from around the house, then paired each one up and pretended they were the dogs. The boys were playing so well together that I mentioned it to my sister, a child care provider. She pointed out, “Well, they have a common script now. They’re both clear on the way the characters act and what’s supposed to happen.” As any parent knows, seeing your children play together without fighting for even 10 minutes is often a miracle. So I had to hand it to Paw Patrol for giving me that miracle.

I have continued to let the boys watch one episode of Paw Patrol a day if they ask for it, and was pleased to see that the producers recently added a second female pup, Everest. Though I don’t love the show, my kids do, so I do my best to help them learn how to think critically about what they see. They get to watch their favorite characters, and I get 10 minutes of play without an argument! Win-win.

~ Brandy King

30 Responses to “Media Moment: What I Learned from (Paw)-Patrolling My Kids’ TV Show”

  1. David

    What a great story Brandy! It’s really interesting to hear your friends take on the idea of a common script. I have often criticized TV and movies for limiting scripts in children’s play, but I really like the positive perspective that they can give kids common ground on which to connect. I’ll have to work that idea into my concept of how media impacts play.

    Reply
  2. Brandy King

    Thanks Dave! I think maybe the phrase I should have used was “common understanding” rather than “common script.” Here’s an example: They both had a common understanding that Marshall would be responding to a guy stuck in a tree because he is the fire dog and has a ladder; and that Skye would be the one to rescue someone off a cliff because she has a helicopter; and that at the end of their play they would all return home to the base where they would get a treat.

    I was also pleased to see them being resourceful. They were taking playmobil people from around the house and using them as pups. Then taking vehicles from around the house and using them as the pups’ vehicles, even though they werent necessarily the same. For example, Zuma is a scuba diving dog, so he was represented by a playmobil guy in a boat, which was the closest they could get. So fascinating to watch!

    Reply
  3. TGB

    Are you concerned about the gender imbalance on MLP? Apparently not. PAW Patrol is intended for little boys, not just little kids period. Like franchise that will become relevant as they grow up, such as Transformers (even Rescue Bots), the cast is skewed to the target demographic. And boys and girls happen to be different, no matter how much parents attempt to “same” them. http://www.livescience.com/20011-brain-cognition-gender-differences.html Whining about it is stupid. Are you bothered by the lack of male representation in Barbie or Bratz or LEGO Friends? Won’t little girls be confused by the presence of 49% of the population? Stop super-imposing your adult BS into a fun kids show, and let your boys be boys – it’s not a disability.

    Reply
    • KVD

      Why is it you think Paw Patrol is intended solely towards little boys, TGB? It’s one of my daughter’s favorite shows and I too was disappointed in the lack of female representation. But what about it makes it inherently intended solely for boys, do you think? To me the theme seems pretty gender neutral. Most kids love animals, it’s intended to teach kids how to be helpful members of society which is appropriate for both sexes, and there’s no good reason girls shouldn’t be interested in the “fields” and activities represented by the pups.

      Reply
      • Kal

        I was thinking the same while watching this with my boys but
        Everest is a girl pup and Zuma is represented in a manner in which he/she could be either sex?!
        I asked my 3yo Paw patrol super fan is Zuma a girl or boy. He said girl. So maybe it’s actually almost even?! Either way it’s a brilliant show and I love how Skye (although in pink) is the only one with flying skills.

        Reply
    • Jill

      You seem to be a silly, and perhaps under-educated person TGB. In the article you referenced (not heavily based on or utilising scientific evidence) they acknowledge
      ‘So, if neither sex is more intelligent, why are we so stratified by adulthood? Why, for example, are more than 90 percent of CEOs male and more than 90 percent of secretaries female?’. Here they note that differences are, what they term ‘context dependent’, and highlight that gender imbalance and stereotyping (as a result of social construction) is a serious problem and Brandy was absolutely right in pointing this out, and teaching her children to be mindful of restrictive stereotypes. You’re right on one thing – Paw Patrol is a fun programme – why shouldn’t little girls be able to watch it and see other representative little girls (or pups) ‘save the day’? Being a boy or a girl is not a disability, no, but when you represent the world (in whatever form) as white and male (for example) you ‘dis-able’ other groups from achieving equality. Think before you write.

      Reply
    • Margaret

      Actually male and female brains are much more similar than they are different. Gender equality is a persistent problem in western society so, yeah, it bothers people when they see gender inequality being spewed out to youngsters. I don’t like to see any show targeted to girls or boys. We won’t watch gender stereotypical shows. Studies show that ideas about gender get pretty ingrained by 5 years old, so it’s important not to limit either gender into socially constructed boxes. Excerpt from this source: “… just by looking at the brain scan, or height, of someone plucked at random from the study, researchers would be hard pressed to say whether it came from a man or woman. That suggests both sexes’ brains are far more similar than they are different.” http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/study-finds-significant-differences-brains-men-and-women

      Reply
  4. Patricia

    Hi, my son loves this show, and i was surprised to realize that in the original version there is only one female character. Netflix, that features the show in Brazil, presents a version where besides Sky (the pink female char), Marshall and Zuma are both presented as little-girl-puppies.

    Reply
  5. Chris

    Great article, I’m glad that people are talking about this. I work in the tech industry which has a massive gender imbalance and my company along with others are putting efforts into combatting this. This emphasis really opened my eyes to the issue. I also have 2 young daughters so I am starting to see the problem everywhere I look. I want my daughters to grow up understanding that they can accomplish anything they want and who they are is never a reason to hold them back.

    I’m wondering though, do you think that same common understanding translates to “some tasks are for boys and some tasks are for girls” ?

    To the people saying that the target demographic is boys, that may have been true when the show was created but the show has clearly taken off and my daughter is obsessed with it. It is the only show she wants to watch.

    Reply
  6. KayLee

    While I agree with the thought that there should be a couple more girl pups, this was originally intended to be a little boys show. Just like MLP was intended to be a little girls show. So if we are saying PP should have equal female characters, MLP should have equal male characters. After all, PP isn’t the only show that’s taken off!

    Reply
  7. Jen

    I used to think skye and zuma were both girls my kids told me otherwise. (Sad face) My daughters age 3 and 7 fight over being skye because that’s the only girl in the show. The 3 yr old loves chase and marshall too sometimes she’ll say shes one of them, but the older one tells her she cant because then shes saying she a boy. It does sucks.
    Pound puppies on the HUb is awesome I personally love the show & believe the roles for female and male are pretty even, but they rescue other dogs and find them homes, there’s no toys of them either like for Paw Potral has, plus the rescue team in Paw Potral rescues anyone in need, in every day life, so I agree with most commons here. After all these years and women rights we still dont have equality.

    Reply
  8. Ian

    There is another female pup in the paw patrol, its Everest, she isnt in every episode but appears in certain episodes.

    Reply
  9. Beth

    My daughter is five and she loves paw patrol as everyone has said that their daughters have Skye is her favorite But she doesn’t look at the rest are boys and so she can’t do the different kinds of work they do. She pretends to be all of them depending on what she is doing if she pretends there is a fire she acts like marshal if she needs to dig something she pretends to be rubble I think people make too much out of a kids show kids are a lot more open minded then adults and don’t see the world in male and female and black and white they just see a bunch of pups helping other people I think kids see the good in things that adults don’t always see instead of making everything so controversial

    Reply
  10. Colm

    Brandy I am very disappointed in yet another adult projecting their issues on something innocent . You also should have done some research before posting this. I guess you miss the fact that Marshal is a girl. Why, because she is dressed as a gender neutral firefighter and not wearing a ” female color” ? Zuma maybe a girl as well and so is Everest. So if you you want to say there is a bias let’s be fair. The boys pups drive a police car, a bulldozer and a trash truck. The girl pups have a jet, a hover craft, a snow mobile and a fire truck sounds like the boys got the short end of the stick. I guess you also missed the fact that the mayor of the town is also female . There is enough bias in the world without you creating bias where there is none. I watch this show with my 3 year old daughter and we love it. It is a boy and his pups( a classic story) working as a team to solve problems doing jobs that I thought were cool when I was little. Take a deep breath, enjoy the blessings you have in being able to sit and watch such a fun innocent show and enjoy the moments you have. Trust me everyday there are fewer and fewer moments like these don’t waste them.

    Reply
    • Bl

      I’m glad I can assure my girl that Marshall is a girl. She was heart broken when she realised it. We told her that the gender didn’t matter and that she can assume it to be s girl pup.

      Reply
  11. Dan

    Sorry, but in reference to the posts song that Marshall and Zuma are female, that’s incorrect. The website, marketing material, and packaging all refer to both of them as males (ex. “His fire truck”, “he loves the water”, etc.). However I don’t see an issue with this. Their gender has no weight on what they do or how they contribute to the team.

    Reply
  12. Debe

    My 3 1/2 year old daughter and 1 1/2 year old son choose both male and female pups to identify and play with. I try to teach both my kids they have options regardless of what the media seems to be offering. Love your article. Totally get what your saying. Ye since have trouble with my boy having options too. Personally I don’t like most of the “female” cartoons available. Wouldn’t it be great to have a more balanced cartoon? ! Yes of course again I agree. So for now we will take this often less then ideal world and much less than ideal media and do what you and all good parents do… we will discuss the wrongs and rights or at least put that wonderful seed in their beautiful minds and help it and them grow and learn about the diversity and inequality and also show them how to overcome it.

    Reply
    • Bella

      I am 23 years old and I love Paw Patrol and my favorites are Chase and Zuma. Also everybody who keep saying Zuma and Marshall females are completely wrong they are both male dogs.

      Reply
  13. Kris

    Paw patrol annoys me because they even nullified skye’s talent with the air patroller so now they all fly! I’d like to know why all girls in cartoons are obsessed with pink, lavender, and teal. Even doc mcstuffins is all pink! Why no girls that like red or blue or orange? Paw patrol annoys me with that, but the newest Mickey and roadster racers annoys me even more. Heck, in that show the girls are “happy helpers” and doing really daring things like – baking a cake, babysitting, and collecting flowers. Daisy fixes everything with a mallet. So disappointed!

    Reply
  14. Anna Mercer

    Google it, Zuma and Marshall are male. It’s a lovely programme, but there’s no disputing that females are under represented.

    Reply
  15. Jo Chang

    Actually, females are a little over represented in this show, since 16,7% of the rescue team is female (Skye) and the realistic proportion would be between 1% (heavy machines operations, like Rubble) and 12% (police, like Chase, cause guns helps a lot on reducing gender gap in risky professions). But maybe this real-life gender gap in professions that involve risking your own life for strangers (less because of altruism and more for having low self-preservation instinct in every field of your life, a more male characteristic than female) is just a consequence on how media portrays men and women, I don’t know.
    Anyway, it’s a show about pups that rescue kids, my daughter loves and she likes Marshall, because you don’t have to admire only those who fit your gender/ethnicity/whatever and true diversity should have some cartoons that are more boy-oriented, some more girls-oriented, some more neutral, and you get to choose what you like most, instead of wishing that each and every show represents a boring and homogeneous model where everybody is equally represented because this is what you think life should be.

    Reply
  16. Caelin

    But the MAYOR is a woman, if that isn’t female empowerment I don’t know what is. Katie is given more of a nurturing role which usually happens and I get the frustration with that but the person the town has decided to run the entire town is a female.

    Reply
    • Bob

      Well technically, the town has two mayors (Goodway and Humdinger), but the boy mayor (Humdinger) is a bad guy, so yeah, you’re still right

      Reply
  17. Betsy

    People keep saying Paw Patrol was originally meant to be a show geared toward little boys. Why do you say that?

    Also, I just want to throw out there tongue-in-cheek that isn’t it perfect that Skye had to learn aviation to join the team while Zuma only had to learn lifeguarding? Twice as good to get half what they have, right?

    Reply

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