As we turn the television on Saturday morning for our children to watch their favourite cartoons, are there truly just mindless, colourful and furry characters that fill the screen? Or do they develop other underlying messages behind the simple and explicit lessons intended for their audience?
As parents click the remote for some undisturbed time while their children are being entertained, maybe we should pay more attention to the influential and stereotypical characters with specific gendered roles that are pronounced throughout our society today.
To put Arthur in conversation with the concept of gender roles, we need a basic understanding of the show. “The 8-year-old title character of the animated series, Arthur, is a sweet, curious kid with more than his share of self-consciousness. He shares insecurities, adventures, and the spotlight with a varied cast of friends and family members. Although technically Arthur is an aardvark and his friends are other kinds of animals, they act just like real people. Based on the book series by Marc Brown, Arthur premiered in 1996” (Steyer, Spotlight on Learning: Special Needs Guide. Common Sense Media Inc. 2013). With use of furry animated animals and fun music, Arthur may seem nothing more than a child friendly cartoon. In contrary, the use of prominent roles for each character in Arthur’s family is what naive children will become desensitized to without awareness! Arthur has two parents, a mother and a father; this seems typical right? The mother, Jane, is a respectively dressed woman with feminine features and works from home as an accountant. She is seen doing household chores, dealing with Arthur and D.W.’s conflicts, as well as nurturing her baby, Kate. Arthur respects his mother and treats her as an authoritative figure. Arthur’s father, David, is also an appropriately dressed male with masculine characteristics and plays the head role in the house.
The slight twist and turnover that creates friction with our perceived social norms today is the father’s job. David works as a self-employed chef with his own cake, pastry and catering business. For most children, like myself, who were raised in the stereotypical dual-income family, this may come of surprise. In a heterosexual marriage with children, it is common that the mother is the nurturing guardian and the father is the breadwinner. Due to cost of living, which is consistently increasing, it becomes more common and accepted that both parents produce an income for the family. The jobs in our world have been gentrified as well, therefore, it creates bias in regards to the type of employments parents have, based on their sex. As I would eagerly sit down to watch Arthur, it took a slight adjustment and a conscious perspective to accept the father as a chef in the family, rather than a mother in the kitchen.
The innocence of children today is what allows them to absorb these fundamental aspects of television shows and translate their knowledge as they form expectations to the world around them. These simple yet influential aspects from Arthur can shift social norms and break stereotypical beliefs of gender roles in society.
Steyer, James. Spotlight on Learning: Special Needs Guide. Common Sense Media Inc. 2013. http://www.commonsensemedia.org. Web. 3 March 2013.