Why Must Girl Heroes Have Boy Sidekicks?

When it comes to female protagonists, children’s television has evolved quite a bit since my own childhood. Back then, our only chances to see a girl leading a show involved rainbow-colored ponies or fruity-smelling kids who liked to pun off the word “berry” a lot. Today, we don’t have all that many more options, but those we do have to choose from are a far more respectable lot -- including multi-cultural mavens Dora and Kai-Lan, as well as a genuine superhero in Word Girl. But one thing still strikes me as -- and my daughter, who was the first to mention it -- as troublesome. All these girl heroes have boy sidekicks.

Dora the Explorer might be a fantastic female role model to young girls, but her ever-present best buddy is Boots, a male monkey. In fact, all of her other recurring character friends are male, too, except one -- Isa the iguana. The spunky protagonist Ni Hao, Kai-Lan falls into the same situation: Her most frequent companion, Rintoo the tiger, is male, as are all her other animal friends, with the exception of one not-too-frequently-seen pink rhino. And then there’s Word Girl, whose superheroic sidekick is, yes, another male monkey.

As my daughter pointed out back when she was only four, most little girls in real life have girl friends; why don’t the ones on TV? My only theory is that television producers fear that a show with a female protagonist will only attract female viewers -- unless they stock the rest of the cast with boys, that is. I’m just speculating, of course, but the evidence certainly points in that direction. Maggie is the only girl among the lead characters on the show that bears her name, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. Maya has to share the spotlight (and the title) with her brother Miguel, as does Pinky Dinky Doo. And even though Disney kicked Christopher Robin to the curb in favor of new girl Darby in My Friends, Tigger & Pooh, they all but eliminated Kanga, the only original female in the Pooh pantheon.

I have a son also. He loves Dora and Kai-Lan. And I don’t just mean the shows; I mean the characters. I think he’d be willing to give their girl friends a chance, too.

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