It wasn’t until I learned that I was pregnant with Theo that I suddenly realized how very little I knew about babies and children. My response to this was to immediately go out and buy a ton of books about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. I also went online and joined a bunch of pregnancy and parenting communities. After sifting through all of the information available to us, Matt and I began to try to come up with the Best Plan Possible for raising our kid. Because, you know, that’s totally a thing that’s going to work out. Babies just love plans, and are definitely going to turn out exactly the way you want them to.
One of the things that Matt and I decided was that we were going to follow theAAP’s guidelines and not expose our children to any television under the age of two. That shouldn’t be too hard, we figured; after all, we barely watched television ourselves, and surely it would be easy to watch what little we did after our bundle of joy went down for the night. Anyway, we said to each other, what benefit was there in letting our children watch television? Especially when the world around them was so fascinating? It would be, we decided, an easy rule to keep.
Of course, one of the first things you do when you become a parent is break all of your own rules. You quickly learn that there aren’t very many hard and fast rules, and what few do exist weren’t created by you. Sure, it’s great to be consistent and back your words up with actions, but when you become a parent you learn how valuable flexibility can be. It’s easy to be an expert on childrearing when it’s all still theoretical; once you have an actual, physical, screaming baby, it’s often advantageous to revisit your policies and re-evaluate what your priorities are.
All of this is to say that we totally caved on the no TV thing.
When Theo was fourteen or fifteen months old, we started watching short YouTube clips of Fraggle Rock at bedtime. It was nice to spend 10 minutes every evening curled up together on our big bed, watching nostalgic television by lamplight. Afterwards, we would talk about what we’d just watched, and then I would nurse Theo to sleep. It was a pretty great way to end the day.
In the course of revisiting one of my favourite childhood shows, I realized something: Fraggle Rock was pretty fucking progressive with regards to gender roles.
I also realized that Red Fraggle was probably my first real feminist icon.
When it came to strong female role models, I was actually a pretty lucky kid. I had my mother, who was and continues to be a kick-ass inspiration, a woman who always worked outside the house, raised three kids on her own after my father left, and recently purchased her first home after spending year and years saving up for a downpayment. I had my grandmother, a women who also worked outside the home for her entire adult life, and who once took her employer to court because they wouldn’t allow women to wear pants in the workplace. I had my aunt, an Egyptologist who travelled to the Middle East for archeological digs. I had my great-aunt who, as a missionary to Niger in the 1960s, had dedicated her life to educating girls. I definitely wasn’t lacking for real-life women to look up to and be inspired by.
But I wasn’t able to relate to those women and their accomplishments in the same way that I could relate to an adorable red-headed muppet who was about the same size I was and dealt with a lot of the same issues I did.
Red Fraggle is just awesome. She’s smart, funny, opinionated, competitive and likes to be in charge. She speaks her mind, like, frequently, and the other Fraggles almost always listen to what she has to say (even if they don’t ultimately agree with her). She’s adventurous, athletic and generally pretty fearless. She doesn’t wear any pink. Oh, and she’s sarcastic. So delightfully sarcastic.
She also has some of the best lines spoken by a female character in a children’s show, like, ever. The following is from season one, episode fifteen, “I Don’t Care“:
Red: Hey Mokey! They gave me somebody else’s lines for this scene!
Mokey; Uh, let’s see, you say, I know my prince will come and rescue me.
Red: Who needs a prince? I can rescue me!
Mokey: And then you say, hark, I think I hear the hoofbeats of his fiery charger.
Red: Oh good grief.
[a brief interlude of dialogue between Mokey and Boober]
Red: But I don’t have to be rescued, Mokey! I can climb on this trellis! Better yet, I’ll swing on this vine. Why don’t we call it the tale of triumphant princess?
What’s great is that Red has no issue being a princess, she just wants to be a princess who can take care of herself. She’s totally fine with being feminine and girly, but she doesn’t want to have to rely on anyone else. Instead of waiting around to be rescued, she wants to take charge of her own destiny – a pretty admirable trait.
Red challenges traditional gender roles, both openly and tacitly. One of the best things about Fraggle Rock is that the other characters are totally fine with her behaviour. Sure, she can be abrasive and obnoxious at times, and yeah, she has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong, but these aren’t presented as being character flaws because she’s female; they’re presented as being negative traits because of the impact they have on herself and other people.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Red is the best swimmer in Fraggle Rock. Better, even, than any of the boys.
The neat thing about this show is that it’s not just Red who challenges gender roles; it’s Boober and Wembley too. It’s presented as being totally fine for Boober, a male Fraggle, to prefer to stay home all day washing socks and cooking. It’s also fine for Wembley to “wemble”, i.e. waiver with indecisiveness. That last one is especially interesting because a lot of Wembley’s “wembling” comes from a place of not wanting to pick sides when his friends argue and, ultimately, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s pretty rare for a male character to be shown as being so openly emotional. Rare, but awesome.
Mokey and Gobo, the two remaining Fraggles in the main cast of characters, are more typical of their genders: Mokey, a wispy poet who wears long flowing robes and speaks in a vague, dreamy voice is the sort of den mother of Fraggle Rock, and Gobo, bold, adventurous and a natural leader, spends his days exploring the rock and coming up with escapades for his friends. They participate in breaking down gender barriers, though, by letting their friends be who they are and encouraging them to do the things they love. They never ask Red, Boober or Wembley to behave in a certain way because of their gender; they only ask that each of them treats the others with respect.
Anyway, I guess it’s clear that we’ve totally, unapologetically broken our rules about television. We still don’t watch much of it; mostly just Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street (okay, and sometimes hip hop videos, but only because Theo specifically asks for them). Children’s television, especially newer shows, are still pretty much a foreign country to me, one that I’m sure I will someday have to explore. Until then, I’m happy with my Fraggles and the lessons they’re teaching my son. For example, swimming before breakfast is great, music and dancing are a necessity, and boys and girls are totally, happily equal.
Sounds like utopia to me.
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