I have a 3.5-year-old, which means I watch a very different set of TV shows than I used to. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot to complain about. But putting annoying theme songs and shallow plot lines aside for a second, it’s becoming painfully obvious that there’s a lot of gender and racial inequity in the shows my kid is into.
I was watching Paw Patrol the other morning with my son, and I’m realizing… there’s 6 pups in this show and only one (ONE!) is a girl. So I’m mentally going through his favorite shows to see if there’s a pattern. Can you guess if I found one?
When I did the math, I figured about a third of the characters in the shows he watches regularly are female and less than that are people of color (you know, not counting the dogs and dinosaurs). He’s even faring slightly better than average, since male characters outnumber females 3-to-1 in top cartoons and characters of color are at less than 20% (1).
I’m sure none of you have time for me to go on a rant about the morality of inclusion and how much representation is important. But beyond my passion for equality, I’m also a marketer.
Anyone who has watched The Toys That Made Us probably has at least a small understanding of the relationship between children’s programming and toy marketing. On your next Target trip, walk the toy section and see how many aisles are dedicated solely to TV and movie characters. In fact, character licensing accounts for 35-40% of all toy sales (2).
With US toy sales at $26.5 billion annually (3), we’re talking about a market of over $10 billion resting in the eyeballs, hands, and parents’ pockets of millions of little consumers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to alienate half of your market by pretending that girls and children of color do not exist.
I took a look at the top 10 kids’ shows (4) to see how they stacked up. While not utterly surprised, it was still disappointing to calculate the results. Female representation across main characters stands at about 36%. If you remove My Little Pony from the equation, the ratio drops to a dismal 24%. There were all of 3 distinct people of color across almost 40 characters in 10 shows.
There were no main characters that could be identified as black. Not. a. single. one. In fact, in all of my frantic googling, I was able to find exactly 1 well known and easily accessible children’s television program that featured a black main character.
African Americans make up 13% of our population and spend $3.5 billion each year on toys, games, and pets. They watch more television and make more shopping trips than any other racial group. Overall, they spend 4% more annually than other races, despite the fact that their incomes are lower on average (5). Yet creators, producers, and marketers are ignoring them.
Imagine how many black boys and girls would be putting PJ Masks figures on their holidays lists if one of the heroes looked like them. Would you sell a toy to all 2 million black kids under 5? Probably not. But you might get close.
I’d like to end by giving a shout out to one of my favorite shows that actually gets things right, Super Monsters. Their 8 main kid characters are evenly split between male and female, and only 3 are white. They have the most racial diversity I’ve seen, with kids that are black, Latino, Asian, and Persian. They even have religious diversity with at least one kid that’s Jewish. Not to mention, it’s adorable!