My daughter is almost 1 and for various reasons outside the scope of this question, I like putting on TV shows that she'll watch on and off while she's playing. My current options are things available on Netflix and Youtube but I'm open to other subscription services as long as they're ad-free and reasonably priced.

Anyway, everything I've found so far is pretty disappointing from a gender and race standpoint, even PBS shows which I thought would be above average and designed with these sorts of issues in mind. Here are some examples from things I've found:

  • Super Why: Despite there being 4 super readers, the white male is clearly the hero and the girls are more like sidekicks. There's only one person of color and she's even less of a main hero.

  • Barney: Not too bad on gender, aside from the central character and source of knowledge being male(ish). There's not really much of a power dynamic at all between the kids. Having the girl dinosaur be the baby who's always having to learn from others is a bit imbalanced, and there are certain activities like "playing house" that seem to be presented as "girly" (initiated by girls), but it's all pretty mild. Some of the "diversity" and "sharing culture" come across more as racial caricatures than egalitarian.

  • Sesame Street: Old classic episodes definitely reinforce gender role stereotypes. And there's a big gender imbalance in the characters (almost all male). I haven't really found enough episodes online yet to get a general feel though.

Are there any good shows for kids my daughter's age that normalize girls being center-stage and assertive rather than deferring to the boys (and especially white ones) taking up all the space? I'm sure she'll get shown the latter plenty in real life if/when she goes to day care or preschool and later in school, but when that happens I hope it will come across as abnormal and objectionable rather than just a reinforcement of what she's seen on TV up to then.

I've already looked at other questions about TV such as:

What TV shows are wholesome for primary-schoolers?

But didn't find anything specifically about gender and race issues in children's TV.

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    Posted as a comment because I haven't watched it myself: I heard that Peppa pig is pretty nice. The main character is a girl (a female pig), the dad is involved with the kids, different types of animals get along well, etc. – Ana Nov 10 '14 at 10:25
  • @Ana is right, I've added Peppa Pig to my answer, can't believe I forgot that one! – A E Nov 10 '14 at 14:50
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    Kipper the Dog is on Netflix and is one of the few shows I find appropriate for a child that young. Unrelated: I find it fascinating that your 1 year old watches TV. My children were not interested in TV at that age. They just ignored it like how dogs do. +1 to your question because my 5-year-old just told me that girls aren't interested in science, based on his experience from watching TV. sigh – Moby Disk Nov 11 '14 at 21:33

15 Answers 15

On top of the great answer from bmgh1985 (and I'd particularly second their recommendations of 'Something Special' and 'Balamory') here are some more suggestions:

  • In the Night Garden: Very safe, very gentle stories for real littlies which sometimes star female characters, sometimes male (and sometimes ones where you can't tell). The DVDs have a special 'going to sleep in the car' mode where at the end of the episode they just go to gentle music.

  • Nina and the Neurons: Science & engineering with a female presenter for 4 years and up.

  • Katie Morag is fab. Again for 4 years and up. Small wellie-wearing girl learns about the world on a remote Scottish island. Mum runs the post office, Dad runs the shop. Grannie Island is a tough, self-sufficient farmer while Grannie Mainland is a glamorous city-dweller. All great stuff.

  • Topsy and Tim is good on the equality front (they're boy/girl twins) but really is for pre-schoolers and up.

  • I hear good things about Rastamouse.

  • Oh, Teletubbies of course. We're in tiny-children territory again here. Very safe, very gentle. Race doesn't exist, gender goes as far as pronouns and no further. Watch out for Tinky Winky and his handbag.

  • Charlie & Lola is good for pre-schoolers and up. Small girl (age 5ish) learns about the world from her caring big brother (9ish).

  • Peppa Pig is lovely (how could I forget Peppa?). British middle-class family life in porcine form, for about ages 2 to 5. Watchable as a parent (unlike the Night Garden which melts my brain). Peppa is the big sister and the heroine. Race is irrelevant because everyone is an animal. Champion Daddy Pig is my favourite episode.

I'll come back and add more suggestions as I think of them...

I don't know if CBeebies iPlayer works in the USA, but if it does then you're in business.


You might also want to check out the 'girl-empowering movies and TV programming' listed at A Mighty Girl. Although I suspect some of them might be more worthy than good.


Also Sarah and Duck, at the suggestion of @WayneConrad in the comments.

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    I absolutely love Katie Morag and Topsy & Tim. I'd also add Woolly & Tig, not specifically for racial/gender reasons, but just because it's a good show. – tobyink Nov 5 '14 at 10:41
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    Yes, a couple of them. The Topsy & Tim books on the other hand are fairly dull, so I was pleasantly surprised by the TV series. – tobyink Nov 5 '14 at 11:08
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    BBC seems to be blocking access from the US, but I can probably find episodes somewhere. – R.. Nov 5 '14 at 18:35
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    Yes, In The Night Garden is a good one too. I constantly whistle the theme tune while at work! – bmgh1985 Nov 10 '14 at 11:49
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    Would "Sarah and Duck" be good on this list? A female lead and delightfully quirky cast of both male and female supporting roles. – Wayne Conrad Sep 12 at 17:15

In addition to the answers already given, I'd also add My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Almost all the main characters are female, yet the plot lines are not all stereotypical girly-girly things. (My 4-year-old son likes it almost as much as my 5-year-old daughter.) Cupcakes and butterflies are balanced with action and adventure.

The ponies are all different colours, but colour is not considered an indicator of race. Rather the "races" are unicorns, pegasi, etc, who are all shown to get along very well. The only episode I can think of where racial prejudice is directly addressed is Bridal Gossip, where a zebra that gets treated as a bit of an outcast turns out to be very nice. (And ends up as a recurring character in later episodes.)

The producers are of course mostly just trying to sell you plastic toys, but that criticism can probably be levelled against most TV these days, and in the case of My Little Pony they seem to have realised they can be more effective at selling toys if they produce a good show that people actually want to watch.

  • Yeah, MLP:FIM is a good one. Non-human characters is actually sort of a pattern I've noticed to avoid the kinds of things I was looking to avoid. Incidentally my daughter thinks (or at least used to think) Applejack was a boy. :-) – R.. Sep 12 at 17:06
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    That's just why it's an important show...to show kids that girls can act in any way, like doing physical labor, and not caring much for "girly" stuff. – swbarnes2 Sep 18 at 21:19

I think we are spoiled in the UK as we have some great programming available. If you can find them, here are some to watch out for:

Balamory - Lead is a scottish lady and there are diverse characters included from other races and also disabled characters (another thing i like about our shows).

Something Special - there is one main guy in it but he works with kids with disabilities of various races and encourages sign language as part of the show.

Swashbucklers - kids help get treasure back from pirates

Waybuloo - 4 odd floaty creatures do things like yoga and play with children of various races

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    Many of these have episodes available on youtube if you want to get a flavour of them. – Vicky Nov 3 '14 at 12:02
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    We have watched a variety of UK programming, including a couple on your list, and it's had an interesting side effect: my kids now use British accents when playing pretend :) – Acire Nov 3 '14 at 13:26
  • Justin / Mr Tumble on Something Special is wonderful IMO. – JBRWilkinson Sep 12 at 10:03

Some other options that might be worth taking a look at:

  • Sid the Science Kid is more inclusive than some of the other PBS options. While the characters are Muppets, they've also got recognizable ethnicity.
  • Ni Hao, Kai-Lan or Dora the Explorer from Nick Jr. -- while each has a non-white, female protagonist, there aren't a whole lot of other human characters on the show (from what I recall).
  • Maya and Miguel I haven't seen, but have heard some positive things about from friends.

I personally enjoyed the show "Masha and the Bear" and so does my daughter. The two protagonists are a little girl (who is very assertive and a real trouble-maker) and a friendly bear (a big, strong guy who prefers reading and playing chess over adventure)

It doesn't really feature race (with Masha being the only human in the show) but it does show a strong, curious female lead who usually means well even if she often makes a mess of things.

First off, I want to clarify that I'm not 100% sure how to pick a show that doesn't have gender stereotypes, if the "hero" of the show can't be a certain gender. In the question, it was outline that "Super Why" was not a good fit, because the hero is a male and the sidekicks are female. Thus, I'm assuming that a show with a female hero and male sidekicks is equally guilty of gender bias.

Second, my few recommendations are based on shows available on Netflix in the US.

One of my favorite children's shows that I've come across is "Justin Time." It's about a boy who runs into some problem at home, and then goes on an imaginary adventure that ends up addressing that problem. In his imaginary adventure world he always meets his friend Olive. Olive is portrayed as a bright, capable girl, and I don't feel like she's a side kick. She usually enlists Justin's help, but she also teaches him. He also a has a sidekick in an imaginary friend, Squidgy, who is made out of clay. Justin is white, but the skin coloring given to Olive is ambiguous.

I really enjoyed the character Olive in this show, and often found myself disappointed that she was imaginary (in the context of the show).

I would say that the relationship between the two characters is one of mutual love, friendship, respect, and admiration. While the show is "about" Justin, it would not be complete without Olive. Thus, I don't feel he (nor she) is the hero.

Another set of shows are the "Leap Frog" brand shows. They have a mixed cast of male and females which I can't be bothered to remember. The characters are all animals or anthropomorphic letters/numbers. I can't stand the music in this show, or it's format, but I haven't noticed anything regarding gender roles. Race isn't addressed, on account of them not being human (but they haven't used racial stereotypes for voices).

I also enjoy a show called "Signing Time!". It's a live action educational show centered around teaching sign language. The show is hosted by a woman (Rachel Coleman, but not named within the show), and features clips of children of all shapes, sizes, and colors showing how to do the signs. The two stars of the show are Alex and Leah. Leah is Rachel Colemans actual daughter, who is deaf, and Alex is her cousin (though I'm not sure that's in the show, either. I presumed they were siblings.)

That show is not only entertaining for our son, but it helped us learn some ASL that we taught to him. (Our son is not deaf, but signs have been invaluable communicating with him.)

I have no experience with other shows that I feel would meet your qualifications.

To make this a "complete" answer, and not a list of opinions, I would provide the following guidelines:

  1. Look for shows that don't have humans as the cast. This can make it easier to eliminate racial bias, as race isn't usually in the mix. However, use of ethnic stereotypes as character types (or voices) might be more difficult to predict.
  2. Don't eliminate shows that portray males as the lead. While gender bias would have males as the hero all the time, it doesn't mean a male being the hero is invalid. It's just as valid as a female, or a non cisgender character being the hero.
  3. Most shows don't have androgynous/non-cis gender characters, so it can be impractical to try to find a show without any gender bias. Off the top of my head, the only show I can think of that would fit that is Teletubbies.
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    For me the issue is not just whether the star of the show is yet another white boy, it's what the characters are actually like and what they do. For example, in Charlie & Lola the older brother is caring, patient and tolerant of his little sister. They both make cakes; they both get muddy; they both argue sometimes. Their character traits and activities are not split along old-fashioned gender lines. – A E Nov 10 '14 at 13:31
  • Molang and Piu Piu from the eponymous show don't really have gender. – swbarnes2 Sep 12 at 16:57

It's a bit early for a 1 year old (early for my 2 year old, too), but I think Peg + Cat from PBS kids is great. The lead is female, and it's all about math. My son loves it, even though the math concepts are beyond his reach.

I'd say many of the shows on PBS kids (you can find it on the web and on misc portable devices + streaming boxes) keep away from gender stereotypes. Odd Squad is new and is live action - there are both female and male leads, and the "chief" is female.

I'm also in agreement that the Leap Frog series of shows are good. They are mixed male/female animals and have good subject matter (shapes, alphabets, numbers, counting, even engineering).

Ultimately, I'd say the quality of children's educational entertainment is improving dramatically, both from a show standpoint and an app standpoint. It's a great time to be a kid.

  • Be warned about peg plus cat though. All my daughter got out of that was "I'M TOTALLY FREAKING OUT" every episode. I thank them from the habit of total panic and irrational behavior over trivial issues. Banned after a few episodes. Too bad cause otherwise it was good. – Kai Qing Apr 29 '15 at 22:49

Bubble Guppies: six half-human, half-guppies, each with own characteristics, go to a school and learn about things. No special characteristics (gender, skin color, hair color etc.) is even mentioned, and all have different roles in each episode.

Peppa Pig is definitely a strong female character :) She is always showing Daddy Pig who's boss. You can watch these on YouTube (usually some adverts though). It's based on very simple, normal, every day life situations such as going on picnics or going to the supermarket. There are a variety of "grown up" characters that are both male and female and have various different roles. If I remember correctly the vet is female, the dentist is male, the fire station is (wo)manned by female fire people and Miss Rabbit does basically everything else. As someone else said earlier, there is no concept of race because every family is a different animal. x

  • Miss Rabbit has so many different jobs! :) – A E Nov 24 '14 at 20:58
  • Careful of the fake YouTube episodes: bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-39381889 – JBRWilkinson Sep 12 at 10:04
  • My daughter (and son now) like Peppa Pig, but it's full of gender and gender-role stereotypes, especially for the adult characters and especially Peppa's parents. Some of that is poking fun at them, but I'm not sure that's really accessible to a young audience. – R.. Sep 12 at 17:03

Dora the Explorer has a girl being center-stage and assertive rather than deferring to the boys. And she bilingual.

Yet another recommendation, at age 2, my kid liked Doc Mcstuffins. The protagonist is a black girl who is an expert at fixing toys. Her data is a stay-at-home dad, and her mom is a peditrician. Later episodes are less about her, and more about her toys, which are two boys and two girls. (Hallie's more like an adult than the others)

I haven't watched many new Sesame Street episodes, but as far as their website and toys go, Zoe and Abby seem to get a pretty large share of material. Not sure how much screen time Julia gets. So newer episodes might have a better balance.

While clearly intended for closer to the 8-12 range (though I've seen both preschoolers and adults watch & enjoy it) rather than the 'toddler' like you asked for, I still have to put in a good word for Steven Universe. I have not seen a children's show which I felt did a better job of showing positive, yet complex and non-stereotypical, role models and messages in regards to gender, race, and LGBT issues. It also tackled a large number of other complex, but important, topics usually considered beyond the realm of a children's show. It's the sort of show I'd encourage you to keep in mind once your kid is of appropriate age to introduce them to if your looking for better handling of these topics.

The show starts out looking like your standard Monster of the Week style show, which standard action & combat, but near the end of the first season the show starts to grow it's world more and starts tackling some far more complex topics.

The basic premise is that the 'Crystal Gems' have made it their mission to defending earth/humanity. These Gems don't actually have a sex, as they don't reproduce sexually; however, all gems use female pronouns. The gems all have complex personalities that are in no way limited by standard gender roles, they also fall in love and the importance of relationships, how one expresses them, The importance of honesty & consent within a relationship, even the harm of abusive relationships are all addressed in the show, in a kid friendly manner. Thus the reason some jokingly refer to it as "that show about lesbian space rocks."

The main character is male, but one who is very in touch with his feminine side, being very emotional and the Heart of the team, with all his powers focused on defensive and healing abilities that are usually given to female characters. I feel he is both a strong male role model while also shows one does not need to be constrained to standard gender roles to be a strong character.

I also have no complaints with the handling of race. While the main character is white his best friend, and an important and strong character who is definitely not just a side kick, is African American. The Gems aren't human and come in all colors, with one being distinctly African American in coloration. The Crystal Gems' leader, and most down to earth and stable, may be red in coloration, but her body design "is a stereotype, a 'trademark' of Black women’s bodies". Full disclosure since I couldn't figure out how to describe Garnet body design well I did a quick google search for a good phrase and stole the one I found in this article on how Steven Universe handles race well.

Race and racial issues are tackled by allegory also. The type of gemstone each gem possesses works as a surrogate for race in this case, with their tackling issues such as some gems being used as little more then servants/slaves for important gems, and the struggle to not be identified exclusively by one's gem.

In terms of LGBT representation the relationships held by 'female' gems is the most obvious area that can be discussed. However, one 'character' that comes up later is explicitly depicted as unclear gender, seen as pretty by both sexes, and is presumably non-gender binary.

In addition to everything above the show also touches on a number of fairly deep topics, sometimes sometimes by allegory, in a manner that can be understood by children. A small list of these topics include:

  • The struggle of trying to live up to some high standard you, or others, set for yourself, and the feelings of inadequacy failing to live up to those standards can bring. In fact the majority of characters struggle with this in one form or another.
  • That an Idol may not be perfect, and that you can continue to care about someone, even if they don't live up to your idealized vision.
  • Sense of abandonment from not knowing a parent and the desire to know more about them.
  • Sense of failure and how to keep moving on despite one's mistakes
  • PTSD and the difficulty of moving on from a painful experience or memory
  • The importance of compassion and empathy and willingness to try to forgive, but also...
  • Realistically depicting that some will not be easily redeemed by ones compassion, unlike what many kids shows would do, which also leads to...
  • The struggle of being forced to make difficult decisions and regret of not being able to find better solutions.

This is the one show I most want children to watch, because I feel that it covers a huge number of positive messages; and particular addresses messages and topics children are rarely exposed to in children's media but still can benefit from seeing them depicted. I would definitely encourage you to try introducing your child to check it out when they are old enough,

I'm fairly surprised you find Super Why to be gender biased. While the protagonist (I wouldn't say hero myself) is a white male, the women and pig play essential roles in every episode. Further, each has a chance to be the one whose problem is being solved.

That said, I second many of the other suggestions, but especially Peg + Cat. PBS also has Word Girl which is another female lead, and a superhero to boot. That may not be right for toddler though, but something to look to growing into.

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    Super Why just fits the general pattern of having a prominent, obvious "lead" character who's male and white, with a mode diverse cast in secondary roles. It's not bad in itself, but it's part of a pattern that I didn't want to over-represent. – R.. Sep 12 at 17:09
  • yes @R.. when every show has a background of diverse people but the main one is a man that is the point men are the leads with excellent supporting crew. – WendyG Sep 13 at 8:57
  • @WendyG sure, I just don't think that applies to Super Why, though it's been a few years since I have seen it now, as I recall Wyatt is not the "main one" as they are all equal, and are equally likely to be the ones leading any particular episode. Wyatt is the titular character, but not any more significant in the stories as I recall--though perhaps that's just because I'm not sufficiently sensitive to how the shows unfold and his place therein. – Eric Renouf Sep 13 at 12:45
  • @EricRenouf one show on it's own isn't the problem, it is every show added together is the problem. If SuperWhy was the only program a a white male lead it would be fine, but add that to every other show with a male lead and then it becomes a problem. – WendyG Sep 13 at 12:59

Our kids love Bounce Patrol in YouTube. They can dance and sing along. Hi-5 is also a great show which can be viewed in Netflix. PinkFong (Baby Shark) and ABC kids shows in YouTube are very enjoyable as well. These shows are very child friendly without having to worry about bad gender and race dynamics.

Nella the Princess Knight is an excellent show that teaches problem solving, acceptance, and creativity. At first, it put me off because "another princess thing for girls .. greaaaaat", but it does a great job of demonstrating that it's okay to be both brave and fancy. Ogres, dragons, giant spitting plants ... what's not to love about this fairy tale setting?

She has a little sister, which helps provide a role model for older siblings. She has a friend that is the stereotypical "I'm the best" boy whom she deals with gracefully. Her teacher is very encouraging and thoughtful, setting a positive stage for school. Plus, there's always adventure which helps seed new ideas for play at your local playground.

One of the most compelling differences that I appreciate from this show versus some of the other kids programming is that Nella always comes up with a solution to the problem, but she does so after thinking about it and doesn't present the answer with bravado, pride, or condescension.


One caution about Peg + Cat: I love this show to no end — it has catchy songs, it teaches math in fun and interesting ways, and it has a cat. However, it also hammers home the idea that it is acceptable or expected that you should be "totally freaking out" out every problem. Sure, they always go on to solve the problem (using math), but it sets the tone wrong for kids who don't have the same ability as adults to see the whole picture (i.e. that the important thing is the solving of the problem).

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