A Canadian professor has been flooded with angry e-mails from parents after publishing a study saying that the popular children's TV show featuring Thomas the Tank Engine teaches children to be conformist -- and sexist. University of Alberta political scientist Shauna Wilton says she recognizes that Thomas—who works on the railway on the fictional island of Sodor—also stresses positive themes, such as trust, honesty, and hard work, but she notes that only eight of the 49 main characters in the current Thomas shows are female. Only one, Emily, is among the core team of steam engines—and she didn't show up until the TV series' seventh season. Is Thomas the Tank Engine sexist? (Watch a Fox report about whether Thomas the Tank Engine is sexist)
What nonsense: Thomas is a great role model for little boys, says Sally Morrell in Australia's Herald Sun. He's "kind, friendly, and helpful, and always tries his best." The show may appear un-PC to a mom with a little girl—after all, the original books were written in the 1940s by a minister for his son. But a lack of "train engines who wear lipstick" is far less sexist than all those Disney princesses.
"Prof is off the rails to bag Thomas"
There's no denying that female engines get short shrift: Shauna Wilton, whose 3-year-old daughter watches Thomas, isn't the first parent to suspect that the show is "peddling harmful right-wing rhetoric," says Fionola Meredith in the Irish Times. Many parents "reserve a special loathing for the little tooting train" because of the male-dominated world he lives in, and the TV show's relentless call for subservience to authority. "If your pre-schooler starts channeling the autocratic spirit of Sir Topham Hatt," Thomas' boss, "you know you’ve really got trouble."
"Thomas the not-so-innocuous engine"
Thomas may be a steam engine, but he's modernizing: "Yes, there is a lack of female characters and most have been relegated to secondary" roles, say the editors of Feministing. But the Thomas and Friends show underwent a "major overhaul" in 2004 to address its problems, and female characters such as Daisy and Mavis "have been proven to possess strong, charismatic personalities." The Thomas stories may be old-fashioned, but they're not particularly demeaning to women.
"Is Thomas the Tank Engine sexist?"