The Maisy Test [Quick Guide]: 4 Questions to Expose Sexism in Kids’ TV Shows and Movies

Wow! What a lovely response to my post on sexism in kids’ TV shows and movies (the whole post is here and it’ll make your blood boil!)

Thomas suggested on Twitter that I make a quick reference guide in a separate post. And Tricia suggested on Facebook that she’d love a poster for her kids to be able to refer to. So here we go!

Here is what the Maisy Test is all about, with a handy infographic. For more on why it’s needed, what the current state of kids’ TV is (spoiler: terrible), and some ideas of what to do about it, head over to the main post.

[Click here to download the infographic as a PDF: The Maisy Test- 4 Questions to expose sexism in kids’ shows.]

The Maisy Test: Tips for how to spot and avoid sexism in kids' tv and movies |

The Maisy Test: four questions for evaluating kids’ TV and movies

I think for a kids’ media sexism test, TV shows (and games and movies) need to promote healthy gender messages in three key ways: gender representation (or balance), gender freedom and gender safety. And then it needs to go further to be any use to careful parents. It can’t promote or perpetuate oppression in other ways. A gender-balanced cast with, say, no ethnic diversity can’t get a big tick if we want to aim high, and recommend a show to other parents.

When it comes to gender representation, I want my kids to mostly watch shows that feature male and female characters in roughly equal numbers and status, especially in the core cast.

I want their media to support gender freedom, and show them that no one needs to be limited by their gender in what they enjoy. Boys can love cooking and girls can love climbing.

And I definitely want their media consumption to meet basic standards of gender safety. it should be free from unrealistic body image standards, objectification, sexualisation of children and downright misogyny or sexism.

[For examples, and analysis of why shows and movies pass or fail, see the main post.]

There’s one more sort of catch-all question I want to ask too. You may have heard of ‘intersectional feminism‘, the movement within feminism that acknowledges that all kinds of oppression intersect.

A disabled woman living in the developing world has a bunch of different forces acting against her, and sexism is just one. Intersectional feminists argue, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, that ‘my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!

When it comes to creating a new test, a show with good gender messages but an all-white cast may be no use at all to a Māori kid, who still isn’t seeing someone like her on screen.

So my fourth question is: does this show support social justice and equality in other ways? Are people of colour represented or is the cast all-white? Is there any representation of other marginalised groups: disabled people, LGBTQ+ folks, different class backgrounds? Extra points if children are encouraged by the plots and characters to critique power structures, consumerism, environmental and social exploitation.

The Maisy Test: Tips for how to spot and avoid sexism in kids' tv and movies |

So here’s my test for media for kids. I’m calling it the Maisy Test, after one of the few examples from my son’s favourites that came to mind that gets a gold star.

The Four Questions of the Maisy Test

  1. Gender Representation:
    Are male and female characters present in roughly equal numbers and status?
    Look extra closely: are the two most prominent characters of different genders?
  2. Gender Freedom:
    Do male and female characters subvert traditional gender roles and have the freedom to enjoy a whole range of experiences, unlimited by their gender?
    Look extra closely: is there at least one female and one male character who subvert gender stereotypes? Are girls allowed to wear trousers and fix cars? Are boys allowed to enjoy cooking and feel scared?
  3. Gender Safety:
    Is the show free from sexualisation of children, objectification, unrealistic body standards and misogyny?
    Look extra closely: are girl characters free from mascara and hourglass figures? Are male and female characters given equal respect?
  4. Social Justice and Equality:
    Does the show support equality and social justice in other ways?
    Look extra closely: can all kids see someone like them and their families?

For more ideas on how to evaluate the fourth question, check out The Representation Test, developed for general (not kids’) media:

How to spot sexism in movies - and kids tv |

So, how does all this play out? What shows pass this kind of test?

Head to the full post for examples of passes and fails, and leave a comment there or here with your recommendations (and brickbats!).

Please consider this a warm invitation to follow me on Facebook for daily links, resources and Sacraparentalish tidbits, on Pinterest for link-plantations (including these Gender Politics and Change the World boards) and on Twitter for a range of ranting.

And some related posts you might be interested in:

13 TV shows with strong female leads (for adults)

My feminist parenting humiliation (for laughs)

When words fail (for a guest rant against pinkification)

Tips for how to spot and avoid sexism in kids' tv and movies |

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7 comments on “The Maisy Test [Quick Guide]: 4 Questions to Expose Sexism in Kids’ TV Shows and Movies”

  1. Rosie Reply

    What about Playschool (Australian version)? It nearly always has a male and female presenter, often features one that is deaf and the toy characters are a range of genders plus a small mix of ethnicities. The activities the adults do always seem to be varied and not gender stereotyped. Usually very simple craft or pretend play activities the kids could replicate at home. Not sure if it completely passes the whole Maisy test but I think it’s pretty good.

  2. Liz Reply

    Hi great posts on this topic – thank you 🙂 I did a block of research into gender portrayals on children’s TV while I was studying for my Masters degree a few years back and programming aside, I found that commercials portrayed a world that was hugely male dominated as well, from voiceovers to characters to edit style – and colours (only pink and tranquil for girls, surprise surprise). So just a heads up to parents to be aware of the subtle messages the commercials are sending too, if children are watching a channel where commercials are played. 🙂 Liz

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  5. carl_with_k Reply

    The Maisy test is a children’s equivalent to the Bechdell test that has been applied to movies. A similar study in Media Psychology revealed that cartoon-dominated children’s TV programming portrayed male characters who were “more likely than female characters to answer questions, boss or order others, show ingenuity, achieve a goal” – and get this! – “eat.” Good point!! Eat!!!
    carl_with_k recently posted…free tv shows online full episodes without downloading

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