When I think back on the television programming of my childhood, there are a few really exceptional men of the human and animal variety that stand out to me as really good examples of what I would want my world to look like. They are Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, and the dad from Fievel the An American Tail series (remember living in the United States when immigrants weren’t constantly villainized? I sure do). These men were clear examples of how important it is to be gentle, share your knowledge, and take care of those who love you. The rest of the men and boys I think of in the shows I watched – there wasn’t anything wrong with them exactly, but they were pretty typical and at times clunky (looking at you, Barney). You can be in touch with your feelings without being hokey.
Popular culture, at least when it comes to children’s programming, has certainly grown a lot since the 1990s and that is something I am extremely grateful for. I think of the programming my children watch (and I will freely admit, there are days when they watch way more than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends) and there are a lot more options for truly exceptional characters for them to relate to. In terms of masculinity, I think of characters like Branch from Trolls who begins to understand that hiding from your feelings and isolating yourself from others is really harmful, Timothy from Boss Baby who is very in touch with how he feels and begins to understand that love isn’t something that is limited in quantity, and the lads from Bubble Guppies (Gil, Moby, Noni, and Mr. Grouper) who all use their critical thinking skills and some pretty catchy tunes to process their world. There are certainly more, but I don’t think you’re here to read a list of children’s programming.
As we think about the representations of masculinity we see in programming for young children, I think it can help us to be more critical of the programming we watch as adults (the metaphorical pissing contest between Thor and Peter Quill in Infinity Wars was pretty funny but also a good example of a male relationship that isn’t the most healthy) and also help us to be more hopeful for the future.