The Cartoon Conundrum

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We have 74 episodes of Paw Patrol on our planner; the children have viewed them countless times. “Would you like ‘Pups in a Fix’? ‘Pups save the Basketball Game’?” “Had that one. Had that one,” they say. Whenever I find an episode on Nick Jr that we haven’t seen before, I punch the air with excitement. ‘Pups save Friendship Day’ and it’s double-length too. What a bonus.

In quiet moments I find myself deliberating the ideology behind the cartoon. There’s a disappointing lack of back story. What’s going on with Ryder? With his high-pitched voice he is clearly pre-pubescent, so where are his parents? His friends? Does he not go to school? How is he so well-adjusted? And what about the Paw Patrol business – is it state-funded? Do Ryder and the pups get remunerated, or do they just get board and lodging? I unload the dishwasher in the morning and realise I’m humming the theme tune.

There is a kind of consistency with the format of cartoons which is strangely comforting. Ryder and his team in new episodes look exactly the same as in the previous ones. Ryder has no facial hair yet, no wobble in his voice; Rubble hasn’t developed arthritis in his hind paws; Marshall still shows little sign of brain damage from all his tumbles. The characters start afresh in every episode, just as every toddler starts the day anew having forgotten that his sister hit him over the head with a saucepan the day before. One day my children will tire of Paw Patrol, just as they tired of Peppa Pig, and move on to Spiderman or whatever the next stage is and the pups and the pigs will entertain future generations of pre-schoolers.

Young children of the 1980s watched Cities of Gold, Scooby Doo and Scrappy, Super Ted, Bananaman and Dungeons and Dragons. There would be one episode of a particular cartoon (depending on the day) and then we had to turn off before Grange Hill came on with its more ‘mature’ scenes. We weren’t able to watch all 36 episodes of Super Ted over lunchtime while our mothers were doing the 80s equivalent of admin on their iPads (i.e. peeling potatoes or washing nappies in the twin-tub).

I found an old episode of Dungeons and Dragons on Youtube and played it to my daughter to see if she would be interested. Have cartoons changed so much that my children would find them outdated? I was surprised: firstly at the fact that the ‘baddies,’ including a five-headed dragon, are quite scary – to a four year old. Secondly, that it was a US show. I remembered a lot about the cartoon, but hadn’t picked up on the American accents. Even the Canadian Paw Patrol has English-accented pups for its UK audience. Thirdly, at how familiar the characters still were: Sheila, the girl with red hair and the invisibility cloak who we all wanted to be, Uni the little unicorn, and Dungeon Master, who talked in riddles but who the children trusted.

And that it is the beauty of cartoons; the characters don’t age. Not only can they transport you back to the time when you sat on the orange-patterned rug by the fire and stared up at the square box with the fuzzy picture, but nothing pops up on your Facebook feed with the words “You won’t believe what Dungeon Master looks like NOW” before you have to click through 20 links to see a photo of him ten stone overweight and going to the shops in his dressing gown. They remain on screen as they did in our memories. As John Nash in A Beautiful Mind realises of the girl in his imagination: she does not age so she is not real.

My daughter sat and watched Dungeons and Dragons but didn’t ask to watch a second episode. Perhaps these old-fashioned cartoons should have a Beauty and the Beast-style makeover, complete with CGI and celebrity protagonists. Would that make them more appealing to the sophisticated cartoon-viewers of our children’s generation, or do I just want to relive my childhood?

This Mum's Life

Why can’t we call a woman, a woman?

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Searching for a name at an early age…

There is a problem with the word ‘woman’. I am in my late thirties and, although I am racking my brains, I can’t actually recall being referred to as a woman. Ten years ago I would be called a girl, and now it is usually lady. Just today, a woman said to their child who was standing in my way, “move out of the way for the lady.”

I find myself doing the same. I feel awkward in referring to my peers as women, even though it is difficult to decide on a suitable alternative, when ‘girls’ is surely too babyish and ‘ladies’ sounds like a toilet or a day at Ascot. We were in a restaurant recently and I wanted my daughter to ask for her own juice. The waitress stood there expectantly, and I said, “tell the nice lady what you want.” Nice lady? At the last minute, saying ‘woman’ sounded all wrong, ‘waitress’ too menial and using the name on her badge too familiar. ‘Lady’ seemed to be the most polite term, but what is wrong with ‘woman’?

The French have a neat solution, calling their women ‘Mademoiselle’ – an elegant and graceful word (has anyone not grinned inside after being referred to as Mademoiselle?) – until they are married or noticeably over the age of thirty, and then ‘Madame’ – which has gravitas and dignity – thereafter. But in English, ‘Miss’ is outdated and ‘Mrs’ too much like ‘her indoors.’

Even the French word for woman – une femme – is not half as loaded as its English counterpart. ‘Woman’ sounds like a statement of gender: a police report, medical description (‘a 39 year old woman presenting with the following symptoms…’) or Carrie from Sex and the City affirming ‘I. AM. A. WO-MAN.’

It is natural to write the word ‘woman,’ but can you say it?

If there are problems with ‘woman,’ far worse is the lack of suitable names for a woman’s ‘bits.’ ‘Vagina’ is medical, cringe-inducing and unpopular, ‘fanny’ is old-fashioned and associated with Enid Blyton, not to mention it is what North Americans call their bottom (a bum-bag is a ‘fanny-pack’ in the US). Then there are the babyish names: ‘Foo-foo,’ ‘Woo-woo,’ and the unparalleled ‘Rudy Judy,’ that may work for the three-year old girl but not one ten years older. And it is rarely acceptable just to point or to pull a face and say “down there.”

A quick Google search on the issue highlights a webpage boasting ‘238 words for a vagina.’ 238, really? Surely that is more than the eskimos have for snow. But we don’t build our houses out of vaginas and nor do we melt them to make water. So why are we so obsessed with naming them? The answer may be that most of the 238 names were thought up by men. The vagina list includes names associated with semi-aquatic rodents, shellfish and Mexican food which conjure up fairly disgusting imagery and I doubt were invented by women to describe their own body parts: ‘beaver,’ ‘clam’ or ‘taco’ anyone? But I could be wrong.

In a desperate bid to to come up with an inoffensive moniker that wouldn’t cause undue embarrassment if our little ones shouted it across Sainsbury’s (which of course they do, all the time), we turn to euphemisms. My husband (only when absolutely necessary) will refer vaguely to our daughter’s ‘bits and pieces,’ which could equally be used to describe the contents of a toolbox. When a friend’s daughter asked recently where babies come out, she told her that they come out of your ‘front-bottom’. “I didn’t know what else to call it”, she whispered. And nor do any of us.

No doubt due to my hesitation to refer to her vagina at all, my four-year old daughter has christened hers, her ‘bo bo’. “Boys have willies and girls have bo-bos,” is what she tells me when taking a bath with her brothers. My failure has led to my child being forced to invent names for her body parts. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.

Is this a big social problem? Well, no, not really, but it is irritating, particularly since the difference for men in all this, is that there are fewer negative connotations. A ‘willy’ is so harmless that it is acceptable as a first name for a boy (I doubt there are many girl babies born these days with the name ‘Fanny’) and slang names for penis tend to denote strength and power (‘manhood,’ oh purleeease) or harmless comedy (‘mini [insert man’s name here]’). Admittedly, ‘dick’ has become a bit ridiculous and is now interchangeable with ‘idiot’ but it is not half as bad as ‘gaping axe wound.’ Why can’t vaginas have a non-sexual name as inoffensive and universally used as ‘willy’? One that doesn’t make you blush and cross your legs when you hear it?

Equally, we can refer to a man as a ‘man’ or a ‘guy’ without hesitating and worrying that we are saying the wrong thing. Women need to have a ‘guy’ equivalent: there are many alternatives to the word ‘woman,’ but most of them you wouldn’t want to be called. Perhaps ‘woman’ is the best option after all.

So, I have made a pact with myself to use the word ‘woman’ more regularly, rather than ‘girl’ or ‘lady,’ in the hope that I get used to it and no-one is mortally offended when I call them a woman. They certainly shouldn’t be. We will see. As to the vagina issue, I will let my young daughter lead the way: for our family, ‘bo-bo’ it is.

Cuddle Fairy
Mummuddlingthrough
This Mum's Life