Monday 14 December 2009

Thomas, a Really Sexist Little Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine, I confess, was one of my formative influences. I loved the simple little tales of W. V. Awdry about railway folk, tales that helped with my early reading. No pre-school Christmas would have been complete, moreover, without seeing Thomas on video, all voiced by Ringo Starr. But I wasn’t being delighted and entertained, you see, I was being indoctrinated; for, according to Professor Shauna Wilton, these stories are not only sexist but they also present a ‘conservative political ideology.’ Ah, so that’s where my politics come from; I’ve long wondered about this very point, having no other influences on my life!

Wilton, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Alberta, seemingly researched twenty-three episodes of the TV series before reaching her weighty conclusions. Parents are now warned against the malign influence of Thomas and chums, warned that girls, badly underrepresented, or shunted into secondary roles, might be driven off the rails altogether in later life after subconsciously absorbing such a negative message.

The dear Prof puffs on that the show represents an ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change and relegates females to supportive roles. It’s clearly not a Thatcherite message then!

Where does this silliness end? Yes, it’s funny, not to be taken seriously by anyone with any capacity at all for critical thought, but what arrogance and condescension this silly woman shows. Children find all sorts of things amusing but they are just little people with the capacity to decide what is useful and what is not, what is real and what is not. The Awdry stories were written for a past age, a gentler age, it might be said, but if we start censoring them for a correct contemporary message we begin a journey with no end. What about The Wind in the Willows, my favourite childhood story, replete with an antiquated class message. After all, what are the weasels but a crowd of stupid chavs! I could add lots of others, I’m sure you could too, including just about everything by Enid Blyton.

If I ever have a little girl she and I will sit down to enjoy the pre-politically correct days of Thomas and Toad and all the rest of these wonderful unregenerate characters from the past that do so much to stimulate the imagination. Oh, and she will wear pink. I loved pink when I was little and it did me no har...excuse me I think I'm about to go off the rails. :-))


  1. It is this kind of tosh that usually passes as 'research' nowadays. People like us have to sift through it until we reach the dwindling groves of academe.

    I, too, used to love Thomas the Tank Engine. There is a photo of me as a child with a Thomas the Tank Engine jumper. If you pressed Thomas the Tank Engine's face on the jumper it would blow a horn. I used to love pressing it and have others press it. I didn't wear it to school though because kids would punch me in the stomach all day long. I think I only wore it one day and that is what happened. The headteacher didn't do much about it, as I recall.

    Anyway, the whole premise of this pointless 'research' flawed as you so aptly point out.