Working as a nanny for the past 4 years, I’ve had the misfortune of watching hours of the preschooler show-of-the-decade, Dora the Explorer. Everything about it irks me: the theme song, her long, drawn-out pauses between sentences and even the way she gets toddlers to cutely scream, “Swiper no swiping!” at the TV, waving their arms in excitement. But the show was never substantially problematic for me until I was introduced to its cousin show, Go, Diego, Go!, starring Dora’s cousin, Diego. It has become increasingly clear that these shows have been overtaken by marketing techniques, employing stereotypes that directly affect their consumers. For Dora and Diego, the consumers are preschool-aged children.
Before Diego, Dora was pretty cool. For its first three seasons, it was exciting to see a preschool show targeted toward all genders whose leading character was a Latina, Spanish-speaking girl. And while the show does reinforce stereotypes by homogenizing diverse Latin identities into a single character, it had its redeeming qualities. Its subversive episodes like, “Dora Saves the Prince” where she rescues a prince from a high tower, and “The Golden Explorers” where Dora and friends play against big dinosaurs on their own soccer team, offered a vision of a girl on TV who, simply, wasn’t the white, pink-loving stereotype.
Things began to change half-way into its third season, when Dora’s creators introduced her boy cousin, Diego, into the series, and soon came the birth of his own show, Go, Diego, Go!. In his show, the theme song describes Diego as a “rough and tough adventurer,” an “animal rescuer.” While Dora does some rescuing, she most often “explores” and “helps” characters find their way home. These subtle differences are vital ones that have been magnified, as products marketing Dora were princessified, and made pink and sparkly to become the antithesis of Diego products, which took over the stereotypically boyish “cool” colors.
Now, for boy viewers of Dora the Explorer, the difficulty isn’t in watching the show (I know many who love it), but being an engaged viewer. When you enter any store holding Dora or Diego products, you find Dora’s face on things covered in pink, indicating gender boundaries that, for many three-year-olds, have already been normalized.
While it’s frustrating that little boys still “can’t” wear pink, it’s equally frustrating that Dora products were turned into gender stereotypes that are now clearly marketed to one side of the gender binary. Society already creates gender roles defined by things as arbitrary as color and companies have long used these stereotypes to define its audiences. The marketing around Dora and Diego indicates which show is for which gender, encouraging children to engage with the show through this binary.
For me, what is most disheartening is the fact that Diego had to exist in the first place; that a show starring a girl could not be a successful show on its own. It had to be turned into one half of a binary because for some strange reason, we’re shown again and again that a little girl is not viewed as a sufficient role-model for preschool boys (or even little girls). But it’s the market doing the talking, not the viewers.
Emily is a contributing writer for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”