Feminism in the Wild West of Kids’ TV: Sheriff Callie

Parenting means changing your TV habits. It means no Walking Dead before 8pm and, if you are a parent who lets their kid watch TV, no way to avoid PBS and Disney Channel. Some of it is awful (I’m looking at you, Calliou). Some of it is pretty good (Pocoyo is among my husband’s favorite tv shows, period). But as a parent watching these programs, I can’t help but look at them through a critical lens.

Sheriff Callie’s Wild West is a Disney Junior show that features a cat sheriff, a robin deputy, a cactus side kick, a cow barkeep and a variety of other talking animal characters. It is set, unsurprisingly,  in the Wild West and features lesson-of-the-day episodes about being kind, asking for help, patience and forgiveness.

If asked to describe Sheriff Callie, a preschooler would have a host of character traits to choose from. She is a cat, very good with her lasso, an excellent law enforcement figure, and a great friend. She can throw a mean horseshoe.

Oh, and she’s a girl.

If asked to describe, say, Minnie Mouse, a preschooler might say that she likes bows, dresses, pets, singing and dancing, and always knows to call Mickey to ask for help.

No one could possibly miss the “girliness” of Minnie Mouse.

Sheriff Callie does not eschew traditionally feminine traits. She has pink cowboy boots; she knits (what cat doesn’t like yarn?). Whereas feminine traits define Minnie Mouse, they exist as a complement to Sheriff Callie’s larger character in the same way that her sidekick Deputy Peck has a verbal, “‘Cause I’m the Deputy” tick.

This is the definition of feminism. Sheriff Callie is a girl and, “despite that,” is completely equal to any other fictional sheriff because her gender has absolutely nothing to do with her competency as a character.

Many of the most competent female characters on mainstream shows – think the female scientists on Big Bang Theory, the women on Scandal,  – are often seen through the lens of their relationships with men. And that is most definitely the case with Minnie on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The character of Sheriff Callie succeeds in the same way that the character of Joan Watson on Elementary succeeds. The character’s gender – while relevant and informative to the ongoing story – is simply not the most interesting thing about her.