The German version of the children’s TV show Sesame Street – called Sesamstraße – turned 40 a few weeks ago, congratulations! We all grew up with it, with the US-characters and additional German puppets, with the German theme song “Wer nicht fragt, bleibt dumm” – “if you don’t ask you’ll remain stupid”, with magazines, colouring books, CD, with Ernie’s iconic laughter. And with seeing a majority of male puppets, animals, monsters.
Here’s an imcomplete list of some main characters from the Sesamstraße: Ernie, Bert, Grobi, Oscar, Bibo, Klein-Bibo, Krümelmonster, Kermit, Schlemihl, Professor Hastig, Graf Zahl, Lulatsch, Mumpitz, Robert, Samson, Herr von Bödefeld, Rumpel, and Tiffy, Susanne Klickerklacker, Finchen. Even more onesided would be this “group picture with a snail”, that was published on the Sesamstraße-Website for the birthday celebrations. Go to see the original picture here (LINK), and look at this silhouette drawing, you see an overwhelming majority of male puppets. Incidentally, the only female character, Finchen the snail, started off as a male character in 1979, changing sex to become a female snail in 1992.
I wasn’t really aware of this as a child. Okay, we also knew Miss Piggy from the Muppets and of course had our very own Sendung mit der Maus (the programme with the mouse – if you have never heard of it, maybe you want to visit the official website at WDR LINK – to get a general idea and an image), but I find this lack of female characters quite astounding. When I was writing the German version of this blog bit I was reminded of a sad story that happened to me a few years back. A great director, who among other topics focuses on animal and nature films, wanted me for the over-voice texts in a children’s film on beavers. I love beavers! So of course I was very keen on getting this job. Unfortunately someone at the ZDF (that is the german TV broadcasting company that would show the film) said that since this film would also include some scientific information (after all, we are talking about animals) it would not be so convincing and appropiate for children if it were presented by a female voice. The director did not agree and I of course even less, but that was just too bad, as the ZDF-person could decide. That’s a real shame, but the beaver film was nonetheless very very good, even with a male voice.
Now I wonder, if these prejudices and the given reality of the Sesamstraße were some sort of brainwashing feature for people who are in decisive positions today, so that today they would still continue to use more male voices and male characters on children’s shows or programmes for grown-ups. I don’t really know. But we have to start somewhere in order to explain this disbalance, and find a way for correcting this the future.