Yes, Emma Wiggle broke the Wiggly glass ceiling – but did she have to be wearing a frilly tutu and bows to do it? Angela Cuming looks at the weird gender politics on The Wiggles.
During a recent bout of toddler illness I caught up with The Wiggles and noticed some important messages the popular children’s entertainers send to children like my own.
Those messages included: Fruit salad is yummy, always wear your seat belt, exercise is fun, and if you are a little girl you will grow up to be either a princess or a ballerina and NOTHING ELSE BECAUSE THAT’S ALL GIRLS DO, OKAY?
I thought The Wiggles had dragged themselves out of their mid-90s dystopia of four frontmen, a male pirate and a token female dinosaur (who drinks tea and wears a tutu because female) and thrown away their Wiggly glass ceiling by welcoming Emma Watkins as the new Yellow Wiggle.
I remember at the time feeling relief that the many, many little girls out there who loved The Wiggles would finally have a role model up on the Wiggle stage who didn’t just drink tea and wear tutus and could be really cool and kickass. Someone who would finally say to the sleeping purple Wiggle “You know what, brother, there are mums out there watching this who haven’t slept more than three hours a night for months so just wake up and get on with it.”
Instead we got Emma Wiggle with all her bows and skirts and tutus, like a doll brought to life by some shady 1980s adman in a made-for-TV movie.
Emma Watkins says when got the call up from the junior ranks of ”Fairy Larissa” to the big time as a fully-fledged Wiggle her first thought was “what am I going to wear?”.
She needn’t have bothered to even think of it as a question because I am pretty sure that behind the scenes there was a boardroom full of men in suits screaming down the line to Anthony Wiggle ”What the hell do you mean she can’t be the Pink Wiggle?! She’s a girl, girls wear pink! So she’s replacing the Yellow Wiggle? Okay, okay, let her wear the yellow skivvy then. But we want her in a skirt! A big, puffy, frilly skirt. And bows! Lots of bows. Do not let her out in public without a bow stuck on that head of hers!”
It’s like they killed Dorothy the Dinosaur and forced Emma Wiggle drink her blood to make her the ultimate hyper female presence in the troupe.
But that’s not the worst of it. Watkins has a background in dance and is clearly a classically trained ballet dancer, so at a pinch I can deal with all the tutu stuff.
No, what really pisses me off is that when you start to track what characters or professions the four core Wiggle performers role play over the course of an episode or DVD special you will start to see a familiar pattern.
In one half hour I watched it went like this:
Emma Wiggle: Holding a baby on a bus
Antony Wiggle: Bus driver
Emma Wiggle: Ballet dancer
Emma Wiggle: Queen on a throne
Simon Wiggle: A doctor
Anthony Wiggle: A firefighter
Emma Wiggle: A mummy holding a baby
Emma Wiggle: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
Emma Wiggle: CinderEmma (Clever, huh?)
Lachy Wiggle: Doctor
Emma Wiggle: Princess
Anthony Wiggle: Surgeon in scrubs
Simon Wiggle: Doctor
It’s probably no big deal. I am probably wearing my Feminazi goggles and getting all uppity about something when really there’s nothing to see. Maybe, yes, Simon Wiggle could have been Mr Polly with the Dolly and maybe Emma Wiggle could have been the Doctor with Her Bag and Her Hat, but I guess maybe that would confuse the kids too much. Maybe Anthony Wiggle just doesn’t like babies so he stuck his hand up to be the Bus Driver.
Or maybe The Wiggles are still essentially run by a group of blokes who have zero idea about the importance of equal representation in role-playing and dress up scenarios. Maybe they do but just don’t care. Maybe there’s a shitload of money to be made from flogging child-sized ballet tutus and bows at the already overpriced live shows The Wiggles do. Who knows.
What I do know is that I have three little boys and I want them watching stuff that teaches them that girls can grow up to be more than fairy princesses and mummies to sick dollies.
I want them to know that it’s perfectly cool and fine and acceptable for boys and grown men to wear dresses or skirts if that’s what they like to wear.
I want them to know a world outside traditional gender roles and that women don’t need princes to ride up and rescue them and that women can be doctors and firefighters and I can’t believe it’s 2017 and someone is still having to bloody type this in a rant.
So please, Emma Wiggle, if you ever read this, know we are all there for you the day you walk onto set, turn to Anthony Wiggle and say: “You know what, Anthony, here’s a baby for you to hold because it’s my turn to be the doctor today’.”
And if it was at a live show with overpriced tickets and shoddy merchandise, then even better. Gouge my wallet, because I am there for it.
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