Gender in “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”

Eli and Liza are addicted to Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, a kid’s show on Nickelodeon — and with reason. The art direction’s fabulous and the stories are fun. One of the characters, Widget, is always making the something-or-other 3000, a habit that Eli has picked up. “Look, dad!” he says, brandishing a tinkertoy creation. “My Robot Walker 3000!”

It’s possible I’ve become addicted to it, too, because I’ve found myself thinking about it far more than I probably should. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the show handles gender.

Take a look at the first season’s theme.

Walden, Wubbzy, and Widget

As shown in this picture, there are three main characters: Walden, Wubbzy, and Widget. Walden reads as male, with his deeper semi-Australian voice and his ties and all. Widget is clearly female, which is awesome — she’s a tinkerer and a builder, and plays against the male engineer stereotype.

Wubbzy is more ambiguous. He’s identified in the theme song as a he, and he does like kickety-kick ball, but he’s not overtly color-coded like Walden and Widget. He mainly reads as a young kid, though everyone undoubtedly defaults to thinking of him as male.

Now here’s the theme for Season 2.

You may have noticed Daizy has been shoehorned into the theme.

Daizy from Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!

Daizy likes to grow flowers. She’s often en pointe. She enjoys dressing up and sewing. Her favorite phrase is “lavender lollipops!” In one episode she finds a uni-horn whom she names Princess.

She could not be more of a stereotypical little girl if she spent every episode playing with dolls.

I couldn’t find any information about why Daizy was added to the lineup, so what follows is rampant speculation. But I imagine the creators or the network wanted to add a character that they thought young girls would identify more strongly with. Widget, despite being super-awesome, comes across as more of an adult than Wubbzy, and Wubbzy, by virtue of our society’s defaults, is male. So they added a character “for girls”.

So why is she a girl turned up to 11? Wubbzy doesn’t embody every boy stereotype; why must Daizy be a super girly girl? This strikes me as being along the same lines as Marvel’s attempts to pitch comic books to women. “Chicks like dress-up, right? And ponies? We’ve got to have a pony in there.”

Liza and Eli won’t notice any of this, not overtly. But they’ll absorb it, and it’ll got woven into their default view of the world. How excited should Liza be that Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! has created a character for her to identify with, only to barely squeeze her into the opening theme and to make her Wubbzy’s sidekick who, oh yes, happens to really like him?

11 thoughts on “Gender in “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”

  1. Y’know, this works only if they’ve added a boreberry-juice-swilling kickety-kick ball all-star antagonist to uphold the a-hole gender role. Ah, those jocks (remember the 80’s?). Really, though, it’s scary the amount of mutability that can happen to simple character stories at the whim of creative directors with marketing degrees. You can be sure that Nickelodeon has psychologists and market researchers who shed notes like scales over the production companies that feed the network.

  2. I like Dora the Explorer because she’s out there doing stuff on her own. She isn’t sitting around waiting on the prince to come save her or wondering whether he likes her dress. She’s all about solving her own problems. And her theme song doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out.

  3. Forgive me for not already knowing the answer to this question: Stephen, is this a complaint? Are you expressing dismay at a children’s program that makes girls look like girls, and boys look like boys? What would you suggest as an alternative?

    1. I’m complaining that the show presents the boy character in such a gender-neutral way that I had to check the theme song to verify that he’s a he. Meanwhile they added a girl character who embodies every extreme girl stereotype there is. That has the double whammy of reinforcing those stereotypes while quietly cementing the view that boys are the default.

  4. I think it goes beyond just that they’ve created a girl character that embodies extreme “girliness”. To young girls watching this show, they see this character and they go, “I should be like her”. They think that that is their option, to be extremely girly. I take issue with that. I agree with Shawn that shows like Dora The Explorer are great for girls because they show a girl being strong and independent and yet, at the same time, she’s a girl.

  5. Wait, so Wubbzy IS a boy? Because I remember one day I was watching it with my little sister, Faith, and he was wearing pants at the beach, but they had flowers on them! And another time my friend Rosalia said he walked into the girls’ restroom at a resteraunt (sp.??). Maybe she was making stuff up, but I’ve never witnessed her lie about something pointless like that! Then again, I’ve never seen the episode myself.

  6. I also noticed that he never really wears clothes and at the beggining of the show they show his room and its full of flowers.

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