Fast Cars and Magical Cards:
A Study of Gendered Choices in Cartoons

Lim Lee Eng

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2002


Research on media audiences has largely concerned itself with adults, and with the impact of television on attitudes and beliefs. Children, as active participants in making sense of television, have remained largely neglected in audience research and a fuller social account of their relationship with favourite genres like cartoons has been chiefly ignored. Still, much of audience research has been located in Western countries, including Australia. Little is known about the local context. This research endeavours to fill this gap by investigating and analysing gender differences in cartoon choices, attitudes and pleasures of a group of primary school children in Singapore.

The methodology to reveal gender differences involved a questionnaire-survey on viewing habits, attitudes and cartoon preferences of three Primary 5 classes in a neighbourhood primary school and focus group interviews with 4 boys and 4 girls to tease out their pleasure in cartoons and to uncover the complex social relations which surround and constitute this pleasure.

The questionnaire results showed marked gender differences in viewing habits, and tastes and attitudes toward cartoons. For example, the girls chose cartoons with strong female leads, while the boys picked those with male protagonists. The interviews revealed more about the children's preferences and attitudes in the broader context of social interaction. Within the social dynamics of an interview conducted by an outsider that at the same time invited group discussion, the boys and girls often used a contrasting range of discursive repertoires to talk about cartoons. The children were 'capitalising on' cartoons in various ways - the girls were engaged in a discourse of desire and the boys in a didactic discourse about the texts. What stood out from the discussions was the 'politics' of these pleasures - the children were constructing and sustaining their social relationships, and a sense of their own social identity. Not only was the meaning of a cartoon negotiated and established in the course of the discussions, but the children's social positions were reconstructed and redefined in the social process of reading cartoons.