`Sesame's new girl criticized

August 26, 2006|By Tanya Barrientos | Tanya Barrientos,McClatchy-Tribune

This story is brought to you by the letters G, M and C - girl, Muppet, controversy - and the number 13.

That's how many years it has been since there has been a new furry face on Sesame Street.

Her name is Abby Cadabby, she's carnation-pink, a fairy in training, unmistakably a little girl.

Abby's introduction has gone about as smoothly as a welcome party organized by Oscar the Grouch.

The grown-ups who run Sesame Workshop believe boys have ruled the Muppet realm for too long.

"We've been dealing with this issue for many years," says Rosemarie Truglio, vice president for education and research.

Abby is 3, talkative, but shy around strangers. Sometimes she gets so nervous that she disappears. She's capable of turning things into pumpkins, but not so good at turning them back.

Above all, she is modeling how to make friends and how to fit into a new environment such as kindergarten, Truglio says. "We wanted her to represent somebody coming from a place where Sesame Street is a new, novel experience for that child," she says.

The gang at Sesame thought everything would be A-OK when they introduced Abby this month, with her poofy, sparkly pigtails, lavender wings, a magic wand and a pretty chiffon frock.

But before any of them could spell Aloysius Snuffleupagus, the criticism began.

"Cute, pink, fuzzy and toxic to little girls," groused a headline in the New York Daily News. Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Abby has "that creepy, throaty little-girl Lindsay Lohan kind of voice, and a Paris Hilton-esque catchphrase: `That's so magic.'"

And Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says, "The last thing little girls need is one more pink fairy. My understanding is that she's a little incompetent with her magic, too. I'm concerned that now even the Sesame Workshop has bought into the girly, girly commercialized image of what it is to be feminine. They could have had an Asian girl, they could have had a girl who's really good at math. They could have had someone who's just more complex."

This has made Carol-Lynn Parente, executive producer of Sesame Street, sad.

Yes, Abby is pink. Yes, she wears a dress. "But I find it ironic that people who are complaining about stereotype are judging her based on her appearance," Parente says. "She's smart, she's funny, and her color happened to be the most popular with kids."

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