Analysis: Berenstain Bears


Note: this is the PBS version of the Berenstain Bears from the early 2000s.

Surprisingly, I had few objections to this show [Spoiler: not true]. Sure it was a heteronormative, symmetrical nuclear family. And in the first episode I watched, Mama Bear was a little more concerned with housekeeping than anyone else. But Papa Bear was there. He is the one who hatched a lesson for the kids, and followed through with it. Everyone cleaned the cottage.


In the second episode, Brother was late for everything so Mama gave him a watch with an alarm. He tried using the alarm and still failed a bit, but then when his friend was late, he totally got it! Yay!

Again, I didn’t hate it. Brother is the one who likes the Gameboy, not Sister.


Also it is weird that even their friends call them Brother and Sister. But It is fine. It has good messages and the family genuinely likes each other. It is also kind of boring and formulaic, so I don’t really have much more to say about it.

Uh-oh, upon further thought, I found an issue. Brother Bear gets way more screen time (screen time as in the minutes he is seen on the show, not GameBoy screen time) and perspective than Sister Bear. In one episode I watched, it was the whole family with no real main character. In another episode, it was Brother Bear’s story. In order to get a more fair assessment of the show in its entirety, I went poking around trying to find an episode that featured Sister Bear.

This was a disappointment. The episode I found was about a bird. Their teacher was going to teach them about birds.


Sister said she could lend the teacher her bird book. Therefore, I thought that Sister would have some knowledge of birds. But whenever the teacher asked a question, one or more of the boys answered. The teacher even complimented the boys on their answers, and referred to the answerers as “Boys,” making it clear that the boys were answering the questions.


Besides Brother and his friends, there were some other boys, and they were mean boys who decided to build a tree fort in a tree where Sister had seen an endangered bird creating a nest. Sister becomes very invested in saving the habitat, and the mean boys double down on their need for a fort. This should be Sister’s spot to shine! And yet, this is a Brother-centric episode.

Brother explains the problem to their parents, and Papa comes up with a potential solution. Brother is the one who fights with Too Tall, and Brother is the one who explains to Papa how their latest plan didn’t work.


Then Papa comes up with, hmm… actually kind of the same plan again (compromise, and then again, compromise), and again it ends as mostly Papa and Brother talking to each other about the plan. Papa sketches up a blueprint for a new tree fort (better than the one the mean boys would build, not that we know how he knows it is better), and hands them to Brother! Come on.




Brother does almost all the negotiating (Sister gets to say they will help with the new fort) and then Sister isn’t even present when Too Tall apologizes.

Watching the episode “The Female Fullback.” Three minutes in before the “female fullback” speaks. Up until then, there are three boys talking. So, it is not Sister who is going become the fullback. It is Betsey. They see that she is good and so go and cajole and browbeat her into helping their team.


Side note: This is rape culture people! She said NO! She is in ballet, basketball, and track and field. She doesn’t have time for your football team. But instead of accepting her answer, they won’t take no for an answer. So she says she will help them if they help her in each of her sports. We then watch the boys trying to keep up with her and her sports and them complaining about how much work it is to do her sports. We get a little femme-phobia thrown in because the biggest bear (Too Tall) is the one who is doing ballet. haha

Brother is happy because the game is tomorrow, she will help them win the championship, and then they won’t have to help her anymore. The boys all high five. Even though she is supposedly their only hope for winning, the football team hasn’t practiced with her, and she is not around and included in the high five. Practicing these sports with her make the boys improve their skills. So when it is the big game, she shows up not in uniform and notes she never said she would play, only that she would help them. And that is what she did, she helped them get better. She stands on the sidelines and cheers them on. She does not get the glory of the play, although they do give her a little cheer after the game is over and carry her off the field.

Yep, that is right. The episode is literally named The Female Fullback, and it is STILL about the boy bears!!


Ok, I have rethought my original position. This is not a benign show. It is quite male-centric and has few examples of empowered girls or women. Even in the adults, I was charmed to see Papa engaging with his cubs, but after spending a little more time with them, I see that it is far too often Papa saving the day or coming to the rescue while Mama is mostly silent.

I am not changing the lead tallies because it is an ensemble cast.


Count today- 1 show
Count total- 13 shows
Shows with male lead- 6
Shows with female lead- 4
Shows with a positive message for girls, starring a female lead-3

New categories:

Shows that have a male adult lead-5
Shows that have a female adult lead-1


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