Thomas the Tank Engine is pulling girls in the wrong direction, a Canadian professor says in a new study.

After analyzing 23 TV episodes about Thomas and his friends, Shauna Wilton concluded that the mythical island of Sodor was a world of few female characters with a social hierarchy based on fear and minding your place.

“The female characters do tend to be a bit sidelined,” Wilton said Thursday. “The show comes out of a particularly historical time period when society was hierarchical and there was a blind following of authority. I want my daughter to think for herself.”

Three-year-old Kate was the inspiration for the study, says Wilton, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, Augustana. “My daughter loves the show and loves playing with trains. There are a lot of really positive themes in Thomas, but parents should be aware of the messages that are there.”

The messages include a “conservative political ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles.”

Criticism of sexism in the Thomas stories dates to the 1980s. Britt Allcroft, who formerly produced the TV series now seen in 130 countries, dismissed the allegations back then, saying, “Thomas and friends are neither male nor female. They’re magic.”

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