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If you thought the television tales about Thomas the Tank Engine were merely light-hearted fun, think again. According to Professor Shauna Wilton, women are under-represented in the stories and what few female characters there are tend to have 'secondary' roles or be bossy. What's more, she has warned that such negative messages about society subconsciously gleaned from the show might even drive its young fans off the rails in later life. The learned professor was inspired to carry out her study after watching Thomas videos with her three-year-old daughter. She was left feeling 'uncomfortable' by the way the colourful steam engines are punished if they show initiative or try to change their rank or role. Her research also highlights the class divide, with Thomas and his fellow engines including Percy and James at the bottom of the social ladder and the Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, at the top.

Any attempt by the downtrodden workers to show initiative or dissent is met with punishment, she found. Professor Wilton, from the department of political sciences at Alberta University, Canada, wants tighter controls on what is broadcast-to children. Laura Midgley, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, described the research as ' unbelievable nonsense'.
The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. In one episode, for example, Thomas whistles impatiently at a police officer and is replaced with a different engine as a punishment for showing dissent.
She said: 'We tend to think of children's TV shows as neutral and safe, but they still carry messages.

The stories focus on the seven original engines: Thomas, Edward, James, Gordon, Percy, Henry and Toby, plus Emily, the first female steam engine - all under the watchful eye of Sir Topham Hatt, the manager of the Sodor Railway. At the end of each program, the engines are "roll-called" in a musical finale featuring their very own team song.
Thomas's world is an idealized place with a strong community ethos typified by a universal willingness to embrace good manners, hard work and a desire to be "really useful." The audience empathizes with the hopes, fears, aspirations, achievements and conflicts that the engines experience.

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