Where are the Strong Female Role Models in Kid’s Cartoons?
This was a hard list to put together. You would think with all the cartoons out there marketed to children one could find a few good ones for girls. Not so much. My list of fifteen quickly became what I imagined to be a more manageable list of ten, and then a disillusioned list of five. My simple writing assignment became a five am quest in search of something, anything to bring to the table.
It seems that wherever I looked there were plenty of female characters, all in skimpy outfits, not too bright, only aspiring to be saved by a prince, or started out nerdy and was saved by being made beautiful. Of course they needed saving and of course it was a man/boy who had to do it. Good God in the morning! The least they could do is let them wear colors other than pastels. There is nothing wrong with little girls wanting to be pretty, or wanting romance. However, to make it sound that this is all they can ever aspire to want is wrong and wasteful.
I would say that Wonder Woman from the Justice League was the closest thing to a traditional super hero that was marketed to girls in cartoon form in the last century, but she was still clothes deficient. Honestly, lasso and bracelets aside, how comfortable could fighting crime really be if you are constantly worried that your strapless push-up bra is going fail if you bend over? The newer comics are cool though. Not for little girls, but the big ones might enjoy them.
And the next would be the X-Men ladies, like Storm and Jean Grey and Rouge. However, these are not stories that are appropriate for small children.
I quickly learned that Disney must have something against girls being strong and capable and able to take care of themselves. I guess I knew that, not being a great fan of Disney for that reason, but this project really brought it home. Even with a strong story like Pocahontas and Mulan, they wussed out the leads. The stories are so very different from reality that I just don’t feel I can list them. I mean really far from reality. The only thing that wasn’t changed was location and names. That is not to say that Disney animated movies aren’t entertaining or appropriate for children. They just don’t show women in the best light all the time. That pretty much takes care of Disney, except for a couple of exceptions. Here is the assembled list of Five.
One: Kim Possible. (Disney channel 2002-2007. 86 episodes) Kim Possible and her sidekick Ron Stoppable are part of an international crime fighting duo. She is smart, athletic, clothed and still a cheerleader. She falls into the Buffy category of strong female leads, but I kind of like that. It doesn’t make pretty and intelligence mutually exclusive. The show is well written and funny for adults, with tons of guest voices like Ricardo Montalban, Gary Cole, Nicole Sullivan, Elliot Gould and Patrick Warburton. This is my top pick and you can find it on DVD for purchase, at least through season three. Oddly enough their has been little merchandising from Disney for Kim Possible. Instead, they canceled it, shelved it and seem to be trying to forget about it. You can find a lot of the episodes on line though, not that I am endorsing any sort of Internet piracy. There is a Kim Possible Movie, called Kim Possible the Movie: So the Drama, released by Disney in 2005, which is also available for purchase.
Two: Animaniacs: (Warner Brothers cartoon running from 1993-1998) Dot Warner is funny, smart, sarcastic and a well rounded character in a show that is well written, often musical, funny for kids and totally appropriate in the cartoon world for any age. A whole array of shorts from Pinky and the Brain as well as Dot, Yakko and Wakko Warner can be found on YouTube, but you can also buy the series. Well worth it, very funny and well written brought to you by Steven Spielberg of all people.
Three: Gargoyles: (Disney Channel series, 1994-1996) This is another Disney cancellation. Starring Keith David as Goliath, this incredibly smartly written show brings the past into the present with Gargoyles and a lady cop, Eliza Maza, played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield. Set in New York, the character of Eliza has to protect and teach the Gargoyles as they try to find their way through magic, deceit and crime. It also has voice work done by Ed Asner, Johnathon Frakes, John Ryes Davies, Marina Sirtis and Clancy Brown. Seasons One and Two are available on DVD.
Four: Scooby Doo: (1969 more or less to present. Current incarnation on Cartoon Network) Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Daphne could not possibly fit into this category. She sort of does and so does Velma. Both are members of a weird crime fighting unit that travels around in a van. While Daphne doesn’t seem as smart as Velma, being pretty and all, she is still part of a team, and Velma is not only smart but brave, and not being pretty shouldn’t be a deterrent. Look, I really had to dig for this list, and over all, I like Scooby Doo.
Five: The Last Airbender: (Nickelodeon, 2005-2008, 60 episodes) Like the comics, one of the three main characters is a teen age girl, Katara, who finds it her role to ensure that the Last Airbender, Aang, learns to use his powers and lives to save the world from the Fire Nation. She is strong, intelligent, interesting and the show also has many side female characters that are the same. It is well written and while I don’t particularly like the style of animation, it’s pretty good. Some cartoon violence, like the comics, puts the female characters in positions that require them to be strong. It’s not Strawberry Shortcake.
Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.
Lucy Van Pelt from Peanuts
Miss Piggy, from Jim Hensons the Muppets. Not a cartoon, but I love that pig.
Cartoon shows NEVER to be shown to little girls.
Power Puff Girls. May the show’s creators be eaten by weasels. Angry weasels. And yes, before you ask, I have watched the show. I was told this was going to be on the list of programming for girl role models. I won’t get into it, as it would just raise my blood pressure, but no. Not at all. Not even a little bit. The trans-gender villains, had to be a villain, makes the whole thing even worse. How many wrong stereo types can be perpetuated by one show? They really pushed the envelope on that one.
The Smurfs. The only female character in that show was Smurfette, who was created to lure the other smurfs away into the clutches of evil, and then just became a weird little bit of background noise.
*Factual dates and such can be found on IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base.
Other little things to watch: