First of all happy new year! Here’s a post I’ve been trying tor write since July and finally decided to release it.
I got the chance to watch some action packed cartoons with my cousins recently. Not quite the ones from my youth, but fun to watch nevertheless. As I watched them I began to notice something that I often thought nothing of before. In the cartoons that I watched as a young girl, I remember how usually there would be a group of super heros (of course shows with only a female hero are an exception such as Atomic Betty or Powerpuff Girls ) which were for the most part boys and there was always one girl in the group. And I remember thinking when I first watched them, to be over joyed that there was a girl at all who could kick butt, because frankly I was beginning to hate the damsel in distress type role. However, the thing I rarely clued in on was the fact that when it was a girl, they made it really obvious that she was a girl.
It had been a revelation that was slowly developing inside my head for a few months now and it really only emerged as I watched this one show. I was watching “Super Robot Monkeyteam Hyperforce Go!” (which interestingly enough, the Japanese group polysics wrote the theme song to) and it came to my attention that there was only one girl on the team (or show for that matter). I was genuinely surprised that she wasn’t the pink one but the yellow one. This is an improvement, however, she had pink eyes. Of Course, she had to be obviously feminized.
Now this at first may not seem like a problem, and this whole article may sound like unnecessary bitching. However, many issues arise from this. One, it stereotypes all female characters to have to be obviously feminine or they are not women at all. It greatly misrepresents the variety of females there are. Not all girls like to wear pink (Ironically, baby boys were traditionally dressed in pink (thought of as a derivative of the “masculine” red) and baby girls were dressed in blue ( like the Virgin Mary). This practice was strong in 1927 and presumably many years afterwards. Oh, how the times have changed!)! Not all girls who wear hot ( or in general ) pink are bimbos. Along with, not all girls have to be pretty. Just as there are a great variety of male characters in shows, so are there that many female characters. There are such things as fat chicks you know, and they can be hot as well. I’m beginning to understand what the media was always getting criticized for. Women come in many shapes and sizes and personalities. To think that they have to fit a narrowly defined expectation is very insulting. I’m thinking of the recent movie Bridesmaids and its portrayal of woman. I haven’t watched it, but from the reviews on it, I can say that it does do some justice. The characters can’t be taken out and be placed as the heroine of some Hollywood blockbuster action movie. The female characters actually sound like real women reflecting on the fact that we come in many flavours (this problem of limited media portrayal can even be extended to race).
It bothers me to no end that if anything stars a male lead, is considered universal to all humans, but when it stars a female role, it is not. Similarly in action cartoons geared towards young boys, there will be one girl, and only one girl, while if it were for the most part an all women cast, the story would be thought to be exclusively or women. It’s a rather depressing double standard that creates many problems one of which is the labelling of stories that focus on women are often given a derogatory title such as chick flick. The narrow portrayal of female characters is mainly due to the fact that the creators of these characters are usually male. It’s changing now, but if you think about it, many things with a female-centric perspective is given the title of “chick flick” which to the masses, including myself, is a very derisive and inferior genre of entertainment. Many men dread it. I myself hate the modern-day romcom, unless it’s shoujo or historical or has a lead female characters that I don’t feel like hitting something on their head with.
And one more thing I have to add is that the girl in the group is usually the sensible one, always the rule follower and does not under any circumstances goof off. Male characters in this case have more flexibility and are not as admonished for their moronic tendencies . Females can’t be morons because girls are not only proper but they have to work as hard to be taken seriously at times. There is no question of “Why are you even here if you goof of so much?” for the village idiot like there is in the case of the female character. All in all, it bolsters the adage “boys will be boys” and creates and maintains the double standard that women should behave properly.
I’m also reminded of the Smurfs and how there is that one girl named Smurfette. While all the male counterparts have a variety of appearances, she has to be blond and beautiful. Just look at any mainstream movie/tv show and you’ll instantly see what I mean. Really analyze gender and perhaps take that further and analyze class, age, race and sexuality of the characters and critically think about what you are consuming.
And of course, on the simplest level, how differently women and men are portrayed can be applied to stick figures. Because let’s be honest, everyone thinks of the standard stick figure to be the male version. I drew a little to show how outdated this is (hopefully you can read it) :
Interestingly enough, I was told that reality tv shows and musicians like Lady Gaga really question this viewpoint. I am curious to know what people think of this as being an anime fangirl tends to allow me to exclude myself from mainstream media. From an anime perspective, I do find that shoujo manga in recent years have created more stronger female characters whose only goal in life in not necessarily to find the perfect boyfriend or when they do, they still have goals and ambitions of their own. The female leads of Special A and Kaichou wa Maido-sama are independent, ambitious and set out to change the world. They aren’t the silly women of shoujo mangas of yore who somehow represent modern-day versions of Pride & Prejudice’s Lydia and Kitty whose only goal in life is having a boyfriend and getting married. This doesn’t necessarily mean I hate romance in shoujo manga (which would bring up the question to why I would read it in the first place if I did ^ ^;)! In this modern age, women don’t have to make a choice between relationships and personal careers unless they want to. In Kaichou wa Maido-sama I like how it explores the Pres’s emotions of having a relationship while being a women in power. Usuchi (alien), however is also a realist but makes me angrily question what the hell he meant when he said in when he said “you’re a women!”. If he was trying to tell her she was trying to manage more than she can handle, do not imply that her weakness is in her gender rather than in the limit of her ability.
My hope is that if you are a young woman reading this, please go out and create things from you perspective so that one day, the predominate view-point isn’t from history, but from both herstory and history as well. It’s a bit like Jane Austen said of women in history in Persausion: “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. …the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything”
P.S. traditionally pink was the colour baby boys while blue was the colour of baby girls about a century ago as I’ve stated before. Do you know why the opposite is enforced and rarely questioned? It’s because of SOCIAL GENDER CONSTRUCTS!