I've been watching a lot of 1980's nostalgia recently. Mostly this has consisted of She-Ra, the Rainbow Bright Movie, and classics like The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, Time Bandits, and quite a few others. The desire to watch said movies probably stems from my recent birthday on the 15th, but also from reading this book. It made me realize how great and progressive these movies/cartoons actually were.
In fact, I would say that in most cases the cartoons marketed towards girls in the 1980's and early 1990's are probably more progressive than the cartoons of today. I will admit that I don't watch a whole lot of the current cartoons, but most of the "girl" cartoons are covered in pink and seem to consist of very few themes (princess, ballerina, etc.), or so it seems anyway. Even though there weren't very many females present in the cartoons of my day, in some ways I think that actually made it easier to identify with a character of my choice, regardless of whether that character was male or female. Rather than choosing a character based on gender I felt more free to choose one based on how well I identified.
So, even though there was a token female in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series that I sometimes had no choice but to watch (my brother was very good about getting to the remote and keeping it), I had nothing in common with her. She was constantly getting kidnapped because she was being a "nosy" reporter and getting into situations she shouldn't have been in to begin with. At least that's the way the cartoon framed it. Instead I identified more with Donatello, who was the archetypal "smart" guy.
Another cartoon we spent a lot of time watching was Scooby Doo, which did actually have a fairly even number of male to female characters, although I don't recall there being a whole lot of female villains. Even though Daphne is sort of an airhead, at least it was presented as an option rather than as the only role one could take. Granted it may have sent the message that you can either be "frumpy" and smart or hip and dumb, but I never really saw it that way, and Velma was at least cute in a nerdy sort of way.
Meanwhile the cartoons targeted more or less specifically towards girls tended to have animals rather than humans. We had My Little Pony, Popples, Carebears (in which most of the characters were male animals), and a few others. But at least every member contributed equally in those series and worked together cooperatively. Probably the biggest success in the 1980's girl power realm was She-Ra. She-Ra was badass, and I'm going to tell you why.
First of all, She-Ra started off as a "villain." She was originally a force captain in Horack's army. So already we have her in a leadership position and it allows that women have the option of being good or evil. Although in the She-Ra universe it does indicate that because Adora was brought up by Horack she was merely evil by nurture rather than nature. This and the other decidedly "evil" female characters were a big step for women as it expanded the roles of females outside of the typical scheming stepmother or the angelic heroine. Horack is actually the leader of the Horde on Etheria and Skeletor was his apprentice. This means that theoretically She-Ra has the more competent villain, and yet she is constantly walking in and out of his dungeons more or less at will.
Meanwhile, anytime He-Man shows up in She-Ra's world he does so either to ask his sister for help or he gets asked to join on She-Ra's adventures more or less because he just happens to be there. Very rarely does She-Ra actually seek out He-Man's help, mostly because they are in separate worlds and She-Ra has a very important leadership position, whereas He-Man is too busy playing Prince in his alternate identity.
In addition to having the better/"badder" villain, She-Ra also has more diverse powers. Where He-Man can only turn his outfit from a sassy pink and purple number to fuzzy brown underwear and gains super strength, She-Ra seems to gain an almost endless number of powers. Among the powers she gains are super speed, which apparently sometimes works as super strength (she can lift tanker-sized ships out of the water), and talking to animals, and her sword can apparently turn into almost anything, which is more often than not hilarious. I think this speaks well to She-Ra's adaptability, planning, and intelligence, because it requires her to think about the best method of saving the world rather than just punching robots or smashing doors. It even seems that the writers approve of this method, because more often than not it is She-Ra saving He-Man's ass because he's a big dumb hulk of a man and decided to go Leeroy Jenkins on the situation rather than sitting down and figuring out the best way of getting to the top of the tower.
So, uh, what cartoons do girls have now? Is there anything out there like this for them? Or are we stuck with being princesses and ballerinas or at best an explorer who needs every single "danger" pointed out, preferably in Spanish? Seriously, I just looked up an episode online, a weasel is driving, and as they're going down the road every character is looking at the "camera" waiting for you to tell them to watch out. I think I almost prefer the Sesame Street I grew up with, which only had male monsters.
My review can be found on Goodreads.
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