Saturday, August 20, 2005

Where are the Cartoon Girl Sheroes? [Guest Blog]

My seven year old loves cartoons. So far, we’ve kept her on track with harmless TV like Sponge Bob Square Pants and Fairly Odd Parents. The older she’s gotten, the tougher it is to find informative, fun programs, like Mystery Hunters, a live action show whose cast of tweens reenacts historic events (among other fun stuff). Instead, the cartoon pap turns more insidious. Recently, she’s tried to convince us that Totally Spies, on Cartoon Network, is ok. The show features a group of girls who are international spies - sounds fine enough. The first episode we watched was marginally acceptable. The plot line was something about boy bands stealing the energy from their fans in order to live forever. Not award-winning, but my hope was that the program would be so trite that she’d abandon it herself. Instead, she began watching it occasionally while her dad and I caught a few segments in passing. And then….my dear husband sees another episode with her – the WOW episode.

WOW is the Women of Wrestling, a vicious group of strong women trying to take over the world by turning other women into people who can stand up for themselves. Their goal is to create a race of invincible women. The spies were charged with stopping the sinister plan of allowing women to gain independence! I’m astonished by the blatant attempt to undermine female autonomy in general and feminism specifically. The show teaches girls that they can be powerful, after all these are spies, but only when they are pursuing evil doers intent on stealing people’s hair (really!), or bad women who design coats with no seams. One plot evens deals with shopping – in it, the girls save shoppers who are being turned into anti-consumer terrorists. This reminds of when I realized that Barbie sucked because she could be a doctor, but only a veterinarian or pediatrician. Women = puppies and babies. Me, I want Barbie the UN Ambassador or the neurosurgeon.

Now that I’ve been parenting a while, I realize that we can do very little to stop gender encoding, but Cartoon Network has gone a little overboard. It’s tough enough to find girl-heroes who aren’t playing second fiddle to the boys in the show. Totally Spies falls into the same Barbie trap. The girls are international spies who solve mysteries that (so the thinking goes) “only girls” would be interested in solving. Among their goals is to keep the world from becoming fat (see Episode 17). Kind of repulsive to know that adults somewhere are writing this stuff intentionally…

Posted by Guest Blogger: Libby