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Female Characters

November 22, 2013

So now that I’ve disappeared for a short amount of time, I’m back to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately for several reasons. For this, we are about to dive into my childhood mind (I promise it’s less crazy than my adult mind, but you’ll see the connection soon).

When I was a kid growing up in the 90’s, like most kids, I had my favorite cartoon characters that I worshipped and wanted to be like. One favorite of mine in particular would be Simba from “The Lion King.” As a little girl, I LOVED the idea of being like Simba, being that free-loving little cub, and growing up to be the king and taking care of all the others. Being that leader and defending all from nasty evil lions is something that I even still strive for to this day. But I never had any interest in being Nala. In fact, the only female characters I loved as a child was Lisa Simpson, Pocahontas, Mulan, and the PowerPuff Girls. Other than that, you name the cartoon, and I can guarantee than I identified more with the male characters.

Now for many years (and quite frankly, decades), I went through a mini-crisis in my own head in regards to this. I couldn’t help but wonder why this is the case. I questioned my own feminine nature along with my gender identity to a degree from this. Most of you may know that I’m not super feminine but I’m no tom-boy either. Along with that, as I’ve gotten older, I realized how much I love being a female. I’m happy and grateful to say that I feel very comfortable in my gender and my heterosexuality, while still loving everyone else for who they are too. But there’s still something that I didn’t understand for the longest time: why is it that even to this day, I feel like I can relate more to male characters in cartoons as oppose to female ones?

In the past week or so, I had an epiphany that gave me the answer.

I started thinking about how these female characters in cartoons are written along with the role they play. Sticking with my previous example of “The Lion King” let’s only discuss Nala. She’s a supporting character at best (and let’s face it: don’t we all view ourselves as the lead in our own life stories?). We don’t really get to know much about who she is as a cub, with the exception of as someone who follows Simba. Then when we first see her run into Simba as an adult, she left her tribe to find food but went so far away almost to the point of no return (after all, Simba went that distance so no one would ever find him), and only went back once she realized Simba could save them.

Of course this is only my interpretation and understanding of it, but I don’t see this as a respectable or honorable series of things to do. While I don’t find Nala selfish or weak particular for leaving (since you do need food to survive), I do find the fact that her and the other lioness’ are only willing to fight to get Mustafa out only AFTER Simba returns to be a sign that even a whole pack of women need a man to fight off another single male (single as in one not in relationship status). I find that concept entirely repulsive. Even I with a height of 5″0 and a weight of 130-135 (I have no shame in making that public), I both never would want/let a man to fight my battles for me, but I also am naturally incredibly defensive for those that I do love and care about. For these reasons, I relate a lot more to Simba then I do to Nala.

However, I feel this way about a lot of cartoons. Which led me to the realization that it’s not the gender that I relate to, it’s the characteristics in these characters. We live in a very patriarchal society, and therefore even in the things that are geared for children, we still have male leads the majority of the time. Of course, I’m not against their being male leads at all, but I certainly feel that if I felt this strongly about it by entire life, that there clearly isn’t enough female leads for little girls to look up to. And the fact I only realized this recently, says that we live in a society that’s so conditioned that it’s become sub-conscience normal state that man rule in the world, including in the eyes of children. Even to this day the only show I can think of with strong female characters is “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”(which needless to say I not only love, but I talk with my students who love this show all the time) and maybe “Dora the Explorer” (but even that I have issues with since they sexualized Dora years ago).

So ultimately what we need is to start transforming TV for the youth (OK, entirely, but for youth in particular). Kids shouldn’t be conditioned at such a young age (or ever) that men leads society or that men are our hero’s. We need more female role models for little girls to look up to, so that way that have more to inspire them to strong women when they grow up. It’s not even that I don’t want male leads in cartoons, but I just want it to be a 50/50 ratio. As a society, we need to start pushing for these changes, so that way future generations can continue to grow and become a more progressive society, as I want my future daughter to have many strong female role models (including cartoon characters) to look up to, while I want my future son to develop a healthy respect for women at a young age.

So now wonderful Green Room Blog readers, I turn this to you. What do you think?

P.S. It’s worth adding in, that in alternate perspectives, Nala can come off as a strong lioness (and I respect that outlook), but it’s just never been how I ever viewed her.

sarah sig

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