BMO from ‘Adventure Time’ identifes as female and male

Is BMO the first animated character to openly defy binary gender assignment?

The guy in the video wants to know if BMO is expressive of feminism. I like how watching BMO lets us experience how we fall for various gender stereotypes and makes us challenge not only those assumptions but our need to define the “maleness” or “femaleness” of a character whether she’s a robot, car, plane, or fish. It’s important that a character like BMO is finally represented. Gender stereotyping is all over animation and it’s great how BMO rejects those cliche classifications.

But here’s what’s not so great. I haven’t seen “Adventure Time” but from this video, it’s apparent that it’s yet another show where the two main characters, Finn and Jake, are male. That gender assignment gets an automatic eye roll from me. With females already so underrepresented in animation, I can’t get super excited about a character, stuck in a supporting role no less, who’s only female some of the time.

h/t Charles Kenny

22 thoughts on “BMO from ‘Adventure Time’ identifes as female and male

  1. I havent read through all the comments but from your premature judgement on adventure time, I felt I should speak up.
    Just recently I discussed with my gf about how adventure time very well may be one of the most feminist cartoons in mainstream animation culture. The majority of female characters are represented in a very “real” and strong manner. Strength as in, many of them are empowered individuals that don’t need to rely on men for getting stuff done.
    Here is a really good interview with adventure times creator, pendelton Ward. Checkout his thoughts on Female cartoon characters in his own words.

  2. I’d agree that we need more shows with female leads, but you shouldn’t discount Adventure Time just because Finn and Jake are the ‘leads’. The show has a pretty large, fleshed-out cast and that includes a lot of female characters. Princess Bubblegum is much more complex and interesting than anyone named Princess Bubblegum should be. She’s a super-scientist and leader with a bit of a dark side. I could really fill up a post with interesting female characters from that show. There are a few problems with the gender-swapped episodes IMO, mostly because they are written as fanfic of the Ice King which brings up fanfic tropes. But you should probably watch more of it before you discount it.
    ‘The Sky Witch’ was the most recent episode to be led by female characters, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, which brings up how they used to date. BMO has also dated both genders (a chicken named Lorraine that wore lipstick and a bubble that spoke with a male voice).

    • Hi merchantfan,

      I agree I should see the show, and I’ve heard really good things about it. I’m also sick to death of the lack of female protagonists.

      Margot

  3. You need to see this show. BMO isn’t the only character used to question typical gender roles on this show – there was an episode in which a male-voiced cookie was told by Princess Bubblegum as a child that he could grow up to be anything… he admired Bubblegum so he decided he wanted to grow up and be a Princess! Jake, a major character, even helps this “gender confused” cookie attempt to escape after he commits a crime, and honors him as “Princess Cookie.” All in all, it is really an interesting episode. Girls should be allowed to be strong and also like pink, right?

  4. My kids have watched this and while there are some strong female characters, the two main characters are male. And there is a lot of princess saving going on. Yes, it’s often over the top camp and meant to poke fun, but it’s still helpless princesses being saved by the boy and his dog (dog and his boy?) (and for those who haven’t seen it, yes, the dog is male).

    Which isn’t to say it’s a bad show or anything and I do like the poking fun. But to me it’s just another show with male leads doing the adventuring.

    The BMO thing is very cool though. Yay for gender non-conforming characters 🙂

  5. The individual occurrence of male protagonists isn’t sexist, it’s the systemic trend where most protagonists are male. Just because this particular show has male protagonists doesn’t make it sexist, as your “automatic eye roll” implies.

    Aside from that, it’s very clear you haven’t seen the show. There are several very strong female protagonists, such as the Flame Princess, who is a strong fighter, Princess Bubblegum, who is a science genius, and Marceline, a tomboyish vampire queen. While they are not the main protagonists, the latter two (as well as BMO) have starred in their own episodes.

    Also, if you watched the show, you would find several other feminist ideas. For example, there is a book called “Mind Games” which is a parody of the infamous real-life book, “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists” by Neil Strauss. It is used by a villain and openly criticized by Jake in its several appearances.

    Lastly, there are a few gender flipped episodes, as mentioned in the video, where Finn & Jake become Fiona and Cake. These episodes are amazing, and I recommend you watch them, especially before you pass judgment on the show.

    • Hi Nick,

      “The individual occurrence of male protagonists isn’t sexist, it’s the systemic trend where most protagonists are male.”

      I agree with that statement, but not with your next one. My “automatic eye roll” is because this show, while not individually sexist, is part of that system. As far as you writing that I obviously haven’t seen the show, I wrote that I had not seen it in my post, so I hope it would be obvious. I was responding to the question in the YouTube video. The show sounds great and I would like to watch it. But, I, too, can name plenty of powerful female characters in many movies who don’t get to the star the show. I write about these characters a lot on Reel Girl. I call them the Minority Feisty. http://reelgirl.com/2012/02/the-curse-of-the-minority-feisty-female-in-kids-movies/You can read about it here. Keeping females out of the starring roles and limiting them to supporting, no matter how powerful, makes a huge difference and keeps females in their place.

      Margot

      • Until this above post, there was little explanation for your “automatic eye roll,”. My interpretation that it was passing judgment on the show and/or its creator was perfectly logical given this ambiguity, and it also appears Bunny interpreted it in a similar way. For example, your word choice of “gender assignment” implies that fault can be placed on the show’s creator in how he assigned genders.

        If you wanted to make a commentary on social inequity in cartoons, and not put blame on a show you haven’t seen, then it’s your job as the blogger to make that clear.

        Also, I was aware that you stated you hadn’t seen the show. Since I thought you were passing judgment, I wanted to highlight that fact.

        • Hi Nick,

          I do wish the creator had assigned at least one of the pair of protags the female gender! That said, and I write about this a lot, I think the creator is a guy and he is writing his perspective, experience. I think the lack of female representation will continue until more women tell their stories. No one else can do it for us.

          Margot

          • This is why the Fionna & Cake gender-flipped episodes are so great – but, then, there are only two of them.

            Still, there’s a series of comic books with Fionna & Cake, so…

          • Hi Bunny,

            Yes, I was happy to read about the episodes where the females get to lead. Isn’t it nice they get a turn : )

            Margot

          • Also: geez, Nick, settle down. The problem of all/most TV shows having male main protags is a real one; you should read the rest of Margot’s blog before you flip out over it. She’s quite right to criticize the show on that basis alone. The fact that it’s quite progressive in other ways is worth further exploration, but it doesn’t make her any less correct.

          • Bunny, I think you still don’t understand what Margot was trying to say, and I think that’s because she was unclear. If any one show has male protagonists, that doesn’t make it sexist. The fact that so many shows have male protagonists is what makes it sexist, but that doesn’t mean writers should stop writing male protagonists. It means that across the board, there needs to be more shows with well-written female protags.

            Margot, I also want more cartoons (especially action ones) with main female protags, but it’s okay if Adventure Time doesn’t fit that bill. That’s why we have My Little Pony.

            I know it’s common practice to think that because I’m a guy I must not know a lot about female inequality in media, etc. It’s a little frustrating to hear that so frequently because I make it my job to know as much about it as I can. I’m writing a story with a female protag superhero and I want to get it right. I follow this feminist blog as well as a half dozen others, watch aneeta sarkesian videos, etc. If you still doubt my feminist competency, you can check out my response to a previous post by you: http://reelgirl.com/2012/11/the-meaning-of-the-rescue-in-a-narrative/

            So Margot, it’s incorrect when you say, “no one else can do it for us,” because there are male writers like me who can share the burden. I may never be published, but I’m still trying to close the gap.

            Lastly Bunny, I considered apologizing for getting fired up, but I decided not to. I thought Margot was unjustly criticizing a favorite show of mine, and I feel I have the right to express my frustration.

          • I do think I could have been more clear, though. I used My Little Pony as an example of a great show with female protagonists, and it’s written by a woman. We need more shows like that, and more shows with male writers with female protags, but that doesn’t mean we should forsake any male writer for choosing male protagonists on that choice alone.

    • Hi nick,

      Bunny understands exactly what I am saying. I liked “ratatouille’ very much, but it also had male protagonist. I could go on and on and do on this blog. individual shows do matter because they sake up the sexist system. it’s great you are writing strong female protags. I hope more male artists, producers, and directors do that, it is part of the solution, but the gender gap will not disappear until women are telling their own stories at the same rate me are.

      Margot

      • I agree that women need to tell more stories, and I know there are a lot of barriers that inhibit women from even getting in the door. That’s why I chose the words “share the burden.”

        I’m confused because earlier you said you agreed with my opening statement, “The individual occurrence of male protagonists isn’t sexist, it’s the systemic trend where most protagonists are male.” Now when you say that you agree with Bunny’s statement, “She’s quite right to criticize the show on that basis alone,” it sounds like you think the individual occurrence of male protagonists is sexist. Which is it?

        The problem is the system, from hiring male writers, station managers picking pilots with male protagonists, etc, and the fact that male protagonists are more frequent is a symptom, not the cause.

  6. It really is worth giving the show a look, though – it’s not always spot-on in terms of girl characters, but Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess, and Marceline are all interesting enough that I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.

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