My three daughters, ages 4, 7, and 10, are huge fans of “The Powerpuff Girls.” They dress up and act out stories where they play Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup.
“Powerpuff Girls” is one of the few shows for little kids where multiple female protagonists work together to save the world, and they don’t wear revealing clothing.That may seem like a ridiculous description of a show, but the sexism in children’s media forced me to come up with my own version of the Bechdel test. The Magowan Test for Gender Bias in Children’s Media goes like this: At least two females who are friends go on an adventure and don’t wear revealing clothing. It’s scary how few shows made for kids manage to pass that simple test.
When it was announced last year that the Powerpuff Girls would be returning for a CGI special, we were thrilled. So, you can imagine my dismay when on The Mary Sue I saw this cover created by Cartoon Network and IDW for Powerpuff Girls #6.
I feel like crying when I look at this. I think I would cry if my kids saw it. How could CN sex up the “Powerpuff Girls?” It really pisses me off that after I went out of my way to introduce my children to these characters, CN exploits and distorts them.
The Mary Sue reports:
The brouhaha about the cover started when comics retailer Dennis Barger Jr., owner of Detroit’s Wonderworld Comics, called IDW out on Facebook for “taking grade school girls and sexualizing them as way older… they are wearing latex bondage wear mini dresses, which on an adult would be fine but on the effigies of children is very wrong… especially on an ALL AGES kids book marketed for children.”
Thank you Dennis Barger for not accepting this. If more comic book retailers and parents and teachers and doctors would say no, loudly and publicly, to sexualizing kids, instead of buying into this stuff, it might stop. But sadly, too many people do the opposite and act as if sexualized images of girls are just normal, which, tragically, they’ve become. Kids need to see images of girls that are not sexualized. It’s sad I had to create a blog to communicate this idea, that it’s radical and alternative while sexualizing kids is mainstream. Sexualized “make-overs” of female characters from children’s media include Merida, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, and Queen Frostline. Yeah, this is how Candyland has changed since we were kids:
The Mary Sue reports that Dirk Woods, IDW’s VP of marketing responded to Barger with this statement:
That was actually a Cartoon Network mandated cover, by an artist of their choosing. I think they were thinking of it more along the lines of “female empowerment” than the kind of thing you guys are talking about, but certainly, we’re sensitive to the issues here. We love making comics for kids, and always want them to be appropriate. For what it’s worth, CN has been a great partner in that regard… I know an 8 year old and 10 year old really well, and always look at these kinds of things through their eyes… Half of the employees have kids here, and we pride ourselves in making comics they’ll enjoy and not give them a warped view of the world (except, you know, in a good way). Anyway, I certainly see your points, and we’ll be sensitive to these things, as I think we mostly have been.
First of all, I find it really annoying that Woods writes Cartoon Network was thinking about female empowerment as opposed to “the kind of thing you guys are talking about.” Like we’re the ones with the dirty minds here. Mr. Woods, the problem is not Barger and those who agree with them, but people who look at this sexed up image of the Powerpuff Girls and see nothing wrong with it.
Mr. Woods, you say you have two kids and that those you work with are sensitive to these issues, so let me explain the problem with seeing “female empowerment” in this version of the Powerpuff Girls you created. There’s a difference between sexualization and sexuality. Do you understand that? In her excellent book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, author Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw:
Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.
Does that make sense to you? Sexualization is about performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. That’s the image your Powerpuff Girls #6 cover projects. Sexuality, on the other hand, is about understanding and connecting to your own desire. Got it? Here’s a specific example that might make sense to you. Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, and, besides feeding babies, they exist to give women sexual pleasure. Implants, while they make breasts look a certain way, are often devoid of feeling for the woman. Do you see the difference?
But why do I even need to talk about sexuality versus sexualization in relation to the Powerpuff Girls, for goodness sake? That, in itself, is the problem.
After the protest, Cartoon Network decided to pull the cover and made this statement:
In conjunction with our licensing partners, Cartoon Network Enterprises from time to time works with the artist community to reimagine and reinterpret our brands using their talents and unique points of view. This particular variant cover for The Powerpuff Girls #6 from IDW was done in the artist’s signature style and was intended to be released as a collectible item for comic book fans. We recognize some fans’ reaction to the cover and, as such, will no longer be releasing it at comic book shops.
Did I miss the apology? Because I don’t see it. It sounds to me like CN is shifting the blame to the artist which is ridiculous. Fault belongs with the network and not just because CN chose and paid for the image. The sexed up “Powerpuff Girls” are indicative of the Cartoon Network’s girl problem. CN is a channel for children and girls make up one half of the kid population, so why have female characters gone missing from CN shows?
In my count, 41 out of 47 shows on Cartoon Network feature male protagonists. I listed the shows and descriptions below. The stats get worse. Of those shows, 19 are titled for the male stars: Steven Universe, The Annoying Orange, Batman, Chowder, Courage, Dexter’s Labratory, Ed Edd and Eddy, Flapjack, Garfield, Generator Rex, Gumball, Gym Partner, Johnny Bravo, Johnny Test,Samurai Jack, Scaredy Squirrel, Sidekick, The Problem Solverz, and Uncle Grandpa. Just 4 shows feature a female character in the title. Of those, “Cow and Chicken” and “Billy and Mandy,” share the title with a male character. “Foster’s” is a show with a male protagonist, titled for the orphanage run by a woman. “Powerpuff Girls” is the only show on the Cartoon Network where girls star and get to be in the title without sharing it.
Instead of this pathetic non-apology, Cartoon Network ought to commit to creating and disseminating shows and games with powerful female protagonists. That’s what all of our kids desperately need to see.
Here’s my list of Cartoon Network’s shows:
Adventure Time Includes powerful female characters, but the protagonists are Finn and Jake. McDonalds sees fit to include no female “Adventure Time” characters in its giveaways.
Almost Naked Animals is described on Wikipedia:
A dog named Howie is the manager and leader of the cabana. Each episode follows Howie and his “misfit” crew having unusual adventures in the Banana Cabana.
Steven Universe is the first show created by a female. From Wiki:
It is produced by Cartoon Network Studios, and is the first show by the studio to be created by a woman.
While it features the Crystal Gems, intergalactic female warriors, the protagonist of his eponymous show is male.
The Annoying Orange stars the male orange and his BFF, a male pear (voiced by the same guy who created the show.)
Batman Need I say more?
Ben 10 Omniverse Even Wikipedia’s description seems hopped up on testosterone:
The series is the fourth installment in the Ben 10 franchise. Man of Action (group consisting of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, and Steven T. Seagle) created the franchise.
Beware the Batman Oh, look at that, just like the movies, we get multiple Batman shows.
Beyblade Shotgun Steel The protagonist is a male champion named Zero
Billy and Mandy This show looks promising, but how about calling it “Mandy and Billy” and not making Mandy wear pink?
Boomerang is cartoons from yesteryear now owned by the Turner Broadcasting System, and we all know how feminist those are. Actually, “Scooby-Doo,” “Pop-Eye,” and “Tom and Jerry” are pretty tame compared to “Bratz.” I have wondered since I was a kid, if Road Runner could be a female.
Camp Laszlo From Wikpedia: “The show features a Boy Scout-like summer camp”
Chowder From Wikipedia: “The series follows an aspiring young chef named Chowder and his day-to-day adventures as an apprentice in Mung Daal’s catering company.”
Courage Courage is a male dog. At least he’s a pink male dog.
Cow and Chicken CN’s second show with a female protag who is also in the title, and her name comes first, and that’s a first.
DC Nation based on DC Comics, no Wonder Woman included. Need I say more?
Dexter’s Labratory Dexter is the evil genius protag of his eponymous series
Dreamworks Dragons Based on the movie “How to Train Your Dragon” the protagonist is the male Hiccup.
Ed, Edd, N Eddy No, I did not make up this show and title to parody the male domination of Cartoon Network. It’s really a show, and yes, it really stars three males with the same name.
Flapjack Stars Flapjack and Cap’n K’nuckles, both male
Foster’s From Wikipedia:
The home is run by the elderly Madame Foster, its lovable, elderly founder; her imaginary friend Mr. Herriman, the strict rule-abider and business manager; and her 22-year old granddaughter Frankie, who handles day-to-day operations.
So that’s good, right? 2 females, their name in the title. But then, there’s this:
The series focuses on the escapades experienced by the mischievous Bloo, Mac, and the array of eccentric, colorful characters inhabiting Foster’s Home, or the obstacles with which they may be challenged.
Bloo is male. Mac is male. Oh, well.
The Garfield Show Cynical male cat stars in his eponymous show, don’t even need Wikipedia to write that.
Generator Rex Yet another Man of Action studios creation. Surprise, surprise, Rex is male.
Grojband Includes marginalized females and gender stereotyping, I would not let my kids near this show.
Grojband follows Corey and his three best friends, Laney and twin brothers Kin and Kon, as they work to propel their garage band to international stardom. When they don’t have the lyrics, Corey and his friends get Trina into an emotional diary mode to write lyrics in her diary, so that Corey and his friends can perform a perfect song.
Gumball The protagonist is gumball, a male cat
Gym Partner From Wikipedia:
A boy named Adam is expelled to a middle school established for anthropomorphic zoo animals due to a spelling error making his surname “Lion”. There, he is befriended by a mischievous, eccentric spider monkey named Jake
Hero 108 Looks like Commander ApeTrully is the protag, from Wikipedia:
The storyline in a typical episode follows a formula, although the formula varies and several episodes depart from it: Commander ApeTrully goes on a mission to the castle of an animal kingdom to make peace and ask its inhabitants to join Big Green, bringing a gift of gold as a token of goodwill.
Johnny Bravo Self explanatory right?
Johnny Test Wow, this is just like the Eddies…
Kids next Door Stars 5 kids, 3 boys, 2 girls
Legends of Chima There are several tribes, each has many more male characters than females and some have no females at all
Ninjago I count one female to multiple males. Maybe I missed one, but come on, this is ridiculous.
Pokemon Again, I count mostly male characters but I actually like Pokemon because the females I’ve seen are pretty strong. What about calling it “Pokewomon?” (Update: That was a joke, apparently some of you think I’m not up on my Japanese)
Powerpuff Girls YAY See what I mean?????
Redakai The protag is Ky, this show is all a father-son quest story about power and destiny
Regular Show Protags are a BFF blue jay and raccoon, both male
Samurai Jack No explanation needed
Scaredy Squirell BFF squirrel and skunk, both male
Secret Mountain Fort Awesome About 5 monsters, all 5 are male, I kid you not.
Secret Saturdays stars Zak Saturday
Sidekick You’d think at least this could be about a female, right? But, no.
Teen Titans 3 males, 2 females. Hey CN, what about having females outnumber males in an ensemble cast?
Teen Titans Go See above
Tenkai Knights Multiple knights and unless I’m missing something, all male.
The Problem Solverz They are Alfe, Roba, and Horace, all male
Time Squad Stars Otto and features practically all male cast
Uncle Grandpa Self-explanatory, right?
Young Justice Invasion An adaptation of the DC universe with a focus on young superheroes and just as sexist in the character make up (Update: Commenters tell me YJ has adapted to have an equal number of female and male characters)
Follow up post: Cartoon Network’s history of sexism: cancelling shows for featuring too many girls