Cartoon Role Models, Or Not

As all of you know, I love cartoons!

I’m not talking about animated TV shows like King of the Hill or The Simpsons, or even that stuff on Adult Swim. Those are shows intended for adults. I don’t like to adult.

When I was a kid, more years ago than I care to count, the only cartoons available were on Saturday. In fact, “Saturday morning cartoons” were quite the tradition. It’s a tradition that has died out – now that we have cable and satellite, there are channels every day that show classic cartoons – the Disney Channel, the Cartoon Channel, and so on.

So, regardless of when kids watch cartoons, they watch them a lot, and so of course a lot of how they behave can be affected by what they watch.

I have to admit that when I’m watching my cartoons (I’m a Looney Tunes kinda gal), I’m always curious to see how male and female characters are presented in other cartoons.

And I’m thinking of the female characters in cartoons aimed at pre-schoolers. The “educational” cartoons. Just what are they teaching young boys and girls about male and female roles?

Well, watch the opening sequence to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse some time.  Each of the characters introduces themselves. The male characters wave or smile, the female characters (Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse) thrust out a hip and raise a hand in a “come-hither” gesture.  It can’t just be me.

If you watch these shows, you’ll quickly see that Daisy is a flirt, who uses her “feminine wiles” – i.e. sex appeal – to get Donald to do what she wants. What is this teaching little girls about how they should interact with boys to get what they want?

Ever notice the stereotypical girl characters in these educations shows? For example in Rugrats, the girl Angelica is “spoiled and selfish” – and of course, bossy. (When a boy tells his friends what to do, he’s just “a leader,” but let a girl do it, and she’s just a bossy know-it-all.)

Ever notice in those shows with young male protagonists…the protagonist is usually a genius, while their sister is, if not a bossy-know-it-all, then an airhead? In fact, I can’t think of a pre-school cartoon where there is a girl genius.

Of course it’s not all bad news. Sheriff Callie’s Wild West presents an excellent female protagonist. Then there’s Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins.

But take a look at the other female characters in Doc McStuffins. While they’ve had episodes featuring a Bessie Coleman doll (the first African-American female licensed pilot) and a female rescue helicopter named Rhonda, many of the female characters are stereotypical with voices that just grate on my nerves.

There’s Dress Up Daisy, who speaks in a high falsetto and changes her outfit every few minutes. There’s Gloria Gorilla who loves to hug and who also uses a high falsetto voice. Spritzi Mitzi, the same thing.

It’s interesting to see how female characters have changed, but also in many ways remained the same, over the years.

What do you think of today’s cartoons for kids? Which are your favorites, and why?

28 thoughts on “Cartoon Role Models, Or Not

  1. I think Dora the Explorer is a good one with positive energy provided with a good head on Dora’s shoulders. Bob the Builder has a nice guy who is not over bearing. I liked Scooby-Doo’s girl characters and also, the teen girls in “The Archies” like Veronica.
    My grandkids like “Brave” with a Scottish lass who is independent and fun, big sister of triplet boys. This is just what I thought of from top of my head. 🙂
    And, even despite many who dislike “The Simpsons,” I have written a post that it is like “Dennis the Menace.” Lisa, the big sister, is certainly the one with a moral compass in the show. There are naughty characters in many cartoons. As long as there are “consequences” for the ones who misbehave, I am okay with kids watching them.
    My grandma from Germany didn’t like us kids watching cowboys and Indians or “Rocky and Bullwinkle” because of the way they portrayed “underdogs.”

  2. I think that most cartoon ever since cat dog have had issues. The constantly made cat a punching bag for the other characters while nothing ever happened to others. Look at the rehashed Alvin and the chipmunks Alvin though he makes mistakes he fixes them and puts thought into how to help the person he has wronged but he still gets punished even though he fixes the problem like getting grounded then taking responcablity for what he did wrong on his own and no one cares he still gets punished

    • Cat Dog always creeped me out a bit. LOL But my son loved it. And I always kind of felt sorry for Alvin. Sure, he was a little precocious, but he never really meant any real harm. And it seemed like even when he wasn’t doing anything wrong, everyone always expected him to be DOING something wrong.

  3. Good post, Thought provoking. I don’t really watch cartoons any more except when my grandchildren stay over. One of their favourites is Ninja Turtles which drives me mad. April seems to get a decent sort of part. When I was younger my favourites were Top Cat and the Flintstones. I seem to remember Wilma and Betty were good strong female characters? What about Scooby Doo?

  4. I’d never thought about it, but it’s true that cartoons provide us with an early glimpse into defined social roles.

    Growing up, the only cartoon I watched with any degree of regularity was “Scooby Doo,” which was already in reruns.

    Even as a kid, I thought it was interesting how the “smart,” woman, Velma, was portrayed as bookish and nerdy, while the “pretty” woman, Daphne, was portrayed as clumsy and ditzy.

    And not so surprisingly, Fred — the assumed leader and archetypical guy — would always find some excuse to split up the group so he could be with Daphne, alone.

    “Shaggy — you, Scooby and the plain chick go explore the basement of the haunted mansion. Meanwhile, me and Daphne will — a-hem — investigate the attic.”

    Uh-huh. “Investigate.” Sure.

  5. I used to love the Wacky Racers with Dick Dastardly and Muttly and Bugs Bunny Felix the Cat and Underdog . They don’t make cartoon like those any more. I also liked Inspector Gadget. My son used to be into that show when he was little and I would get him ready for daycare back then so we end up watch it together. It became our favorite.

  6. Everything we see is set up to condition us and brainwash us into specific roles. Women who have anything to say are bossy, know-it-alls, after all they have see it from the beginning…they are flirts who just use what they have to get what they want, etc. Nothing is done by accident. so if you’re a female and have a working brain, you already know that if you say too much or act in a certain way you will be dismissed because you’re a bossy know-it-all bitch, even if you are a cartoon.

    • It sure does seem that way sometimes. Stereotypes that push specific gender roles or ideas abound everywhere if you pay attention (and sometimes they’re so obvious you can’t miss them). I think it’s better than it was in years gone by, but it’s by no means a thing of the past.

  7. You’ve nailed it, but cartoons are just a reflection of so many other things in our society. These stereotypes go back centuries and it’s only in the past century or so that they’ve started to be challenged and changed. When my kids were young (1990’s) most of the Saturday morning fare had gone to what I referred to as “incredibly preachy and BORING.” I could forgive preachy, sort of, but being boring was unforgivable. Fortunately my kids got into both the live stuff on Nickelodeon (“Space Cases” “Rug Rats” etc) which broke a lot of the stereotypes and Japanese anime, which came with it’s own bizarre cultural stereotypes. Just not from OUR culture.

    Me, I grew up on Bugs Bunny, Marvin Martian, Wile E. Coyote, and the Roadrunner. It’s still amazing that I haven’t died from driving into “tunnel” painted on a cliff wall, taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque, or blowing up the Earth with a illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator!

  8. Hi! Thanks for the follow. Loved this post of yours. In India, we have something called Chhota Bheem (small Bheem) on TV these days. Essentially based on a boy with exceptional strength, his group of friends and how he helps the king by taking care of irksome goons :D. They use great Hindi and English, no slangs! Apart from that, I love Shaun the sheep!

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