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?