I am fairly convinced that today, I am a reporter and blogger with an interest in fashion, music, and female empowerment because my mother slept in. Here’s why:
My mom is not big on mornings. And not in the way that a lot of people are, where they grumble but they get up because they have to. No, this is a woman who sleeps until 1:30 PM routinely, when allowed, because she stays up until the sun rises. She just operates on that schedule. Which is fine. When we were kids, it meant we had a lot of time to ourselves in the morning, which was also fine. Kids, contrary to what a lot of people think, aren’t useless and don’t require constant supervision. At least, we didn’t.
We did, however, watch our Saturday morning cartoons. A lot of them. Which, in 1989-1993, contained a lot of messages. Adults were, it seems, keenly aware that kids who were watching cartoons at 8:30 on a Saturday morning were probably unsupervised and in need of some positive information. Similar to the “after-school special” or the “very special episode,” cartoons at the time often taught important life lessons. I learned how to tread water from GI Joe (and now you know, and knowing is half the battle). I also learned not to hide in an old refrigerator when you’re playing hide-and-go-seek.
But mostly what I learned was that ladies is pimps, too. But less directly than that. This is because, aside from GI Joe, the two main cartoons that we watched were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which featured April O’Neil, Girl Reporter, and Jem.
April O’Neil, in her yellow jumpsuit, is always out to get the scoop. She’s also constantly under the thumb of her male boss (typical), but she doesn’t let it get her down–she just gets even. She can roll with the boys, eat pizza, and uncover crime waves. She has giant red hair and wears boots. She’s independent, with her own apartment, her own friends, and her own life. She’s a grown-ass woman.
Jem, on the other hand, is younger, but still awesome. She’s is deeply involved in her father’s recording business, as well as in running a safe haven for orphaned teenage girls, is flashy and smart and sassy. She’s fashionable, caring, and always has a plan. She doesn’t back down–not even to the Misfits. Her band of friends are diverse and talented. Yeah, she’s a total babe. And yes, her favorite color is pink. She even has a boyfriend. But is that making her meek and lame? No. It makes her awesome and able to embrace girly shit AND be powerful.
Here’s where both of these characters get really great, though: neither one, that I can recall, has a “breakdown episode.” They’re never “hysterical,” they never have a one-episode eating disorder, they never once have that shitty, stupid moment of introspection that so many female characters are given. Why? Because they’re not broken. They’re just who they are. April is a damn reporter, and Jem is a damn rockstar/teenager-saver/business woman who’s trying to save her dad’s company from a greedy douche. Jem has a SECRET IDENTITY**, and she still keeps it together.
The other reason that these sorts of empowering cartoons are awesome is because they are cartoons. No one is every going to Tweet a photo of April taking a bong toke. There will be no sex tape featuring Jem. They’re not getting work done, they don’t look “scary skinny,” there is no debate about whether or not they are pregnant. There is no extra-curricular way for the media to discredit these characters, because they don’t exist outside of the show. Unlike in most television, where the women who play the characters are expected to live flawlessly and look amazing and never change (unless they’re too fat), strong female cartoon characters are able to exist in a vacuum of awesome. Look at Christina Hendricks. Then look at April. Who gets to be awesome all the time, and who has to defend her red carpet outfit?
Moral of the story? TV needs more bitchin’, wide-hipped, impeccably-dressed, good-at-her-job cartoon ladies. So that the little girls who are watching unsupervised TV this weekend can be empowered, not entrenched in the idea that they’re not good enough.
**Confidential to Miley Cyrus: Jem did it first and better. I don’t even know why you’re trying, aside from the fact that you are now a millionaire. If I could, I’d give every one of your fans a copy of a Jem DVD so they could see what they’re missing.