Favorite Feminists for the Very Young

Oh Jezebel, your editors should know by now that if you post anything that involves a list and the word “feminism” – people are going to get into a flame war mighty fast.  Jezebel’s list of 20 Feminist TV Characters prompted a lot of controversy – including a lot of agita over the lack of women of color on the list. Teresa at the Shameless Blog posted on the controversy, and added her own list of favorite women of color on TV.

I started making my own list of characters, when I realized that many of them were, in fact, from my childhood. Children’s TV has an amazing ability to reach and influence a generation (something pointed out in a very good NPR story from a few weeks ago). So why shouldn’t we acknowledge the fictional women who had an influence (however corny) on our young lives?

Elisa Maza – Gargoyles

All these kick-butt gun-toting cops, and not one mention of Elisa Maza?  Holds her own against the enemies of the Gargoyles, and fights against injustice as a NYPD detective. Elisa is also half African American and half Native American.

Moose – Pepper Ann

Did anybody else ever watch Pepper Ann?  The tales of a quirky redheaded middle schooler who tries to do the right thing. . . often involving her younger sister Moose.  Moose had a low husky voice, short hair, and wore pretty much whatever the guys wore on the show.  Moose might be one of the non-traditional girl cartoons I can think of (even more so than Ashley Spinelli of Recess).

Alex Mack – The Secret World of Alex Mack

Good grief did I love this show. Alex Mack gets covered in chemical ooze, then discovers she has superpowers. Never explicitly feminist, Alex Mack does solve her own problems and deal with the trials of being a teenager without slipping into sad cliches. Also, she can turn into a puddle of goo.

Kate Monday – Mathnet (Square One)

How could I forget Kate Monday? Probably the closest thing that the under 13 set had to a Dana Scully, Kate Monday uses math to solve crimes with her partner, George Frankly. “My name is Monday. I’m a Mathematician.”

The Chief – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

It’s mighty tempting to list the double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery – but instead I’ll give credit to Lynne Thigpen’s amazing Chief, who managed to educate and entertain while spitting out tongue-twisters at a Sondheim-esque pace. Do it Rockapella!

(thanks to Sarah for all her input!)

Women on the Web: Who’s Leading Who?

Image by Mike Licht

Image by Mike Licht

Woman to Woman, Online, yesterday’s business section cover story, explores trends on websites targeted at women. The article notes the ways in which content and advertising have begun to run together, especially on blogs that feature fashion, decorating and style advice.

Companies are finally catching on that you can draw in potential shoppers by using interactive patterns that are native to the web: Viral videos, user-generated content, quizzes, memes and polling. But why do women gravitate toward all these blogs about clothes and apartments and boyfriends – and not to, say, women’s political blogs?

Lauren Zalaznick has an absolutely creepy answer:

“Time and time again, women are happy to see their relationship with their food, their clothes and their relationships externally manifested in entertainment and how-to content,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal’s women and lifestyle entertainment networks, including iVillage.

Women are “happy?” A few dozen feminist bloggers would say no. . . The article misses out on something HUGE about women on the web: There is no information about how many women get their political news from blogs that don’t specifically target women. Just because women’s political news sites don’t find a large audience doesn’t mean women aren’t interested in political news (or science news, or business news). But what Yahoo “Shine” defines as “women’s news” might not match up with what women actually find to be relevant to their lives.

I took myself off of a prominent women’s news list because I felt the subjects of the articles were too narrow in scope. I happen to find many types of stories interesting: A story about advances in prostate cancer treatment might not have anything to do with “women’s” news – but I might find it interesting because I happen to like science.

Zalaznick also ignores the way that media influences and changes women’s expectations about their own lives. The media often leads or labels trends in how we consume products, and how we relate to each other, by incorporating them into entertainment (think of the rise of the phrase “he’s just not that into you”). Then, bloggers often parrot these trends right back to the media (say, on a your livejournal the day after a breakup).

On television, advertisers have about 20 seconds to sell a single product. On the web, companies can create immersion experiences that sell a full-blown lifestyle. Web advertising can occur 24 hours a day, and can be integrated with almost any web experience. It’s scary to think how often our expectations about relationships (with lovers, family members, friends) are influenced by a corporate conception of how we are supposed to live.

Sex and the City: Women v. Girls

Sex and the City
Image by Lots Of Sprinkles
I usually enjoy picking up the New York Times arts section, but this article struck me as odd, right from the title. Michael Cieply, who writes about the entertainment industry, tries to make a twisted little connection between the new Kit Kittredge film, a G-rated American Girl Doll spin-off, and the blockbuster Sex and the City movie. Cieply crows:

But this G-rated movie adventure is shaping up as Hollywood’s next serious bid for female viewers, some of whom showed their power by pushing the R-rated comedy “Sex and the City” to surprisingly strong first-weekend ticket sales of more than $57 million two weeks ago.

Unless the depression-era Kit Kittredge starts making bathtub cosmopolitans, I sincerely doubt this film has anything to do with the highly commercialized, Prada-encrusted Manhattanites that populate the SATC universe. Except of course, gender.

Why would anyone be surprised that women want to watch movies about women? Courting a female audience is hardly newsworthy, and reducing a kids’ picture to Sex and the City minus the sex seems tawdry and arbitrary. “Women’s pictures” have been around since Kit Kittredge was in diapers. In fact, Ann Hornaday wrote a great article for the Washington Post that looks at the girls-in-the-city formula at the heart of the Sex and the City brand.

Sex in the City, however fabulous it may be, still relies on materialism, stereotypes about women’s bodies and relationships, and an often celebrated ignorance of life outside of wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show, but if I had a daughter old enough to understand the phrase “bikini wax” I wouldn’t let her anywhere near it.

Of course, most of the offerings for young girls aren’t much better. There are the films marketed to girls under the guise of the “Princess” and “Bratz” brands. Then there’s Gossip Girl, which is akin to Sex and the City with more sporadic female camaraderie. What would be newsworthy is a film that wasn’t based on a doll, or an established brand, but on actual girls doing actual girl-like things.