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!)

The Bechdel Rule (AKA Ripley’s Rule)

Like every other media-and-pop-culture-obsessed feminist out there, I’m wondering why I hadn’t already heard of the “Bechdel Rule” (also known as Ripley’s Rule, the Bechdel/Wallace Rule, or any number of other variations the internet has yet to confuse us with). Kudos to my housemate and her friend for explaining it:

Back in the day, Alison Bechdel made a cartoon in which a character won’t see a movie unless it:

1) Has two women in it
2) They talk to each other
3) About something other than a man

Just recently, the NPR blog picked up on this phenomenally simple, phenomenally telling way of classifying movies and tv. Since some folks at NPR put the story on the radio, everyone’s been buzzing about Bechdel.

If you want a more personal account of how the Bechdel Rule plays into screenwriting, I suggest this post from a former UCLA film student.

I’m more interested in the way that the Bechdel Rule creates a measure of how woman-y a movie or TV show is across genres. It doesn’t specify whether the women are talking about destroying aliens (which is where the “Ripley” reference comes from) or about the perils of balancing children and a career. Of course, this is not a perfect measure – I think that there’s room in this world for all kinds of movies and all kinds of audiences – but I think the Bechdel rule helps me articulate why I feel warm or cool toward a certain piece of fiction (e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer v. Angel).

Katee Sackhoff and Mary McDonnell Image from KWC’s PhotostreamRemarkably, despite what NPR blogger Neda Ulaby says about science fiction being the “traditional fortress of geek-maledom,” modern science fiction shows pass the Bechdel test at a pretty decent rate. Even shows that sexualize their female characters (say, Battlestar or Star Trek: Voyager) actually give them lots of scenes to talk to each other about things other than men. Weird, isn’t it? Is that because directors are trying to make up for their smart women with some sexiness? Or is it because the ensemble casts now popular with science fiction shows leave enough room for female characters to have a wide range of scenes?

I have also been enjoying this easy-to-read list of Bechdel winners and losers. Are there any movies or tv shows that are surprises? I, for one, am shocked that not a single recent animated Disney movie makes the cut. Who knew?