I recently came across an interesting video that convincingly explains that BMO from Adventutre Time represents feminist values. I was surprised by how much I agreed with the argument. It’s quite easy to overlook a character such as BMO, just as it’s easy to overlook the other feminist characters that have, for years, been hiding in our childhood cartoons. Here is my list of five cartoon characters you never knew were feminists.
Tweety isn't an obvious choice, but bear with me. Like BMO, Tweety lacks distinct gender characteristics. While the cartoon may designate Tweety as a male, many of the character's traits are feminine — long lashes, a high-pitched voice, even the name (Tweety is a play on "sweetie"). There is also an episode entitled Aint She Tweet (emphasis mine). While this may not be feminist in its own right, the fact that Tweety doesn’t subscribe to traditional gender characteristics is. Yes, Sylvester tries to lure him with a (fake) female companion, but more than once, Tweety uses feminine wiles to get out of a sticky situation. Tweety may be cute and cuddly, but he’s also merciless in his defense of self and home — definitely a closeted feminist.
Disney receives a lot of criticism for its portrayal of women, and rightly so. However, if we look beyond the obvious limitations of some stories, powerful female characters like Mulan emerge. Mulan isn't only independent and brave, but shuns gender expectations in order to achieve her goals. Mulan, for those of you who don’t know, takes her father's place in the Chinese army when the Huns come a calling. The film is done in typical Disney style — it has grand musical numbers and an Americanized version of the culture it explores, and Mulan doesn’t actually kill anyone. But that doesn’t change the fact that Mulan is fiercely feminist. She’s the reason the villain is defeated in the end, and she moves beyond gender constraints to be appointed guardian of her family, a role previously reserved for men. Even though the film may stumble, the trailblazing character of Mulan is emblematic of more than one feminist ideal.
The villain Femme Fatale may have been the more obvious choice, given her appreciation for Susan B. Anthony. I, however, like to think of Buttercup as the most awesomely feminist character on the show. Blossom and Bubbles, while strong female characters in their own right, represent more accepted female traits; they are described as "the smart one" and "the gentle one." Buttercup is "the strong one." She is a tough tomboy who is outspoken and sometimes volatile, but the show doesn’t try and imbue her with masculinity. She’s girly and also physically strong (she even manages to be the muscle while obsessing over a security blanket). And did I mention she’s five?
I know SpongeBob SquarePants is not really a haven for feminists. Or is it? While the show may revolve around two dopey male best friends, Sandy is definitely the strongest and smartest character. She is accomplished at karate and bodybuilding, participates in rodeo championships, and then there’s that whole genius scientist thing. She’s treated as an equal in Bikini Bottom. No one looks down on her or treats her differently because she is a woman. You may say that is due to the nature of the town portrayed in the show, but I think it has more to do with Sandy’s personal traits. She’s been able to navigate the boys blub that is Bikini Bottom, becoming not only an equal, but in many ways a superior. After all, she has defeated the mighty Plankton on more than one occasion.
OK, this one may get me into some trouble, but hear me out. Jasmine is definitely flawed, having been described as little more than a love interest, and she does seem to lack something. However, if you stop to examine Jasmine, you'll find she’s surprisingly empowered. Jasmine lives in a culture where female obedience is expected, but Jasmine does not submit. She fights against institutionalised sexism to the point that she’s willing to give up the life she’s always known. While the film may focus on the antics of Aladdin and his pursuit of the fair maiden’s hand, Disney sneakily made sure that Jasmine isn't just another princess. While there is a lot wrong with Aladdin, including Jasmine, underneath her sexy harem pants there is a feminist waiting to get out.