Tags: children/youth, discourse/language, gender, media, critical theory, media literacy, feminism, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: At least in the genre of children’s animated series, it appears that narrow representations of women and femininity are being seriously challenged. It is no longer wholly uncommon to learn of a show that depicts girls as heroic and powerful, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Cartoon Network's The Powerpuff Girls, which ran from 1995 to 2006. While the series generally challenges dominant representations of femininity, one of the episodes, titled "Equal Fights," functions more as a morality tale meant to caution young women against a radical feminism and against pursuing any fundamental challenges to patriarchy. The episode can be used by instructors who seek to promote media literacy, and in this case, arm their students with the ability to spot content that works to uphold the patriarchal status quo (even when that content is otherwise lauded as socially progressive). In the episode, the young superheroes capture the villain, Femme Fatale, but they immediately free her after she convinces them that women are underrepresented as superheroes and villains. Femme Fatale's observation makes a lasting impression on the girls, and as the story develops, they are shown overreacting and misapplying their knowledge of patriarchal injustice. In the final act, the mayor's assistant and the girls' teacher intervene, and effectively condemn the girls' behavior. In her paper on the series, "Saving the World before Bedtime," Lisa Hager similarly takes issue with the "Equal Fights" episode and points out that it never confronts the question raised by Femme Fatale—who, besides Wonder Woman, is a heroine in her own right? It is my view that "Equal Fights" also adds fuel to a discourse, which attempts to equate feminism with male bashing. It is a discourse which seeks to supplant a moral outrage against patriarchy with an outrage against the "injustices" visited on men when women go too far. The moral of this story seems to be that the girls need to be more cautious about their activism; when women are too feminist—when they want too much equality—everyone loses.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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