Anyone familiar with the Riot Grrl movement? For those that answer no, here’s a short summary: it was a feminist movement that took place during the 90’s. The movement was most known in the music branch, with bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobil and L7. Typical themes addressed in songs made by these groups where rape, domestic abuse, female sexuality and empowerment. Feminism, the Riot grrl movement, and Girl Power were a big and totally hip set of phenomena which ran rampaged in the wonderful 90’s. Not only in the world of adults, but also in the world for children.
Enter “Powerpuff Girls”. Created by Craig McCracken in 1998, this cartoon broadcasted on Cartoon Network ran for six full seasons. It centered on three Kindergarden aged girl who had superpowers and use their abilities to protect the town they live in, “Townsville”. Each of the girls had all a specific character trait: Blossom, the leader of the group, is the smart one who loves books and math, and yet is overly obsessed with her looks. Buttercup is the tough one, always ready to fight anything in her way. Bubbles is naïve and sweet, yet at times wanting to prove she is tough as well. The writers of this show used common prototypes of female characteristics while also breaking major stereotypes: Blossom for instance is unusual in the way that even if she puts a lot of effort into her looks, she’s still intellectual and totally into reading. This broke with the typical stereotype of women as either beautiful or smart, but never both. Bubbles’ character was shown in a number of episodes as reasonable and brave, something not often associated with overly sweet girls. Buttercup, while obviously being our stereotypical tomboy, is always wearing a dress with matching shoes, clothing not often associated with tomboys.
This show was obviously inspired by the Riot Grrl and feminist movement which took place during the same ten years. Sure, the show obviously couldn’t address domestic abuse etc. but had a strong theme of female empowerment, which the Riot Grrl movement adhered to and strongly spread. And to this day there are few children’s shows that deliver the message “Girl power is cool” as strongly as this one does.
The best thing about this show is how “girly” it is (and purposely meant to exaggerate), yet how tough and unapologetically kick-ass these girls are. They are often surrounded by golden stars, pink hearts and flowers and dress up in cute clothes with bright colors. However, this doesn’t stop them from being wild and strong, beating up all the super evil geniuses which try to destroy their home town. As a child watching this show, I found this message to be extra influential: embracing cute and girly stuff doesn’t mean you can’t be independent and rough. It is possible to combine these two things and they should be combined. Girls don’t have to give up their “femininity” to defend themselves and take stands – it is only natural that they can do both.
The Cartoon was also, beside the strong feminist message, pretty funny and deeply ironic. It had colorful characters, including a dimwitted mayor whose luscious secretary was ten times smarter than this bumbling politician (another smart woman with brains!). The villains were hilarious as well. With the evil and brash super villain HIM being my personal favorite. He was a demon with horns on his head, claws as hands, wearing a tutu and indulging himself with the application of a lot of make-up. His character was most likely male, but neither I nor any viewer could be sure. His outlook was great, but what made him even more fun was his wit and powers: shape shifting and cunning use of manipulation. The animation of the show was very anime influenced and pretty nice.
The show had several clever ways of telling and re-telling classic superhero tales. Some good examples is “Three girls and a monster”, where it is shown that sometimes in order to stop a bad guy you have to talk instead of using violence, “Members only” where the Powerpuff Girls face gender discrimination when trying to join a superhero league and “Him Diddle Riddle” where the girls try to solve riddles HIM sets up in order from saving their father from “paying”.
“The Powerpuff Girls” was a big love of mine in my childhood, and yet today it’s hard to find any form of popular culture that has these memorable female superheroes. After the female members of X-men and Wonder Woman, it is hard to name any strong-spirited women crime fighters.
So, if you have kids, show them a few episodes from this fine series. Or watch some by yourself; either way it’s pretty good entertainment.