Let’s review another article! This one is pulled from The Atlantic, a witty new publication with timely information.
The Powerpuff Girls Redefined What Little Girls Are Made Of was written by Lenika Cruz and published in February, 2015. Cruz wrote the article in preparation for The Powerpuff Girls reboot that debuted recently on Cartoon Network. Cruz takes a pretty strong stance in support of The Powerpuff Girls trope. She points to the show as a progression from typical feminine characterizations, and highlights the competency displayed by sisters Bubbles, Blossom, and Bubblegum. Cruz views The Powerpuff Girls as subversive to the classic female ideal that women are made of “sugar, spice, and everything nice.” When the professor “accidentally” spills a mysterious “chemical X” into the potion used to create three “perfect little girls” he gets much more than he bargained for. Bubbles, Blossom, and Bubblegum come out more than perfect, they’re super. Cruz does not believe the girls are sexualized because, in her words, “well, they’re little girls.” Clearly a fan herself, Cruz concludes by saying The Powerpuff Girls “proved that there was no single formula to make the ideal girl, and that sometimes the best move was to mix in something weird, undefinable, and mysterious along with the sweeter elements.”
So, let’s get real. I don’t really buy the argument that The Powerpuff Girls is as subversive to traditional gender roles as Cruz makes it out to be. On the contrary, the thing I remember most vividly about The Powerpuff Girls is the message it sent about obedience. The Powerpuff Girls continually agonize over the seemingly impossible duality of their situation, being both helpless little girls and immensely powerful superheroes. Bubbles, Blossom, and Bubblegum want nothing more than to be “normal little girls” not for themselves, but for “the professor.” Ah, the professor. The often times cold and distant professor/father figure who just can’t help but be overwhelmed by this new parenthood thrust upon him. Episode after episode, the professor attempts to instill the virtue of obedience into his three little charges. The general message of the show tends to be disobey your father, and bad things will happen to you. Even if a little girl is strong and powerful, she is still under the constant and vigilant watch of “the father.” In regards to Cruz’s assertion that The Powerpuff Girls are not sexualized in the show simply because they are “little girls,” I urge her to take a closer look. All three girls are traditionally beautiful (even sexy) with big eyes, tiny waists, and minuscule dresses. Even the tomboy of the group, Blossom, has a certain Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago thing going on. And since when did our culture stop sexualizing little girls? Might I remind you of Disney’s iconic The Little Mermaid, wherein Ariel appears as a prepubescent girl in a bikini top with a flat tummy and long, beautiful hair. Disney didn’t start this trend, and neither did Cartoon Network, but the fact remains they’re both guilty.
Actually, now that I think about it, The Powerpuff Girls is EXTREMELY problematic. What of the mayors assistant, one of the only adult female characters (besides the ditzy preschool teacher) who we only ever see neck down? The Jessica Rabbit-esque woman is constantly having to turn down sexual advances from her boss, but tends to keep the conversation light and “laugh it off.” She does the incompetent mayor’s job for him and should very clearly be in charge, but knows her place and never once steps out of line, or even into frame for us to see her face. Furthermore, what of the villainous, clearly transgender, depiction of the devil character, HIM? It is no mistake that the androgynous HIM presents one of the most insidious threats to the city of Townsville. HIM is not only a threat to the city, but to the society’s way of life in general. By going against traditional gender roles, HIM threatens the very fabric of an all American, bootstraps tied way of life.
Is this what we want to teach young people? Listen to your daddy or else? As long as you’re beautiful and obedient everything will be okay? Going against your gender is wrong and unnatural, possibly even demonic? I think, well at least I hope, not.