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Cartoon Female Role Models Wanted!

Go ahead. Think of a few centric female leads in a cartoon. How many can you come up with that are not from Disney movies or anime? How many of them aren’t preoccupied with a love interest? Not a whole lot, huh? Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of great main female characters in our favorite TV shows and movies, but she’s usually a single individual playing with the boys and kicking as much ass as the rest of them…y’know, when she’s not bobbing and weaving her way through a love triangle. Could be worse, I guess. They could all still be irrelevant characters from the olden days.

“Do you remember the kinds of stuff that they made for us, for kids, in the oldie old days? Let’s see, the first animation, of course, was Disney’s Minnie Mouse and… Daisy Duck, who didn’t really do much at all, except ask to go shopping, I think. There were a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons — Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, George of the Jungle — virtually no female characters. I had a vague recollection that Yogi Bear had a girlfriend, and I searched and searched, and I finally found her, Cindy Bear, as you all remember…

“…On the Looney Tunes website, they list twelve characters, and only one of them is female, but it’s the great one. It’s the one you all love and remember the best: Granny. She’s the one who owns Tweety, and she has to leave so that the story can happen.” — Geena Davis at the National Conference for Media Reform in 2007 on See Jane.

Then there are all female teams like the Sailor Scouts, Sam, Clover and Alex from Totally Spies, the Powerpuff Girls, and so on. When they’re not busy fighting the bad guys (for a whole 20 seconds in the episode) they’re usually preoccupied with boys, relationships, shopping, the latest trend — Serena/Usagi dreams of becoming a housewife to her college-age boyfriend once she’s graduated from high school, not a great line of thinking for us Americans; in other words, very superficial stuff. I enjoyed Sailor Moon, I tolerated a few episodes of Totally Spies, and I wore a talking Bubbles watch all through my Sophomore year in high school. However, if you asked me if I ever took them seriously as female characters to look up to, I’d answer with a very vocal “hell no.”

Earlier today a Twitter follower asked what is a good female lead character in a cartoon. There already aren’t a whole lot of female leads in cartoons; there are even less who don’t annoy me. So who comes to mind that could qualify as a strong female lead whom you would have no problem identifying with or recommending to other girls?

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Daria: A cynical teenager surviving her very enthusiastic suburban family and the expectations of high school. Daria, in her own way, was unique in that she often didn’t care that she didn’t fit in with the popular crowd, nor did she care how she looked. If she did find herself caring at some point, she quickly learned that it wasn’t her and that she was better off staying herself. She’s smart, witty (which often crosses over to sarcasm and giving others “lip”), and doesn’t concern herself with the same values her perky, popular classmates often enslave themselves to.

Korra: She’s a rebellious, brash, tomboyish teenaged girl who isn’t afraid of getting into fights. Her headstrong personality often gets her into trouble. While she’s not competing with the guys at Pro-Bending tournaments, she is butting heads with an anti-bending group called the Equalists. Korra still has a lot of growing up to do (i.e. learn to react to certain situations more responsibly), and now that she is a fully realized Avatar, there are even more hurdles to overcome. The greatest annoyance I find in the series so far is the love-triangle that keeps getting stuffed down our throats. We get it. The cast is a bunch of teenagers with raging hormones. But I guess that’s the nature of the Avatar series. The shipping is strong with this one.

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Kim Possible: Her name pretty much says it all. She can do just about anything and she knows it — an admirable trait, no doubt. Yes she’s a cheerleader, yes she swoons over boys and loves to go shopping, but she likes thwarting bad guys and evil geniuses just as much. I’d like to see you come up with another teenager who can juggle her priorities as well as she does.

Pepper Ann: Awkward tween facing the trials and tribulations of puberty. Though quite imaginative and exaggerated, the show Pepper Ann wasn’t afraid of delving into some real stuff. Name another Saturday morning cartoon where the heroine has to get her first bra and later accidentally flashes everyone.

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Eliza Thornberry: Eliza is first and foremost a quintessential (zoology) geek with a knack for environmentalism and conservation. Oh and she can also speak to animals. She literally throws herself into harm’s way if it means protecting her family or endangered animals.

Coraline: She’s intelligent, curious, smart, resourceful, and courageous. Even though she is lured to all the attractions Other-Mother presented, Coraline is smart enough to realize that what she wants isn’t necessarily what she needs.

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She-Ra: All I can remember about this character is that she is the leader of a rebellion and she never bothered with a love interest. As Adora, she is feisty, strong-willed, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s sh*t. As She-Ra, she is every bit as strong and powerful as her twin brother He-Man. The show itself leaves much to be desired, but hey, those were the times.

Amethyst: I’m referring to the latest DC Nation short. There isn’t a whole lot to go on since the episodes are about 2 minutes long, but I enjoy them immensely. Amethyst has shown that she is highly adaptable and resourceful. That’s quite an admirable trait considering she’s a young girl thrown into a strange universe where everyone already knows her as their long lost warrior princess.

I’m sure you readers can come up with more, and so can I (especially where Disney is concerned); however, my list of strong cartoon female leads mostly extends to a an older audience. What do I want? More tolerable leading ladies in cartoons, specifically within action-oriented ones. Not a main female character in a show centered around a guy.

And just because she’s a female lead doesn’t mean there HAS to be a love interest. Right? Am I right? Eh? I am confident there are talented writers out there who can make a female lead who has the ability to carry her own show just as well as any other action cartoon out there. Any chance we can get Gail Simone to write a female centric show? I’d very much like to see a Birds of Prey cartoon. A proper one. And maybe even a Gotham City Sirens.

Rant over. Brain tired.

The Author

Christina Janke

Christina Janke

Host of "Intro to Geek" on Shauncastic.com. Her love of all things Mass Effect knows no bounds. She also carries an obsession with comic books, video games, and quirky television shows. Her heroes are Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Gail Simone, and hopes to be just like them when she grows up.

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