The Fascinating Backlash Against the Loss of the “Ideal Feminine Form” in Children’s Cartoons and Comics

It’s an attempt to police women into the tiny box of male-approved acceptability, and a refusal to accept that that box does not exist, that it never has, and that it never will.

DreamWorks Animation Television’s She-Ra from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, premiering in 2018

I thought this had died down, but the release of the new trailer has shown that they were just laying dormant.

When the new She-Ra design was unveiled in July, several men took to Twitter (and every other corner of the internet) to bemoan the death of ‘the ideal feminine form.’ Specifically, they were upset that new She-Ra was, well, different. She no longer has stiletto boots, they put shorts on under that Marilyn skirt of hers, and her strapless dress has been traded for a battle-sensible shirt which, one argued, made her look like a ‘boyish lesbian.’ Because apparently wearing chest coverage that properly keeps your boobs inside it makes you a lesbian now.

Of course, when the inevitable backlash to their attempt at a backlash made them the mockery of the internet (were they actually, honestly complaining that a kids’ cartoon wasn’t wankable enough?), they responded in turn that, no no, this had nothing to do with her new lack of sex-appeal! It’s just that they’re angry that the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors, for the uninitiated) are waging a war against feminine bodies! What kind of message is this sending the young ladies who may be busty in the future?

It’s absolutely fascinating that artists deciding to draw a 16-year-old with a teenager’s body has been met with backlash insisting that the social justice warriors are actually waging a war on femininity because they dared to not draw her (a 16-year-old) in a miniskirt and strapless dress. Or maybe it’s that her boobs look smaller, or that, shock and awe, a girl who has spent her whole life training for battle has muscles.

As with the appropriation of many, many other feminist arguments, the argument they frame as their main concern is valid…when it’s being raised in good faith. For example, the creators of the new Powerpuff Girls cartoon removed Ms. Bellum because they “felt like Ms. Bellum wasn’t quite indicative of the kind of messaging we wanted to be giving out at this time…” Ms. Bellum was a curvaceous character who was almost always framed from the neck down — that is, she was an object. Whether it was being played as a joke or not, it was a very tasteless choice. But Ms. Bellum was also an honestly strong character, and there really aren’t a lot of examples of curvy ladies being intelligent in media. While the mayor was essentially and infant in an old man’s body, she kept the town together. It would’ve been an even better lesson for young ladies to see her turned from object to a well-treated character in the new series. Maybe she could have even become the mayor, with the new show runners retiring the man-child of the original. They could’ve done anything, really, but chose instead to say ‘this body isn’t welcome here so we made it leave.’

However, the situation with She-Ra is not the same as what went on with Ms. Bellum, and the men trying to take up the mantle against her new design don’t strike me as actually being truly concerned with what message her toned down boobs could be sending our youth.

Especially since, well, she still has that ‘ideal feminine’ hourglass type figure. It’s just been drawn more like one would expect of a 16 year old body and clothed in more appropriate attire. I’d definitely put a bit more armor on those arms and legs, sure, but at least they got rid of the stilettos and gave her a panty covering item of clothing and a proper boob-holstering top instead of a flimsy little strapless dress.

I can say that we have seen a bit of a rise in more masculine women lately, and most of them do tend to be very badly done. The ‘strong’ female character is being used in place of putting in the effort to write strong female characters. What I mean is that a lot of lazy writers are making their women super strong and borderline emotionless and having them outright reject feminine ideals, thus making ‘strong’ female characters, instead of putting in the effort to carve out a character that is both strong and female. Strong not necessarily in the physical sense, though that’s not unwelcome where it’s appropriate, but in the sense of being well thought out and well written. These two ideas get conflated quite often, and, as a woman who loves to read stories about adventurous women, it’s ridiculously annoying.

She-Ra hasn’t been released yet, so we can’t be absolutely certain which one she will be, but the trailer looks extremely promising for a well-written character that just happens to also be physically strong — and drawn to appropriately reflect her world. Adora has been trained since childhood to be a soldier. She is going to be muscular. She should be muscular. That does not make her androgynous or boy-like.

That’s where the issue really comes to a head. They claim to care that she isn’t feminine anymore, but just look at her. She’s still extremely feminine. But she’s also a child who was raised to be a soldier and, this time, she actually looks the part. However, since she’s not feminine in the way that these men want her to be feminine, they say she looks like a boy, and the SJWs are trying to murder femininity because they want all women to be boy-like.

Which brings us to the very root of the argument, the part that they try to avoid, ignore, and insist is false, and yet —

Any way you try to argue your way out of the corner, insisting that all women should have this ideal look is rooted in the objectification of women. Setting an ideal in the first place implies that there is one correct (or very few correct) ways to appear female. It just so happens that the ‘ideal’ has all the stereo-typically sexually pleasing elements, but that’s totally not what it’s about, no no. It’s just that boobs and thighs should be on display because…Because otherwise she’s a boy (slash lesbian slash androgynous — which, of course, are also implied to be bad things in this scenario)?

Women come in all shapes and sizes, and no shape or size is more perfect than any other.

Which is the problem that modern creators are addressing, as they should be. Whether petulant man-children approve or not. At the end of the day, their opinions do not matter. What matters is if creators succeed in breaking down the conceit of the ideal feminine so that all girls and women know that their bodies are fine just the way they are. They don’t have to be porn-star perfect to be accepted. The opinions of petulant man-children be damned.

I don’t want to act like these men make up the majority, or even that there’s a large group of them (relatively speaking — there may be thousands, but in comparison to the total population that is even remotely engaged in news regarding She-Ra, that is still a very small number), but their behavior is important. This kind of attitude is what fuels things like Gamergate, and Gamergate was a big deal.

In fact, a lot of these attitudes are cut straight from the same cloth. Regardless of their flimsy excuse of their real issue being about journalism in the gaming industry, Gamergate focused pointed harassment at women who called for there to be more, and better, female representation in gaming. That is, put some armor on those exposed midsections and give them thighs befitting someone who has spent their whole life fighting. Give them roles other than a damsel. Make them something more than just a pretty object to be witnessed. Men ardently hated that idea, and tried to insist that women already had fair representation, even as women were telling them ‘no, not even close.’ (That, my friends, is mansplaining 101 — man insists he is right about things that are happening to woman, refuses to listen to woman when told otherwise, and maybe even goes a step further to insist that silly woman just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.)

It’s an attempt to police women into the tiny box of male-approved acceptability, and a refusal to accept that that box does not exist, that it never has, and that it never will.

As long as these attitudes exist, we need to make sure to address them. When left to fester among themselves, things like Gamergate happen. While this group is small, it is important to pay attention to these attitudes so that worse things don’t happen.

I write in the hopes that perhaps I may help others feel not so alone. Join my writing journey on twitter @kate_is_writing

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