Ever since Minnie Mouse made her debut with Mickey Mouse in a comic strip titled “Mr. Slick and the Egg Robbers” in 1930 the world of animation has shown a propensity for creating strong willed and unique female characters. In a pattern that has aped the rising tide of the American feminist movement, female cartoon characters have often times been depicted in a manner that was ahead of the curve in relation to their peers outside of animation.
Look at it this way, which is the better example of a young and empowered female? Is it the supremely capable yet intuitive Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons” or the character of Hannah Montana as played by Miley Cyrus on The Disney Channel show of the same name? Let’s be honest. Hannah Montana may secretly be a huge pop star but her appeal (as the show tells us) lies more in her cuteness and less in the power of her intellect.
Any feminist or any female with a brain should find the character of Lisa Simpson vastly more entertaining, as well as far more relatable. Plenty of women can find an avenue of success by following the inevitable college bound path laid by Lisa Simpson while very few women will ever become pop stars. And let’s be honest. Part of being a pop star in this day and age means relying mainly on your looks. And there is nothing remotely feminist about that.
Beyond the “message” that these female cartoon characters send out to young people, they must also manage to keep us entertained. In that serious and silly mindset here are ten of the most memorable female animated characters of all time.
1.) Marge Simpson-Although you may say Marge is the antithesis of a feminist I would have to disagree. A true feminist is able to have children and stay at home to raise them without making the slightest apology for it. Marge also is the only Simpson with a college education (How did Homer get that job at the Power Plant without one?) and has shown through the decade plus of “Simsons” episodes that she is the brains in the family. Plus, you have to love a woman with blue hair piled so high that it looks like a ficus tree.
2.) Lois Griffin-As the matriarch from “The Family Guy,” Lois manages the unique task of depicting a woman who loves her family yet is also allowed to have serious flaws. It is often times hinted at that she loves to smoke marijuana and also that she had numerous love affairs with famous musicians like Darryl Hall from Hall & Oates before she was married. Complicated yet lovable, Lois Griffin never fails to entertain even though she may never win mother of the year.
3.) Minnie Mouse-Possibly the cutest of all the female cartoon characters, Minnie Mouse seriously knew how to bring the flirting whenever she was with her man Mickey. Minnie showed that it was okay to possess a totally feminine appeal and not be called a “slut.” You would never call Minnie that, now would you? I didn’t think so.
4.) Velma from “Scooby Doo”-Who can deny the intellect and sassy style of super-sleuth Velma from the cartoon classic “Scooby Doo?” Her eyewear subconsciously caused an entire generation to think that wearing glasses made you smarter. Velma was also a ground breaker in that she was the first female cartoon character allowed to have no interest in the opposite sex. Velma is a true icon in the gay rights movement.
5.) Lisa Simpson-We have already mentioned this intriguing depiction of an intelligent American female. Her character is far more interesting than that of her “Simpsons” siblings Bart and Maggie. Lisa could manage to hold her own show if it centered on what she did after getting out of the fourth grade (when are these kids going to age?). We all know Bart is just going to end up in prison and besides, how many times can you hear him cry “Ay Caramba” and still laugh?
6.) Meg Griffin-The daughter of the aforementioned Lois Griffin from “The Family Guy,” Meg is not the prettiest girl nor is she the smartest. She is distinctly average but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she is smarter, prettier and more capable than any of the male characters in “Family Guy” with the possible exception of evil baby Stewie. Meg Griffin is an important depiction in animation because it shows that girls can be unpopular and awkward while growing up and still survive.
7.) Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”-One of the first truly empowered female characters to come out of a “classic” Disney feature length film, Ariel defied the wishes of her father and the society she lived in so she could be “part of our world.” At the start of the film Ariel is a mermaid living at the bottom of the ocean but by the end she had found love on dry land and was granted the gift of two human legs. How did she do this? Just by dint of her own willfulness and desire for a different life.
8.) Strawberry Shortcake-In addition to teaching young girls the joys of smelling nice, Strawberry Shortcake always valued the power of female friendships. There was, of course, her best friend Blueberry Muffin, as well as Apple Dumplin’, Raspberry Tart and even a girl named Plum Puddin’. I could continue with the list of semi-ridiculous names but that would take away from the central message of Strawberry Shortcake. Life smells sweeter when you have good friends. Especially friends with names like Lime Chiffon.
9.) Daria Morgendorfer-The only female character of consequence from the cartoon universe of “Beavis and Butthead,” this bespectacled young female represents the struggle of any small town girl desperate to escape from the grip of her idiotic classmates. Nothing seems to faze young Daria as this total mental separation from her surroundings is her only defense mechanism for the dire conditions she experiences during every school day. How many young women do you think can relate to that? Plenty more than you probably think.
10.) Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”-While her name may relate only to her “beauty,” this intelligent young woman who is forced to spend time with the “Beast” shows a depth and heart rarely found in an animated character. Beside the fact that “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the best Disney films ever made, it also shows in Belle a female role model that can be soft and loving while maintaining a sharp intellect mixed with a highly discerning nature. And she is cute too.