Feminism in my Rugrats?!

Through the magic of Netflix for the Nintendo Wii, my partner and I rediscovered the joy of Rugrats today “¦ and in the handful of episodes we chose at random, we overturned a surprising amount of formerly-missed feminist messages. On one hand, I am not surprised (watching old kid-stuff as an adult almost always reveals subtle points that once went over my head); on the other hand, I am honestly amazed at just how feminist this show was. Take two of the episodes we watched:

In the “Clan of the Duck” episode, Phil and Chuckie decide that it is not fair that only girls can wear dresses (especially since Phil’s mom gets to wear pants!). So Phil and Chuckie thrown on Lil’s skirts, have a blast, and then pass out “¦ only to awaken at the International Food Festival taking place at the park where they are mistaken as girls by a couple of toddlers, offered candy, and then chased when their true sex is revealed (by the fact that Chuckie has on blue underwear).  Not only does this question the idea of a gender binary, it also teaches tolerance for people who break that binary since the angry boys who chase after Phil and Chuckie are eventually defeated by a group of Scottish babies who are all wearing kilts (skirts)! As a child I found this episode amusing but, beyond that I can also remember feeling very angry for Chuckie and Phil and Tommy over the fact that they were not allowed to wear skirts. I’m not saying that this show made me a feminist or anything “¦ but I do believe it planted some serious seeds.

(Not to mention this episode also contains a one-liner from Lil’s mom that made me crack up as an adult: when asked what she and Lil were doing at their Mommy & Me “Female Empowerment” class that day she responded with, “Jumping, tumbling, and a ‘Let’s take the Senate’ Sing-Along!”)

Even more impressive in my opinion is “Angelica’s Last Stand” where Susie helps the babies to revolt against Angelica’s tyrannical rule as the lemonade “boss.” My mind was just blown when Susie told the babies that they had to choose a leader to go speak with Angelica, and then refused to allow them to elect her because she said, “it has to be one of you.” This is a concept that goes beyond feminism-101 (obviously, since plenty of of activists don’t get it) but it’s something that has made innate sense to me since I started calling myself an activist “¦ the revolution has to come from the group of people in question. Allies can play an important role (like Susie did, when she helped the babies to organize a protest), but the true power of any revolution comes from voices that were once silenced being free to speak out. I can’t help but wonder if the seeds for this understanding came from moments like this, slipped discreetly into my childhood television.

Aside from the brilliantly encouraging moments, there are also some questionable messages “¦ like the fact that Phil and Lil’s mom is essentially the stereotype of a “ball-busting” feminist, and her husband is the stereotypical image of a “whipped” husband “¦ but I honestly don’t mind this so much because you can’t argue, she’s pretty badass, and some people/relationships are that way in the real world. Plus, the awesome messages more than outweighed the questionable things in the few episodes we watched.

I can’t help but wonder where all of the feminism has gone on television lately “¦ is it just me, or does it seem like TV shows (for kids and adults) don’t tend to have messages like this anymore? (With some wonderful exceptions!) I really feel as if modern-day children and teen’s programming especially has been stripped of the awesome moments like this “¦ moments that helped to shape me into the adult that I am today, and that makes me really sad. (But also really happy that Nickelodeon is bringing back some of these shows!!)

What do you think? Am I totally off “¦ are there awesome feminist shows on TV today that I’m just missing? Are these messages not really that significant? What messages (if any) do you remember getting from the TV of your childhood? I’d really love to know!

8 thoughts on “Feminism in my Rugrats?!”

  1. OMFG Rugrats! This was the first television show I watched regularly and how I learned to tell time (When Rugrats is over the clock looks like this and that means it’s 8:30) ANYWAY! Other important and progressive messages in Rugrats –

    1.Angelica’s mom who is a CEO with a husband who also works. She clearly struggles with motherhood sometimes, I remember an episode where she brings Angelica to the office with hilarious results, but loves her daughter.

    2.Chuckie’s Dad and single fatherhood. Chaz is shown as totally capable of meeting Chuckie’s needs, and a very caring type guy.

    3.Jewish holiday episodes.

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