Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Thinking Pink:

You want to know something weird?

As a little girl, I hated being white. Well, that's not precisely the case. I hated being a white *girl*.

See, I was born in 1983, which means the era of cartoons and comics and television shows and comics I remember from my childhood stems from the late 80s and early 90s.

The thing about that period of time that I mostly recall is multi-ethnicity. Which is great, don't get me wrong.

But you know, they were almost always the same.

Let me break a random group down for you:

One (1) Boy, White, subclassification: "jock" (Athletic, capable in sports, a fighter)
One (1) Boy, White, subclassification: "geek" (The group intellectual, glasses, socially inept)
One (1) Girl, White, subclassification: "pretty" (Usually not terribly intelligent, defined by her physical attractiveness)
One (1) Miscellaneous, Black, subtype: "tough but sensible" (Not as athletic as the white boy, but with more common sense/street smarts)
One (1) Miscellaneous, Asian, subtype: "smart and calm" (Not as intelligent as the white boy, but more socially adept)

That was always the way it was. Sometimes the black kid was the boy and the asian was a girl sometimes it was the other way around. I'm not going to try to claim that the racial stereotypes weren't obnoxious or even harmful. I have to admit, it's not something I ever really considered. (I am, in terms of race, a member of the privileged majority and thus didn't really have to notice those things growing up)

But I know one thing, if we neighborhood children were ever pretending to be those characters...I always wanted to play the black or asian girl. Or the boy geek. But I was weird like that. (I prefered Tygra to Cheetara in Thundercats anyday. :-P)

I mean, yeah, it also wasn't fair to those other girls that the white girl was automatically the "pretty one". (It was also blatantly untrue in some cases where the black or asian girl was actually equally as physically attractive as the white girl), but at least the other girls could be skilled and competent.

The white girl was only there to be flirted with or a girlfriend. And she was often associated with the color pink. And I hated pink.

Yeah, yeah, people change. Deal. :-P

Anyway, yeah, usually the white girl was supposed to recognize some pure spirit or pure heart sort of bullshit and be the token love interest/crush object.

But what I always wanted to know was why couldn't the white girl be the "tough one" or the "calm one". Why couldn't the black girl, or the asian girl, be the token pretty thing to look at? Why couldn't the white girl be the jock or the geek?

For that matter, why couldn't one of the boys be "the pretty one".

(I mean, if it works for Kyle Rayner. :-P)

I just really hated growing up that the character that I was supposed to identify the most with because of similarities of race, sex, and socio-economic standing couldn't be anything more than the local bimbo. Only worth anything because of looks.

Heh, it probably helped that I was a decidedly unattractive child. (I have the sort of features that needed to be grown into, shall we say. :-)) Even though my appearanced improved a lot in later adolescence (if I do say so myself), that was much later on and didn't really help during the time when these characters were supposed to be identifiable.

Or god forbid role models.

See, I never thought Barbie was that bad. Yeah, the body standard was a little unrealistic, but I never particularly felt like I didn't measure up. Barbie was about the clothes. (and I hated clothes shopping for myself)...of course I was the sort of child that considered ball gowns "Sorceress dresses", (screw "Princess", my doll was a fucking *Queen* thank you), and broke off a ski-pole to be a sword and called paintbrushes lances... Yeah, it took a bit of imagination to turn stretch pants, knee high cowboy boots, and a motorcycle helmet into a "warrior's outfit", but well...if you're determined enough...

But those female characters...*they* were harmful growing up. Those shows convinced me that "feminity" (dresses, pink, flirting with boys and liking clothes) was mutually exclusive from intelligence and competence and being taken seriously.

Those shows created artificial hierarchies of competence, ability and attractiveness based on race and gender that were subtly re-enforced everywhere.

I think that's changing now. I do. I think there's a lot more emphasis on character first, with race and gender as aspects of the character but not the sole defining characteristics. I think people are making a conscious effort to go beyond stereotypes and have, god forbid geeks that are black or female, asians that are into sports that aren't martial arts, where being "the pretty one" doesn't mean you can't be black or asian or male and it doesn't mean you have to be incompetent or stupid either. Hell, even white boys don't have to be so strictly categorized into boxes like "the jock" or "the geek".

We're learning, I think, that labels are self imposed and that people are who they are, good at some things, not good at others, and those talents and faults are based individually not racially or sexually.

And we're learning that femininity has nothing to do with intelligence or competence.

We're learning that just because something is pink, doesn't mean that it's substance-free.

11 Comments:

  • At February 20, 2006 7:48 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    But, without the these stereotyped classifications we wouldn't get some of the classic media we have now, like Revenge of the Nerds. Ok, that was a joke example (never seen it, don't care to, not a fan of college comedies).

    Seriously though, the split between Jock and Geek does lead into movies like Back to the Future. Then again, that movie celebrated Geek power over Jocks so maybe that still isn't a good example for my case.

    And these movies are about the male side of the gender gap, and I can't think of a movie quickly to support what I'm saying otherwise.

    There's Xena, but that comes after the era you were talking about. Maybe that will work as a sign of progress, but that wasn't my point.

    I don't think I have much of a point, actually. Good observation.

     
  • At February 20, 2006 9:07 AM, Anonymous Jer said…

    Ah, the Captain Planet and Power Rangers era of cartoons, right? I was too old to really watch those things, given that I'm a good decade older than you are, but I recall my little brothers watching Power Rangers and thinking that the sterotypes on that show were worse than anything I'd ever seen. But hey, at least you had the Batman Animated series.

    My era of cartoons was, of course, the late 70s and early 80s, where the stereotypes were almost as forced, but generally broke down exclusively on gender, rather than race/gender combos. Even our superhero shows (like Superfriends, or Spider-man and his Amazing Friends) had a bunch of white folks standing around giving the "lesson of the week" - almost always to other white folks. The stereotypes really were a step forward - a baby step, but a step.

     
  • At February 20, 2006 11:42 AM, Anonymous green means wheelpower said…

    NEWS FLASH kALINARA...YOU ARE A GEEK!

    Seriously though, Stereotypes are less used now in higher quality toons as aposed to intergration. Ex. black Harvey Dent in BA, Dana& Max in BB.

    IMHO race/culture centered lines have terminduos value if done senitively and openly. Ex. any milestone series.

    But then I was outside the structure myself. Physically handicaped but miraculously still gifted smart. (would've been Geek-> hansome geek;))

     
  • At February 20, 2006 12:22 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    centurion: that's okay, :-)

    jer: close enough to cartoons I admit. And yeah, I do think the multi-ethnic parts were a step up and that the stereotypes of my generation were actually progressive for their time...

    But it was still annoying at the time. :-)

    green: heh, I *know* I'm a geek, but there really weren't a lot of female geeks to identify with. :-)

    It has gotten better I think. A lot better. But it was still frustrating at the time.

     
  • At February 20, 2006 5:42 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    You know, you just made me think of "Saved By the Bell". That one had two white girls, one dumb and pretty (the brunette), and the blonde was the smart progressive feminist overachiever.

    In that one, I always ended up identifying more with Lisa still. The fashion plate who still had sense, the artistic type. Which is strange, because I'm not fashionable, I wasn't popular, and I still don't have any sense.

    Remind me of a covnersation with an ex-friend of mine. We were sharing story ideas, and I had come up with a character that we decided to put a lot of physical beauty on. When we tried to describe her, I immediately said "Angela Basset in Music of My Heart" and he gave me this very strange look. He'd been thinking of the blonde cheerleader type that I never found beautiful because I associated it with the idiotic stereotype. To further the argument, he didn't find Angela Basset all that attractive and we got into a pretty big fight about it.

    In the end, if I ever go back to that story, it's my story and she'll look how I want, but he got me to realize something. I'd grown up with the idea that black women are prettier than me, and I think, Kalinara, you've stumbled upon why. The stupidity of the "pretty white girl" always detracted from her physical appeal as I saw it. The other girls, for being useful and valuable to the group as a whole, just seemed overall better even physically.

    Which just shows that that stereotype shot itself in the foot, because by making physical appeal the primary attribute of a certain character, they detracted from the character's physical appeal. And I'm not the only one who stopped thinking blonde = pretty. Take more recent teen series like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on TV, Generation X and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E in comics for example. Cordelia's a rich white girl in personality, yes, but she doesn't really fit the pretty blonde stereotype. She's tan with dark eyes and hair, could be multi-ethnic (they never really delved into homelife and I don't remember seeing her parents). Monet St. Croix (who turned out to be my favorite character from the series), rich snobby girl -- Paige (Husk) has the stereotypical appearance that goes with Monet's personality. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E, Cindy, most popular girl in school, looks multiethnic to me.

    Sure, these are not all positive portrayals (particularly Cindy), but it's showing that the stereotypes are mixing and removing the expectations you have growing up on those 80s cartoons. You can't equate personality with appearance anymore. You have to see what the person introduced is really like.

     
  • At February 20, 2006 6:37 PM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Jer - yeah Power Rangers was one of the most unintentionally racist shows I watched as a kid (weren't many, but I remember them pretty well)

    Red was always the cool white jock that everyone wanted to me and Blue was always the geek. Pink was always the white girl, and then it gets fun. Black Ranger was black. Yellow Ranger was Asian. Later they had the Green Ranger, and I think they made him the evil hispanic or something.

    Captain Planet wasn't nearly that bad, since it was supposed to be international. It's the only series I really know that included a South American Indian with his pet monkey (seriously, he was the coolest character, and had the most potential if they ever wanted to kick it to a pg13 rating).

     
  • At February 20, 2006 8:57 PM, Blogger Melchior del DariĆ©n said…

    K.,

    Nice post. Interesting comments, too. Life's certainly a trip: I spent some time as a kid in the 60s feeling things were out of place because I am "brown." The predominance of white-itute on TV played it's part, as did going to an overwhelmingly white parochial school.

     
  • At February 21, 2006 7:32 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ragnell: Hmph, I'd have hit the guy, honestly, trying to tell you how to write your story.

    And I agree on everything else...though I liked the progressive feminist...even though she was written in a way that was supposed to be disliked.

    cent: Captain Planet was better in terms of race, I thought, but gender? Not so much. The males got a lot more characterization than either female (except Gaia, who was pretty awesome, but largely ineffectual...I loved that she was black and voiced by Whoppi Goldberg though).

    Still, the two girls were Gi, the Japanese surfer who was associated with water and Linka, the Soviet girl associated with wind. Gi was pretty much extraneous, almost never having a plot at all, and largely in the background without any sort of personality. And Linka was there for Wheeler (the red-haired mouthy white American boy) to flirt with and mistakenly call "Russian" versus "Soviet".

    Bah, I liked Mah-Ti, the South-American boy best anyway. Heart might sound stupid, but freakin' telepathy's telepathy.

    Melchior: It's fascinating to look at pop culture/entertainment trends over the years I think. It makes for a more optimistic picture...I suppose stereotypes are good in a sense that at least they start to bring some element of diversity to the public eye. Still, I wish *my* stereotype wasn't the shallow, image-obsessed twit...

     
  • At February 21, 2006 8:43 AM, Anonymous green means wheelpower said…

    Cen: Whats really wierd is they later had that red ranger in white AND, most recently, BLACK. Thank god that they stoped the "skin tone" corodination.

    Kal. Goldberg was great as Gaia! that worked for the same reason she worked on TNG

    As for the other characters I liked the african most, and Gi did have plots later in the series.

     
  • At February 23, 2006 3:13 AM, Anonymous carla said…

    Thank you for writing this, by the by. Very appreciated.

    And isn't it interestng that there has be this huge resurrgence of the Pink Regime (so to speak), where a new generation is deparately trying to get by on just being pretty and idolizing those who manage to pull it off? All that eschewing of the Barbie ideal and striving to be something better than the standard and we now have ... Paris Hilton.

    Wow.

     
  • At February 23, 2006 7:31 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    carla: thanks!

    ack, that's very depressing to think about. I'm a little more optimistic though, for every girl that's idolizing Paris Hilton, there's another admiring Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars. Not ideal, by any means but a considerable step up...

    I might be in denial though.

     

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