Through the magic of Netflix for the Nintendo Wii T and I rediscovered the joy of the Rugrats today… and in the handful of episodes we choose 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 ‘Lets 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 its 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 questions. 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.