The good, the bad and the sparkly: Girl power is back

By Opinions Editor

For the children of the ‘90s, girl power came in the forms of the Spice Girls, “Clueless” and even Barbie, among other things. Following the laced-with-low-grade-snake-poison feminism of the Riot Grrrl movement, “girl power” was bubblegum-pink feminism packaged with a pretty bow for young girls and teenagers. The term made feminism more accessible and relatable to youth who may not have known what feminism was. 

Often accompanied by the flash of a peace sign, girl power was an empowering yet cutesy philosophy that encouraged young women to be ambitious and assertive—words not often used to describe little girls. Although many do not subscribe to any form of feminism, girl power is something worth fighting for, especially for the younger generations.

Girl power’s slow but much-needed comeback may be on the horizon, though, and that is something to look forward to. The beloved cartoon “The Powerpuff Girls” is making its return to Cartoon Network in 2016, according to a Feb. 19 Cartoon Network press release. The series, which followed the adventures of three crime-fighting superhero sisters Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, was one of Cartoon Network’s most successful and prolific cartoon series. Its revival is a pleasant surprise for those who once sat in front of the television mesmerized by three little girls who always managed to “save the world before bedtime.”

Girl power did not necessarily disappear when “The Powerpuff Girls” went off the air in 2005, but the recent interpretations of female heroes in the media leave much to be desired. 

With “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled,” “Brave” and “Frozen,” Disney has taken a more regressive approach to girl power. Claims can be made that “Brave”—in which the princess Merida refuses the forced tradition of marriage and breaks many other princess cliches—is the epitome of girl power. However, Disney undermined any advancement it could have made with its feisty portrayal of Merida when the studio transformed her into a sparkly vixen in May 2013.

How a princess—or any girl—looks should not and does not matter. Disney made the changes to better market her as a toy, which is a fair move because children love sparkles and pretty things, but the company did not take into account the gross juvenilization of a character who could have easily been a new icon of girl power rather than another pretty face with an overtly sexualized body to match. 

The obsession with the trope of the innocent-yet-seductive young female character who always ends up in the arms of a heroic-yet-definitely-older man has been exhausted, yet few changes have been made. This obsession is disappointing but not surprising considering the lack of women who are actually animating. Women are least likely to enter the animation field, according to the 2014 Celluloid Ceiling report.

It is not women’s fault that they are not out there revolutionizing the way young female characters are created and portrayed. It has been done right before. 

“The Powerpuff Girls”—a show created by a male—subverted the idea of waiting for the boys to show up and save the day. Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup—with the help of Professor Utonium, who created them with sugar, spice and everything nice along with some Chemical X—are powerful, complex young girls with emotions and passion. 

With their balloon-sized heads and rounded little bodies, the Powerpuff Girls lack the usual sexualization seen plastered across princesses and other female superheroes. The trio is far too busy fighting crime and saving the world to bother with the frivolities of looking good and pursuing the attention of the opposite sex—not that they don’t try. 

There is something about the show’s use of incongruity that strengthens its underlying feminist lessons, morphing it into a TV show all young girls—and boys—should watch. Although the show’s animation is rife with sparkles, hearts and rainbows, the girls have very distinct, visceral personalities. 

Each girl represents one aspect of the old “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” nursery rhyme: sugar, spice and everything nice. But the “Chemical X” adds layers of complexity, humanity and even darkness that come out when the girls are engaged in what they care about most: saving the world. 

The show’s creator Craig McCracken’s intention with “The Powerpuff Girls” may not have been to create the perfect epitomes of girl power. Regardless, the humorous, transformative and even heartbreaking adventures of Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup have gone above and beyond the typical expectations for a cartoon show about three little girls who are also superheroes, with the richness of its characters and the poignancy of its story lines. 

Girl power may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, having positive female role models on television whose value is not defined by their tiny waists and impossibly long, silky hair, but by their emotional depth and conviction is crucial. Young girls need “The Powerpuff Girls” now more than ever before.