I often think back on '90s cartoons with great affection, but it wasn't until recently that I started to realize how totally feminist some of these cartoons were. Lucky for me, I grew up with parents who always told me girls could do anything boys could. (One time, my mother called my elementary school after I came home complaining that one of our teachers—a man—told me I couldn't play football with the boys during recess. I don't think I really even gave a fuck about football, but the injustice of it really pissed me off, and it definitely pissed off my mom). But not every kid is so lucky. That's where awesome cartoons can come in and save the day. People constantly talk about how the media can have a bad influence on kids, but it can also expose kids to wonderful things like girls being president, an equal partnership between two parents, and girls kicking ass at sports. Here are five totally feminist moments from '90s cartoons.
1. Betty Deville breastfeeding Phil and Lil
Betty Deville is one of the most obvious cartoon feminists. She’s witty, carries herself with confidence, loves football, and wears a sweatshirt adorned with the female symbol for christ’s sake. The relationship between her and her husband Howard defies all sorts of gender norms. He cooks and washes dishes, and they share childcare duties of their twins. These two demonstrated some serious relationship goals that I admired even at a young age. Aside from her relationship with Howard, Betty was constantly living up to her purple sweatshirt’s feminist identity. One specific scene that blows my mind when watching it now is when Nickelodeon showed Betty breastfeeding her twins, which is basically a giant "fuck you" to anyone who says women shouldn't breastfeed in public. In this episode, entitled "Mother's Day," Phil and Lil tell Chuckie a very sweet story about the time they shared their first laugh (which Betty refers to as the first gift they ever gave her — awwwww), and the twins describe it as happening while they were being fed “the old way.” You don’t see nipples or anything, but just the fact that Nick would include this as a plot point is pretty progressive.
2. Helga Pataki dreaming about being president
So yes, Helga G. Pataki was completely obsessed with Arnold, but unlike a lot of nine-year-old girls (can you believe they were nine in that show? they seem a lot older to me for some reason), Helga never let her crush get in the way of her ambition. In one episode called "Married," Helga has a long, elaborate dream that she marries Arnold, but the dream doesn’t stop there. While on their honeymoon in Italy, Helga is reading the paper and is so disgusted with what’s happening in the world, she declares that she is going to become president. Arnold is 100-percent supportive and happy to become her first man, which isn’t surprising because he always seemed very evolved (especially for a 9-year-old). Once Helga becomes president, Arnold is kidnapped, and Helga, the president of the United States, goes on a mission to save him. Totally badass.
3. Francine Frensky kicking ass at kickball in a dress
Francine was baller at sports, and the coolest part of it to me was that EVERYONE knew it. In the episode entitled “Francine’s Bad Hair Day,” the Lakewood Elementary School gang is playing kickball against *gasp* the fourth graders! In the huddle, Arthur tells everyone, “Remember the plan: no matter what, get the ball to Francine.” If anyone can beat fourth graders at kickball is definitely Francine Frensky. The episode takes an interesting turn when Muffy Crosswire, Francine’s more traditionally feminine BFF, convinces Francine she needs a makeover before picture day. Francine gets her hair did and wears a pink dress, which is totally not her. Muffy (not a good influence, in my opinion) tells Francine she can’t play kickball before school pictures or she’ll ruin her new look. Upon finding this out, Buster remarks, “Who needs Francine? We’re just as good.” Ha! Think again, Buster. The boys SUCKKKK without her. Francine watches from the sidelines and realizes that these boys are definitely going to lose if she doesn't intervene. She can’t resist jumping in and wins the game. In the end, her school picture shows her in her dress with dirt all over her face from winning the big game. The best of both worlds.
4. Reggie Rockett proving that girls can, in fact, be totally rad surfers
Reggie, the one girl in a group of boys, has no trouble keeping up. She skateboards, surfs, and plays hockey and beach volleyball. And she’s good at all of them. On this episode, aptly titled “Power Girl Surfers,” a man from Gnarly Surf Magazine approaches Otto, Reggie’s younger brother, about being on the cover after seeing him “shred” some waves. Otto, like a sweet baby brother, is quick to introduce his older sister and insists she totally “shreds” too. In response, the man literally says to Reggie's face, "Nobody really cares about girl surfers." Whatttt??? Reggie is PISSED and decides to round up some kids to speak out against the magazine for not featuring women. AH-mazing. Her organizing is badass. She then gets some “power girl surfers” together to challenge some boys and covers the event in her own zine. The girls obviously totally “shred” and the Gnarly Surf guy looks like a Class A moron.
5. Every time Miss Grotke called out white misogyny in history
Miss Grotke was like THE coolest teacher. She was constantly not giving a fuck about what teachers are "supposed" to teach to fourth graders. Her assignments were closer to something you might find in a college gender studies class. She understood the importance of teaching her class that there is a lot more to history than what you find in a textbook, and she never missed an opportunity to recognize the women who changed history. She could teach that jagweed teacher of mine a lesson or two.
More from BUST
Olivia’s first sentence was “No talk, just laugh” and since then, she’s made it her business to find the humorous side of life and share her absurd observations with others. She’s a writer, a lover of all things pop culture, and she can’t fall asleep without having 30 Rock on in the background. If you like looking at pictures of food and random dogs, you should check out Olivia’s Instagram.