It occurred to me the other day: I don’t remember ever receiving the message growing up that girls couldn’t be smart, couldn’t lead, couldn’t handle technology. In fact, when I look back at the material I was exposed to in the early- to mid-80s, I see instance after instance of strong, capable women/girls who kicked ass (though obviously I didn’t have the words for that at the time). And yes, a lot of these are kid-friendly cartoons so the ass-kicking was less literal… still they always triumphed over the bad guys.
I don’t know if this was by my parents’ choice or design, or if this is the type of content I was naturally drawn to, or if it was a prevalent message at the time. But when I look back at my 80s childhood at the movies and TV shows I watched – often repeatedly, thanks to the family VCR – I see a lot of smart and strong ladies:
Of course, Princess Leia would be at the top of the list. She was arguably my first role model – hell, she’s still my role model! The very first time you see her in Star Wars: A New Hope, she’s saving the Rebellion by giving the Death Star plans to R2-D2, and then she takes down a stormtrooper by herself. Clearly, here is a princess who can take care of herself! She’s smart, she’s got a mouth on her, and she takes charge. That’s my kind of girl!
I loved to watch all the Muppet Show and Muppet Babies episodes. I think I knew on some level that Miss Piggy was kind of a bully sometimes, and of course Kermit was the true leader of the Muppet crew, but this was a lady who knew what she wanted and went for it – she didn’t let anyone stand in her way! Here’s one of my favorite clips from the Muppet Show, where Piggy doesn’t let a little towel get between her and international ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev!
Supergirl (1984 movie)
I just watched the trailer for this & now I have to go dig it up and watch the whole thing! I wasn’t much into Superman growing up, but Supergirl – she was cool.
You want to talk about girl power? She-Ra was the Princess of Power (literally)! Her alter-ego, Princess Adora, was a general in the Great Rebellion against the evil Hordak. She wasn’t just a rebel or a freedom-fighter, she led that s#!t. Even Bow (the handsome muscly archer and token man in the Rebellion), who didn’t know that General Adora was also She-Ra, deferred to her.
On the He-Man side of things, let me also mention the Sorceress – aka the woman in charge of Castle Grayskull, who gave He-Man and She-Ra their magic swords. She basically held all the knowledge and helped He-Man and the good guys out magically whenever she could.
In addition, I want to include here all the evil ladies in the He-Man/She-Ra franchises: Force Captain Catra (who led Hordak’s evil forces on Etheria), Entraptra, Evil-Lyn, and Shadow-Weaver. It’s not just men who can cause havoc for the good guys!
Penny (Inspector Gadget)
Penny was Gadget’s niece, and along with the family dog, Brain, was pretty much the reason that Inspector Gadget solved any crimes. Along with her trusty computer book and video-communicator watch, Penny and Brain solved the mystery of whatever Dr. Claw and the evil crime organization MAD was up to, saved Gadget from his own ineptitude, and managed to hide the fact that they were a lot smarter than everyone thought they were.
Gadget (Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers)
Ok, this was in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but I still want to make sure I mention this gal: Gadget Hackwrench, who was the Rescue Rangers’ resident pilot, mechanic, and inventor. She was also blonde and attractive, with often either Chip or Dale vying for her attentions (usually she didn’t even notice). She tended to talk fast and come up with ideas on the fly – both characteristics of a good engineer! 😉
Princess Goleeta (Galtar & and Golden Lance)
She’s probably a little less known, but Princess Goleeta was Galtar’s right-hand gal (and interestingly enough, never a love interest) in saving the world from the evil Tormak. Her number one goal was to get back the Sacred Shield (stolen by Tormak) and save her kingdom. She was a inventive and resourceful and pretty good in a fight. She also protected her little brother Zorn, who was always getting them into trouble (accidentally, of course).
There’s a definite trend here towards fantasy… and like I said, I don’t know how much of this was my own choice and how much was chosen for me. I know a lot of other cartoons, shows, and movies at the time didn’t support the strong, independent female role model. But it’s nice to look back and remember those that did.