Who were the feminists before Peppa Pig?

After this week’s Piers Ackerman Peppa Pig fiasco I got thinking about feminism in kid’s show.

Pic via http://www.abc.net.au/abcforkids/shows
Pic via http://www.abc.net.au/abcforkids/shows

If you missed the article, commentator Piers Ackerman decided to attack the ABC by declaring, amongst other things, that;

“Even the cartoon character Peppa Pig pushes a weird feminist line that would be closer to the hearts of Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad than the pre-school audience it is aimed at.”

As with my blog policy I won’t link to this article because it only drives traffic there, if you want to read the whole lot a quick google search will take you there – warning, you might need a cup of tea and a lie down afterwards.

As a 30 year old I have missed Peppa’s feminist agenda (my little niece is a big fan though, so I’m keen to discuss it with her). But it got me thinking about the shows I watched as a child and any subtle feminist brainwashing I may have incurred without realising it. Here is a small sample of some of the characters/shows I remember:

Pic via inspectorgadget.wikia.com

Pic via inspectorgadget.wikia.com

Penny – Inspector Gadget – The brains of the operations, Penny was a great role-model. She was smart and calm always getting her uncle out of sticky situations. An early adopter, her computer book and utility wristwatch helped her to foil the plans of the evil M.A.D. group.  I’m a bit sad that when I look back at it Penny really needed the meet Sheryl Sandberg. Her quiet acceptance that she would play side kick to an incompetent inspector could be seen as stoic, or just really bloody frustrating. A great example is this sample of dialogue found on inspectorgadget.wikia.com:

Penny: Uncle Gadget! This might be a trap.

Gadget: I’m thinking that this might be a trap.

Penny: That’s what I just said.

I’d like to think she hit adolescence, told her Uncle to grow up and is now CEO of spy organisation using her skills.

Potential Teaching: Just deal with it, you know you’re smarter but what can you do?

April O'NeillApril O’Neil – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve written about April before, and my distress about how she got turned into a ‘love interest’ character for a man who was not her intellectual equal in the film version. According to Wikipedia she was originally a computer programmer, but was changed in the cartoon (which I remember) to a television news reporter. She was always professional, chasing leads and reporting back on the Turtles exploits. It’s interesting to do some research to see how her character has changed over the years, if you are interested take a look at this Turtlepedia wiki.

Potential Teaching: Forget about the career, it’s better to be a love interest.

The Princess – The never Ending Story – I loved the Never Ending Story, and I loved the princess. She was such a pale, sickly, pleading little thing. Her token 10 minutes of screen time was always enthralling with that whispy voice.

Potential Teaching: Don’t bother going out there to save the world yourself, if you whine enough a boy will do it for you.

Smurfette – The Smurfs – I only have a vague recollection of Smurfette, I guess because there is one of her and a million men – great. So I did a bit of research, and my viewing of the Smurfs will never be the same again. According to wikipeadia, in the original comic:

Smurfette was magically created from clay by the Smurfs’ enemy, Gargamel, so that she would use her charms to cause jealousy and competition among the Smurfs in order to cause their fall. He left her in the forest and Hefty Smurf took her to the Smurf Village, where she was kept out of kindness…

Gargamel’s plans didn’t work well at all. Smurfette originally looked like a male Smurf with a dress and short, black hair, and the other Smurfs found her more annoying than attractive. Papa Smurf took pity on her and took her to his laboratory, where they locked themselves in while he performed “plastic smurfery” on her, before emerging. Smurfette now had a pretty face and long, flowing blonde hair. This caused every Smurf of the village to fall in love with her.

Potential Teaching: Where to begin….?

Benita, Noni and the Play School Team – I love(d) Play School. It’s a show I let my son watch and I love the equal gender games that are played and multi-racial hosts. I really don’t want to pay out on Play School at all. But that’s the ABC for you, there must be some evil teaching lurking in there.


Puddle Lane – Puddle Lane was a huge favourite of mine.  The story was based around a magician telling stories and his friend Toby the Spell Dragon. But when I think back for women I can’t remember a single one. So a quick search showed that there was a minor role – Aunt Flo. No feminist agenda here. http://www.thechestnut.com/puddle.htm


Super Ted –He has a sister Blotch, he is given his powers by Mother Nature, but really with Super Ted, Spotty, Texas Pete, Skeleton and Bulk it’s a boy’s club.  

I’m sure I’ve forgotten heaps. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the shows you grew up with and what’s great for kids now.



  1. I didn’t have TV for any of my childhood, but I remember very fondly some of the books I read. Especially the Enid Blyton ones “THe Famous Five” I guess the fiminist message there was that George(ina) had lots more fun than prissy little Anne. Piers Ackerman has always been a bit of a nit I remember him from Uni



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