How 'The Powerpuff Girls' Helped Shape My Feminism

by Amy Roberts

These are tough times to be a feminist; just when we think we’ve managed to make some vital progression in society we’re met with the perplexing arguments from men’s rights activists, the unsettling (but ultimately pathetic) threat of pro-sexism groups, and men like Kanye West repeatedly saying problematic things. So, when I watched the first clip from The Powerpuff Girls reboot on Thursday, I was elated — because, as far as cartoons go, The Powerpuff Girls is the perfect booster viewing for easy, instant empowerment right when you need it.

In an age where society seems continuously out to undermine the strengths, rights, and general existence of females, The Powerpuff Girls proclaim a shrieking hyper-feminized defiance against an archaic, stuffy patriarchy.

And they do it in an unapologetic, super girly rainbow palette of day-glo rainbow.

Growing up, I adored The Powerpuff Girls. As an awkward 12-year-old on the cusp of puberty, I was having difficulty reconciling the tomboy identity I’d cultivated throughout childhood with the woman that I could feel my body pressuring me to become. I wanted to continue being bookish without being told I was boring, I wanted to continue being tough without feeling alienated by other girls, and I wanted to be cute without being patronized for it. The Powerpuff Girls presented me with a sorely-needed escape, and also gave me some vital perspective on myself. In short, the cartoon basically encouraged me to be me.

You might be thinking, "Chill out, lady! It’s just a cartoon!" but make no mistake — The Powerpuff Girls is a landmark television show. To undermine its powerful presence and the influence it had on many of its childhood viewers would be as careless as a monkey supervillain underestimating the powers of a trio of seemingly harmless looking young girls in pretty dresses (big mistake, dude!).

At its heart, The Powerpuff Girls is all about female identity, and how when people undermine females based on stereotypes they more often than not suffer for it. We have the smart, natural born leader Blossom, the fun-loving and endlessly adorable Bubbles, and the tough, grumpy fighter Buttercup. Blossom often gets frustrated that her bookish ways leave people to think that she can’t also be cute, Bubbles gets upset that her cute veneer leads people to believe that she can’t be smart or tough like her sisters, and Buttercup — well, Buttercup normally doesn't give a flying crap what anyone thinks, but when she does, she wishes that her sisters would take her more seriously.

Throughout the series, villains make the grave mistake of underestimating The Powerpuff Girls based upon their young, girlish appearance or their sweet natured manner, and unwittingly carry out their careless attempts at villainy with our girls simply biding their time for the right moment to take them down. The girls defy the stale stereotype that women are too catty or competitive to function successfully as a team, and they instead unite and fight back, utilizing each other’s strengths alongside their own to win battles and save their town.

As a superhero unit, The Powerpuff Girls are tough and fearless with tons of self-belief — but as individuals, they're vulnerable to self-doubt and unable to see the power of their own virtues. Bubbles, for instance, repeatedly wants to be “hardcore” like her sisters, and she often doesn't realize that her sweet, adorable nature can also be used as a force for change. When she allows herself to simply act on her instincts and let her actions speak louder than her doubts, she manages to be victorious by simply being herself. For example, in one such episode, she saves the day by simply getting super upset and politely asking a monster if he’d kindly leave their town. He then does so with no fanfare, proving that sometimes adding sprinkles on top of a pretty please is all a bad guy needs in order to give up and go home.

To me, this is proof of the power of trusting in your own abilities. I mean, just how many of us have wasted precious hours of our lives doubting our ability to achieve something that we’re more than capable of? Seeing a cute-as-pie hero like Bubbles utilizing her natural skills and straight-up owning the part of herself which fills her with doubt instead of being defeated by it is endearingly powerful. It makes me want to take down mansplainers with nothing but a pandering grin and a patronizing pat on the head.

Additionally, watching The Powerpuff Girls as a kid reassured me that my love of books was anything but boring, that I could still be tough without girls feeling threatened by it, and that I could be as cute as I wanted to be and woe-betide any fool who dared to patronize me for it. If a show like The Powerpuff Girls existed, I reasoned, then there were other girls out there just like me who also existed too, and none of us had to grow up to become the one type of woman that society and pop culture had repeatedly tried to misadvise us was the only option.

Which brings me to that other reason that I love The Powerpuff Girls: For their unabashed flair for letting their feminine flag fly. I can’t be the only woman who has found herself in a hyper-masculine environment striving to tone down her femininity in order to fit in more, and The Powerpuff Girls slay the masculine realm of “superheroes” with pretty little dresses, bows, bunches and Mary-Jane shoes. It might be a fun cartoon show, but providing viewers with a sense that femininity does not equate to weakness, that dresses don’t signify passivity, and that fighting back against a ludicrously volatile world with the same sense of fun that a young girl would approach a slumber party is empowering as hell.

This is a cartoon which shows girls the myriad of ways that you can solve everyday problems; with smarts, with a fighting spirit or with your natural charm (and that any and all of these solutions are all totally cool). It presents female identity as a positive, fluid characteristic which can’t be defined by a single set of traits or pinned down by rigid, outdated labels. And, most importantly, it reminds girls and women (of all ages) that they needn’t pander to a masculine society in order to succeed; if you can find the courage to be yourself, then sister, you can slay.

Images: Cartoon Network Studios (2); 8ast/Tumblr (2); Giphy