Oh my glob, you guys, Cartoon Network's most bonkers show, Adventure Time , turns five years old today. If you’re like me, you’ve probably become enchanted by the show via it’s subliminally adult themes and surreal, nonsensical plotlines. But the real cherry on top? Adventure Time’s ever present and understated feminist values. Truth is, few things make sense in The Land of Ooo, except a silent understanding that women should be treated like people... even when they're a pile of purple lumps.
From rough rocker Marceline the Vampire Queen to the gooey pink perfection that is Princess Bubblegum and everyone in between (Flame Princess! Tree Trunks! Lady Rainicorn!), Ooo is populated with impressive ladies and progressive values. And while Disney narratives have their protagonists marrying the hero they meet, these post-apocalyptic royals bow to nobody. They teach us important lessons about strength, smarts, self-acceptance, independence, and consent. And for all those reasons, I feel we have to celebrate the strong feminist leanings behind an otherwise crazy children’s show.
It would take a millennium to recap every mathematical moment, so I just skimmed a few examples off the top. So let's look back on some of my favorite times that Adventure Time was feminist.
1. Every time Princess Bubblegum breaks gender stereotypes by being a nothing short of a scientific genius.
In a world where little girls are discouraged from pursuing STEM careers, Princess Bubblegum is a goddamn inspiration. Though occasionally her experiments can take a Frankensteinian turn (raising dead Candy Kingdom subjects, Lemongrab, etc.) her brilliant mind is generally celebrated to the fullest. And she’s not afraid to call her male peers out on their bullshit, like when she acknowledges Ricardio is engaging, but “his knowledge on plantoids is actually pretty weak.”
2. Whenever they teach us to stand up to disgusting men...heart...things.
About that. From Finn's early unrequited crush, to the infatuation of Braco, Princess Bubblegum has no shortage of admirers. But arguably the most aggressive of her suitors is Ice King's heart, Ricardio. In "Lady & Peebles," their second altercation, a trapped Princess Bubblegum relents that she'll marry Ricardio... if he can beat her in hand-to-hand combat. And as she tears him limb from limb, she breaks out this winning monologue from the Buffy Summers playbook:
"You think we're intellectual equals?! It only took me seconds to get you off your guard! And this 'body' you designed is self-congratulatory garbage! See, I know a thing or two about building a body out of biomass, and you don't leave your heart exposed!"
3. Whenever they remind us it's okay to not date.
Princess Bubblegum seems more interested in chemistry than boyfriends. Marceline's ex Ash literally asked her to make a sandwich, and after kicking him square in the balls, she never looked back, pledging fealty to her guitar more than anything. Yes, Jake and Lady Rainicorn have a mature relationship, Flame Princess had her little fling with Finn, LSP is comically boy crazy, and that's all fine. The refreshing thing is just having the option to be independent.
4. Whenever they remind us it was okay to say no, and important for people to respect that.
Consent is BIG on Adventure Time, it's why we're always scolding Ice King for his kidnapping habit. Whether it's always respected is another thing, but the right to say "no" is used freely by many Ooo inhabitants. For example, in "Go With Me," Jake and Marceline give Finn conflicting advice to ask out Princess Bubblegum for couple's night. Obviously, Bubblegum directly turns him down again and again for more desirable pursuits (i.e. whistling practice).
Later on, Finn tries similar romantic overtures to get Marceline to go to couple's night. After a hot second of trying to scare him off, Marceline directly announces, "I'm sorry Finn, I just... I don't wanna date you." Luckily he doesn't want to date her either, and they end up having a platonic night out, but the point is that Adventure Time teaches girls that it's okay to reject someone if you're not feeling comfortable.
5. When they dared to suggest a queer relationship like it was no bid deal... because it isn't.
This falls more under the category of "generally progressive," but LGBTQ rights are intertwined with women's rights so it's important in a intersectional way. Short version: the episode "What Was Missing" implies that PB and Marceline may have a bit of a history together. In fact, the Mathematical! web recap on the episode remarked that, "Marceline hints that she may like Princess Bubblegum a liiiittle more than she admits, maybe a little more than Finn." The video was sprinkled with pictures of the two ladies in various embraces, and a suggestion that a PB&M Sandwich would be simply adorbs.
This spark set off a firestorm of controversy, which lead the video to be removed from the Frederator Channel. It's a mess, but in short, what's important here is that Adventure Time is leaving the door open to a (gasp!) non-heterosexual pairing. Not only that, but it's presented in a casual, normal way.
Sadly they haven't truly run with this subplot, my guess is it's based on Cartoon Network restrictions. But perhaps the movie will provide a safe space for Bubbline's relationship to flourish. Stay tuned.
6. Whenever BMO expresses his-her gender fluidity.
BMO is interchangeably referred to as "he" and "she" "lady" and "man." So whether BMO is a Gameboy, a Gamegirl, identifies as both or neither, he teaches an important lesson on being accepting of everyone's identity. Mike Rugnetta of PBS's Idea Channel noted the brilliance of this on the part of the Adventure Time writers, acknowledging "By not radicalizing her gender situation they make her totally normal. They reinforce the notion that this is just how people are, but not all they are."
7. When Lumpy Space Princess was all of us.
Lumpy Space Princess may be an odd pick for a feminist character. After all, she's an absurd parody of a teenage girl, existing as a disgruntled, deep-voiced cloud. But at the same time, there's something deeply relatable with LSP. Unlike the poised Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess is kind of a hot mess. And her self-esteem varies from subzero ("Finn, punch up my lumps!") to sky high ("When I work these lumps, no man is immune to their influence.") My opinion? LSP is beautiful because she represents our most honest version of ourselves, lumps and all.
Images: Cartoon Network (1), Giphy (7)