More than two decades ago Katha Pollitt, a feminist writer, coined the phrase The Smurfette Principle largely meant to point out the disparity among the volume of male characters in various genres specifically cartoons versus the virtual nonexistence of female characters.
Her motivation for this essay which was published in The New York Times in 1991 was to explore the reasons surrounding this as it pertained to her young daughter who - like her - saw few female characters in various genres.
Fast-forwarding to 2011, a portion of the title of her essay has now become a recently released major motion picture, and it appears there is still one female smurf.
Much like the author, Katha Pollitt, I decided to take a closer look at what my children watch to see if The Smurfette Principle is still in effect today. I mean it is 2011, some 20 years after her essay was published, so certainly writers of animated genres have made an effort to embrace gender diversity. I enlisted the help of my children as I began my research based largely on the cartoons on Cartoon Network and Noggin now called Nick, Jr.
In Nickelodeon’s “Yo Gabba Gabba,” there are four males two females. In “Little Bill,” there are 13 males 10 females. In “Gullah Gullah Island,” there are four males three females. In “Backyardigans,” - three boys and two girls.
In Cartoon Network’s “Johnny Test,” there are three males and three females. In the classic “Scooby Doo,” there are still three males and two females, and in “The Amazing World of Gumball,” there are two females and two males.
It seems that there have been some strides made towards narrowing the gender gap between female and male characters in cartoons specifically. However, this narrowing has occurred primarily among the new age cartoons. Amazingly, the cartoons that I watched as a child - that sometimes still appeal to children today - generally featured one major female heroine or an occasional appearance by a female such as Roo’s mother Kanga in Winnie the Pooh which is also now in theaters. There was Fat Albert and the Gang that had an appearance by the female teacher when the boys were in school. There was Miss Piggy who was surrounded by all the male muppets. These few leading ladies were literally in a class by themselves. Generally the reason could be attributed to the presence of more male writers and creators.
Although The Smurfette Principle is still somewhat intact today, there are various creators from both genders and a multiplicity of ethnicities thus creating a wide array of cartoons with which all children may identify.