I watched a lot of TV as a kid. I may not have known what the Internet was, but I knew every show on television. As a bilingual kid in Canada, I would also watch French TV (from both France and Québec). I’ll list my favourite shows below and then I’ll analyze four of my cartoon role models. I didn’t realize how much they have influenced me until this year.
I was introduced to television early on. I watched Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Babar, Marie-Soleil, and the Elephant Show. I don’t remember watching the shows. I mostly remember people telling me about the shows and singing the songs with my family. I can see a few snapshots here and there, but that’s it.
I remember watching Sesame Street every day. My favourite characters were Big Bird and the Count. I also watched Book Mice, Polka Dot Door, Barney and Friends, the Care Bears and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now that I think about it, Sesame Street and Polka Dot Door might be more diverse than some of the other shows on TV today.
The French shows I watched were Passe-Partout, Les Amis Ratons, Le Petit Castor, and Bibi et Geneviève. I love Bibi et Geneviève so much that I sent a drawing to the show and they sent me free books back! Ah, the 90s, how I miss you.
Side note for my French-Canadian friends. I researched Le Petit Castor and it turns out it was a Japanese cartoon translated to French. Its original name, according to Wikipedia, is ドン・チャック物語 or Don Chakku Monogatari. It aired in Japan in the late ‘70s. Learn more.
At this age, I watched television after school and on weekend mornings. Especially during winter; it can get down to -40°C so staying indoors is pretty appealing. I watched so much TV it’s hard to remember what I watched when, but I’ll try to name them in chronological order: Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers’, Mister Dressup, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Darkwing Duck, Inspector Gadget, Bugs Bunny, the Jetsons, the Flintstones, the Looney Tunes, the Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, Pingu, Funnybones, the Big Comfy Couch, the Magic School Bus, the Little Lulu Show, PB&J Otter, Ned’s Newt, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Sailor Moon, Arthur, the Powerpuff Girls and the Simpsons.
The French shows I watched between seven and twelve were: Soupe Opéra, Cocotte-Minute, La Bande à Ovid, Tic et Tac, La Bande à Picsou, les Stroumpfs, les Débrouillards, les Intrépides, and Astérix et Obélix. I would borrow Astérix et Cléopâtre from the library every month. It was one of my favourite episodes. Watch it on YouTube (with English subtitles).
I watched animated movies throughout my childhood, some from Disney, some not. I had my favourites and watched them over and over. The Disney films were: 101 Dalmatians, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and the Lion King. I loved the Dalmatians so much that it was one of my birthday themes. I had a dalmatian-printed dress and cake. The non-Disney films: Happily Ever After (a snow white rip-off with female dwarves - I loved it more than the original), the Pebble and the Penguin, Thumbelina and the Swan Princess. I wanted my mother to change my name to Odette, to be more like the Swan Princess. I remember crying about my name being Roxanne instead of Odette.
Animated Women Idols
As we can determine by the multiple lists, I watched a lot of television. Among all of those listed, a few stood out. I believe it’s because of the strong female characters they featured. Let’s take a closer look at my favourite characters and analyze which ones I emulated the most. Here are the four women I thought were rad and look up to as a kid.
Pocahontas - I was obsessed with Pocahontas. Yes, the movie itself has flaws and they did change Pocahontas’ story. Thankfully, those parts are not what drew me to the film. I didn’t particularly like John Smith, I wasn’t waiting for a man to find and save me, nor did I find the idolization of colonialism great.
I found an article describing who the real Pocahontas truly was. The Pocahontas expert is Camilla Townsend and as she puts it: “Native Americans for so many years have been so tired of enthusiastic white people loving to love Pocahontas, and patting themselves on the back because they love Pocahontas, when in fact what they were really loving was the story of an Indian who virtually worshipped white culture.” (The Smithsonian, 2017) I agree with this statement, but to me, a young child I was in awe in the face of this strong Native-American woman who doesn’t leave her people or drop her identity of beliefs for a man.
I identified with Pocahontas above all other Disney characters that existed in the ‘90s. Although I’m sure if Merida had existed back then, she would have been my favourite. Why Pocahontas over Belle, who loved reading or over Ariel, who had an awesome voice? Maybe it’s because I have native blood running through my veins, but I suspect it’s because of her curiosity, self-respect and strength. She has an amazing relationship with nature and honours all living things. She takes the time to see all the little things that make the world great. She sees all humans and animals as equals. She also refuses to be oppressed by the sexist and racist norms. For example, when her father, who happens to be the chief, tries to force her to marry Kocoum she chooses to listen to her heart instead. She doesn’t settle for anything less than what she wants. She is curious and sets out to discover everything the world has to offer. And that is what makes Pocahontas one of my childhood idols.
Want more Pocahontas? Read a great blog by Olivia Truffaut-Wong called How ‘Pocahontas’ Inspired Me To Become The Feminist That I Am Today.
Ms. Frizzle - Valerie Felicity Frizzle is awesome. First of all, she is a Miss, which implies that she is single. Her relationship status was never addressed in any of the episodes. Some members of the show’s fandom suspect she is a lesbian. That could be true, but she might also just be a straight woman who doesn’t want a husband. Either way, her sexual orientation and relationship status isn’t really important to the plot of the show. She is a strong, smart and kind redhead. She also loved puns, which might explain why I love them so much today.
The Friz is a great teacher— she’s the dream teacher. She not only makes learning fun but caters to her students’ specific needs and respects their differences. She also makes science equally accessible to everyone. I loved and still love science, and I’m sure the Magic School Bus and the Friz had something to do with that.
I still think of the Magic School Bus as one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. I recently rewatched a few episodes and was still in love. It’s educational, has a diverse set of characters and it taught me a lot. I remember sitting in class in high school and university and being able to picture certain concepts the teacher was explaining thanks to some of the show’s episodes.
Francine Frensky - Francine is one of Arthur the aardvark’s best friends. Yes, boys and girls can be friends; what a shocking concept. Francine is no flat character. She’s sporty and tough. She has a bad temper, but it usually gets out of control when she feels shame, which is relatable. Her family doesn’t have much money and I identified with that. Leftover night was a normal night for us. She loves sports, and her father encourages that. Francine hates to wear dresses and isn’t afraid to get dirty. I also happened to hate dresses at that time and loved playing sports with the guys. I was very competitive like Francine and played to win. It was great to have a cartoon character that represented that side of my personality.
Arthur’s sister DW, short for Dora Winifred Reed, also needs a special mention. She is strong-willed and isn’t afraid to point out what’s wrong with the world. All in all, Arthur was a great animated show. I learned something from each character and it made me see how cools libraries are. I still sing the song “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!” to this day.
Lisa Simpson - I only realized a month ago how Lisa Simpson actually influenced who I am today. The Simpsons are a family of five, just like my family. My brother even skateboarded like Bart. Lisa is smart and I identified with that. She might be a know-it-all but embraces knowledge. In high school, I played the saxophone to be more like Lisa. It only lasted a year, but it was one of my childhood goals ever since I heard her play those sweet tunes.
I’ve been vegan for over two years now. I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I just decided I would no longer eat animal products. I used to eat meat and enjoyed it. Although, I do remember going on a fish strike from age five to twelve because I saw a dead fish my dad caught in our sink. Those eyes still haunt me to this day. Lisa has always been a positive vegetarian influence and I’m sure her little voice saying “meat is murder” was embedded in my brain.
As a kid, I remember begging my mother to recycle instead of just throwing everything in the garbage bin. She wasn’t thrilled because at the time we had to bring our recycling to a giant bin one whole kilometre away. Again, Lisa’s influence comes into play. She’s an environmental activist and that also stuck in my head. This year, I’m trying to eliminate all plastic from our home and encourage my local restaurants and grocery stores to do the same. I even started an Instagram account to keep me accountable. It’s called @noplastichome.
What I love most about Lisa Simpson and the thing that has impacted me above all is her feminism. She’s that voice in my head telling me to fight for what was right. There are too many instances to lay out here, but I’ll name a few. She fought against Malibu Stacy (the Simpsons’ version of Barbie), she was determined to have a career usually taken up by men (journalist, major, president, etc), she played hockey and was awesome at it, stood up against the tobacco industry, slept in a tree to save a forest, stood for equality and openly admitted marriage wasn’t that important to her. She is awesome.
I never realized how these four cartoon characters shaped who I am. I don’t know why I looked up to them back then, but I was drawn to them. I remember watching Pocahontas over and over, willing myself to be like her. From Ms. Frizzle, I found out that learning was cool and you didn’t need to be afraid to fail. Her catchphrase was “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” after all. From Francine, I learned it was fine to not be girly. I could be a girl and be great at sports. Finally, Lisa Simpson is still teaching me things, I haven’t caught up yet. I am in awe at the complex feminist icon they have created. If there’s one thing I wish for it is more diverse content to be made for every kid out there. Everyone deserves a role model that they relate and look up to.
Who was your cartoon role model? Gifs are of course encouraged with your responses #Evulving on social media #Evulving and follow @Evulving on Instagram.