I recently participated in a podcast discussing the relationship between MLP fans and masculinity, during which an interesting point was brought to attention about the girliness that exists in MLP. I’ve started noticing that a lot of MLP fans claim to like the show “in spite” of its girliness. It seems like girliness in the show is treated as a hurdle, or something that has to be “seen through” to reach the real meat of the show, and I think that this mode of thinking is antithetical what the show is trying to accomplish, and in some ways is cruel to the characters and what they stand for.
In the podcast, BronyDebates stated that he didn’t see the characters as being male or female, but saw them as characters on an equal level. I understand his sentiment, and it’s a noble one, but to get an idea of why it’s wrong-headed, imagine what an important woman in your life would think if you told them that you “don’t see them as a woman.” Think about what that would suggest.
The idea that we should treat one-another as equals is beautiful, but treating other people with equal amounts of respect isn’t the same as ignoring what makes them different. Rather, it’s about recognizing them as different, and respecting those differences.
The problem with ignoring the feminity of MLP’s characters is that the characters are, in fact, female, and men and women are not the same. When Lauren Faust made these characters, she purposefully wanted them to be recognizably female. She didn’t want them to be characters you could slap a masculine jawline on and call them a man, she wanted them to be strong, respectable WOMEN.
What makes so many girls shows terrible isn’t the inclusion of girliness, but the hyper-emphasis on certain social notions of what girliness is, and ignoring other aspects of being a woman. When a show depicts girls as nothing but obsessed with fashion and constantly writing in their diaries about cute boys, it ignores that there are other aspects of feminity. However, discounting those things would be equally misrepresentative of what it means to be a girl.
THIS WAS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO LAUREN FAUST. She did NOT want My Little Pony to be good in SPITE of its girlness, she wanted to EMBRACE girliness as something that could BE good, and that deserved respect. She wanted to show intelligent, interesting characters who still wanted to have slumber parties and wear cute dresses and maybe even feel lucky when they became a damn princess.
Faust never ignored or avoided feminity. She could have written Applejack, for instance, as one of those tomboy characters who openly rejects everything feminine, but instead she wrote her as a character who, while being a hard worker that isn’t afraid to get dirty, and can hold her own in a rodeo, still likes to dress nice for the Grand Galloping Gala (note: in Look Before you Sleep she doesn’t reject Rarity’s dress and stuff because it’s girly, but because it’s impractical), still is comfortable talking about friendship and togetherness, etc. In fact, in a scene that might be called emblematic of what Lauren brought to the series, Applejack gets mad at Spike, saying, “that’s just like a boy. Can’t handle the least bit of sentiment!” This is the least traditionally girly character in the show openly defending something girly.
Rainbow Dash has a hard time getting sentimental, but it has nothing to do with her rejecting femininity. It’s more about her difficulty with authenticity and desire to look cool. Rainbow Dash still likes to wear a dress, and is still a girl, no matter what those weird gender-reversed dubs may suggest. (Note: I don’t mean to suggest that being a girl means liking dresses. It was just an easy go-to)
The reason I’m pointing all of this out is that it’s kind of a big deal. One of the worst things about most female characters is that authors think the only way to avoid writing stereotypical females is to ignore feminity.
MLP is refreshing because it never brings all this bullshit into the picture. Feminity is neither forced nor avoided, it is simply allowed to BE. That’s what makes these characters so damn believable. They were built from the ground up as women, but without all of the social bullshit clouding their characterization.