How Power Rangers turned me into a FeministPosted: May 23, 2012 | |
First things first: I am now on Twitter. Yes, in fact, I do hate myself, why do you ask?
I mostly got twitter because I’m going to WisCon, and tweeting at WisCon is awesome. But I still hate myself.
My twitter handle, for anyone interested, is @CDisoriented. My twitter name is Cultural Disorient. Apparently, I can’t call myself “Culturally Disoriented” on twitter, because that’s too long a name. Ah, technology.
NOW. Let’s move on to better (and more interesting) things: Power Rangers and Feminism
I talk a lot – and blog a lot – about gender issues in culture. I get some flack for this in various quarters. The two big criticism I hear are:
1. Culture doesn’t really matter. Who cares if there aren’t as many girl heroines as boy heroines in movies?** Why aren’t you trying to get more women elected to congress?
[ETA: "boy heroines" is either a typo OR a subtle comment on the gendered nature of nouns. You decide!]
2. Sexism is over! God. Get over it.
[I should add that I get both of these critiques for ALL the social issues I talk about (Racism in Science Fiction? Why aren't you trying to get more People of Color Elected instead? OR Racism is over! Get over it.) But since gender issues are where my interest in social justice issues began, I'm starting with that]
So I’ve decided to explain myself. Why am I so interested in gender issues? And why am I so interested in gender issues in culture (as opposed to congress)?
[Spoiler Alert: it was Power Rangers. Yep. Power Rangers]
Your honor, I’d like to start at the beginning.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I mean “always” as in: I honestly can’t remember when I started. I do recall conversations as a six year old when I said I was a feminist, so… it’s been a while.
Back then it didn’t seem like a radical, or a political, position at all. Of course I was a feminist. Why wouldn’t you be a feminist? I thought boys and girls were equal. Feminism thought boys and girls should be equal. Therefore, I was a feminist. To me it was a decision in the same ranks as not killing kittens or believing slavery was wrong. Of course you didn’t kill kittens. Of course you thought slavery was wrong. Of course boys and girls were equal. Why were we even talking about this? Someone hand me the box of legos;I had a pyramid to build.
But in any case, the whole thing seemed rather irrelevant. Because boys and girls were equal. I mean, they might not be equal in some far-away places – but they were were equal in the United States (and in France). If you had told me, at seven or eight, that the great passion of my later life would be gender equality, I would have laughed at you. Why would it be? Sexism was over.
[Spoiler alert: it wasn't]
At least, that’s what I thought.
(I also thought racism was over, so I was pretty innocent. I was, however, aware that homophobia was an issue. I hadn’t, at the time, even considered issues like transphobia, ableism etc.)
Power Rangers changed all that.
Now, what are the Power Rangers? First, if you’re asking this question, you probably don’t have the stain of 90’s cartoons on your soul. The Power Rangers is a ridiculously long-running children’s series/franchise.Five (or six) young people get trained to take down bad guys; they can morph into “power rangers” and pilot giant machines (called Zords) and fight bad guys. There are at least eleventy-billion incarnations of the power rangers (because every three years or so the creators get bored and start over with a new team)*, but it stays remarkably similar across all the series (at least in my memory). There spandex costumes, the terrible fighting and the very weird production values and the general AWESOMENESS.
[Apparently the actual reason they switched the teams up every three years was because that's how in worked in the Sentai series Power Rangers is based on. Ahem. This is what happens when you don't do research before writing your blog]
Because Power Rangers was awesome, let’s be clear. When I was young – which, for the purposes of this post, means when I was under the age of ten – I was obsessed. Obsessed. In a slightly unhealthy way.
I mostly blame this on the explosions. There were GREAT explosions. BOOM! SPLAT!
Also, fighting. There was great fighting. I mean, looking at the fighting in retrospect, it was pretty terrible. But for an eight year old? AWESOME.
Here’s a vid, by the way:
BOOM! SPLAT! AWESOME!
But since Power Rangers had, like, ninety bajillion different teams, after a while, I started to notice a trend.
All the Red Rangers were men.
And since the Red Rangers are always
a) the team leaders
b) the main characters
Well, it seemed a little unfair to me. Why were all the team leaders boys? Weren’t girls equal? And while we were at it, why were the pink rangers always girls? Why were there no pink rangers who were boys? Why were there no girls who were green rangers or black rangers? And why were there always fewer girls than boys in the team?
This, of course, particularly bothered me because I wanted to be the red ranger. Clearly. I wanted to be the leader [I was super-bossy when I was a kid]. But no one like me – no girls – were red rangers.
[note: I can only speak to the seasons I have seen. I stopped watching in 2002, and I certainly hadn't seen all the seasons/series before then. I know there's been at least ONE female red ranger since then (out of, like, twenty guys)]
It was almost like girls and boys weren’t actually equal – at least not in the Power Rangers.
Now, I was never one to jump to conclusions. Sure, the last eleventy billion teams had all had this weird gender thing. But maybe – maybe – in the next team, they would change things. I was pretty confident about this.
And that’s when Power Rangers: Time Force started.
The second I saw the promos, I got super excited: it looked like the Power Rangers would have a girl leader for the first time. The story seemed to be that the guy leader had died, and so the girl (Jen) had to take over. Which was great. I was all for it!
I was convinced that this would be a true gender switch. That Jen would be red ranger, and that a boy would be the pink ranger. I remember an enthusiastic schoolyard conversation where I talked about how amazing it was that there would be a boy pink ranger.
See? I thought. Girls and boys really are equal! Even in Power Rangers.
[Spoiler Alert: I was wrong]
The day I sat down to watch the show for the first time, I was SUPER EXCITED. Can’t even tell you.
Sadly, the plot I’d gleaned from the promos, was not the actual plot.
Here was the real plot:
In the future, Alex the Red Rangers dies (so far so good). So Jen, his girlfriend, takes over. Except that in order for the Power Rangers to actually be a team, they need a Red Ranger (which is Jen, right? The new red ranger is Jen?). So they go back in time to find Alex’s (male) ancestor, Wesley.
By this point, I was like: ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You have a perfectly competent leader. She is awesome. She can kick ass. WHY ARE YOU GOING BACK IN TIME TO FIND SOMEONE ELSE?
[the answer was something along the lines of "blah blah has to have the same DNA blah blah"]
Okay. So they find Wesley. And he’s the new Red Ranger. And of course, Jen is the pink ranger. BUT. It can still be okay, right? Because Jen’s still the leader, right? Because Wesley has no idea what he’s doing, and he has no training, and he’s a total jerk who thinks he’s better than everyone else, whereas Jen does know what she’s doing, and she does have training, and she’s smart and capable. So she’s the leader. Right?
Despite the fact that Jen was “technically” the leader, Wesley was the leader in the only place it really mattered: in battle. He was the field leader. He was the one whose decisions really mattered. Jen was almost always wrong. Wesley was almost always right.
I was excited about this show because I thought Jen, a girl, would be the protagonist and the team leader. But as it turns out, it was all a massive fake-out. Wesley, the boy, was the protagonist and the team leader.
And that’s when my head exploded, your honor.
I realized that, in the world of the Power Rangers, boys and girls were not equal. I mean, even when a girl was more competent, more knowledgeable, more likeable, more qualified and better trained, the boy was still the boss.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
It wasn’t just an issue of fairness to me. It was personal. It meant that if I ever became a Power Ranger (hey, I was young, okay? It’s good to have lofty goals when you’re young), no matter how hard I worked and how good I was, I would never, ever, ever get to be the team leader.
I was so angry that I never watched another episode.
[As it turned out, I'd made the right decision, since they did exactly the same thing in the next series. The yellow (girl) ranger, was the interim leader, and then when the red (boy) ranger walks out of the jungle, despite the fact that he's a total rookie, he's immediately chosen as the team leader]
Of course, I didn’t go straight from “girls and boys are equal” to “I am a warrior for gender equality” in three months. It took a while. But Power Rangers had opened the way. I started seeing gender inequality everywhere, from the other kid’s shows I watched, to the books I read, to the politicians in power.
That’s why I always say Power Rangers turned me into an active feminist. And that’s also a big part of the reason why I’m so obsessed with gender issues in culture.
Because it was in a cultural medium – a TV show – that I realized that sexism still existed
And because that cultural medium had such a massively negative effect on me. It was pretty devastating to think that no matter how smart or good I was, I could never be the leader of a team of superheroes.
So yes. Culture matters. And yes. Sexism still exists.
And if you ever wonder why I spend so much time blogging about social issues in pop culture: blame the Power Rangers. It’s all their fault.
But most importantly. I’ll probably never be a Red Ranger. But I do get to be an even better kind of warrior: A warrior for gender equality. And warrior for social justice (BAAAH, that sounds corny. But I can’t help it. I grew up on a steady diet of Sailor Moon, Xena: Warrior Princess, Batman and Power Rangers. I’ve always wanted to be a warrior. Ah, growing up in the 90’s…]
And that’s something I can do without wearing a weird spandex suit.
One thing I didn’t talk about in this post is the issue of race in Power Rangers. But I really SHOULD mention it. A friend suggested that I look up the uniform colors for the first team of the Power Rangers. I did, and my head nearly exploded.
The black ranger is an African American man, and the yellow ranger is an Asian woman.
I did also notice when I was growing up that all the red Rangers were white men (there have since been non-white red Rangers), and that the pink rangers were almost always white women. I’m sure other people have more insight into this, because the Power Rangers have been going on for so long at this point… but is this still a trend?
[Funny story: The first big thing I did to solve gender inequality was write a letter to 4Kids (the children's show division of Fox TV) where I explained that Yu-Gi-Oh (the show about the card game) didn't have any good female characters (because none of the female characters ever won the card games), and giving them a suggestion for a great female character (who could win the card game). Unsurprisingly, they did not take my suggestion to heart]